Joel Huff, Azul

Joel Huff was named head chef of the Mandarin Oriental, Miami’s renowned Azul last March, on the heels of a couple of superstars (Clay Conley, whose predecessor was the luminous Michelle Bernstein). He was more than up to the task, having trained with some of the world’s greats: José Andrés (at Saam in Los Angeles), Marcus Samuelsson (Aquavit in Minneapolis), Tetsuya Wakuda (Tetsuya’s in Sydney), and Nori Sugie (New York’s Asiate), whom Huff considers his mentor. It was through Sugie that Huff gleaned his appreciation for simple, exquisite Asian flavors. “Although I would not call myself a Japanese chef, I find myself reverting to the minimalistic beauty of Japanese cuisine,” he says. “It helps me keep a simplicity and balance in my dishes.” Huff marries this approach to techniques from both modern Spanish cooking and the timeless elegance of French cuisine. One example: a toro tuna and Iberico ham dish with feta cheese. “This dish is predominantly Japanese, but a ponzu sauce made from the bones of the Iberico ham adds a Spanish element,” he says.

His other offerings, like the Silver & Gold Egg—a take on a classic blini featuring a quail egg cooked sous vide, caramelized onions, potato espuma, and the diner’s choice of Italian, American, or Russian caviar—are the stuff of unapologetically upscale dining. That doesn’t mean it’s staid or stodgy, however. As Huff says, “My staff is very well-educated and we take our work very seriously, but the end result is never stuffy.” Mandarin Oriental, Miami, 500 Brickell Key Dr., Miami, 305-913-8358

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