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by bill citara | March 1, 2011 | Food & Drink
Organic orchid petal salad
They say God is in the details—a notion that can easily be lost in the bustle of large-scale food operations. But that focus on the small stuff (the sourcing, the balance, the green impact) is exactly what chef Frank Jeannetti’s food mission is all about. He helms all things culinary at The Palms Hotel & Spa, serving as executive chef of elegant, gourmet-dining restaurant Essensia as well as the property’s lounge and tiki bar.
With a waitstaff and kitchen crew of 60, an average day means producing and serving some 700 meals for hotel guests and visitors, plus another 300 for hotel employees—not to mention room service, banquets and weddings. But Jeannetti is trying to do it all green—as organic, local and sustainable as possible, challenging the perception of major hotels as environmentally indifferent. The chef has yet to walk on water, but if knowledge, passion and hard work have anything to do with it, he may be skipping across Biscayne Bay any day now.
Hotels aren’t usually known for being in the forefront of culinary and environmental awareness. What are you doing at The Palms to change that?
FRANK JEANNETTI: I’m trying to source as many local ingredients as I can. Supporting local fishermen and farmers not only boosts the economy I’m living in, but it means less gas in a truck because the product is traveling from just an hour away as opposed to moving from a plane to a truck to a warehouse to a truck to the restaurant. The focus is on the quality of the food and where it’s coming from. If I’m starting with an “A” product, why turn it into a “C” by adding too many different ingredients? I might get a little complex with a sauce or garnish or go a little over the top with presentation, but I’m really big on keeping things simple.
Speaking of walking the walk, give me a couple of dishes on your menu that really reflect your local, organic and sustainable ethos.
Local hogfish, which can come from the watersright behind the hotel all the way down to the Keys. I season it with salt, pepper and rice flour, then sear it in a cast-iron skillet until the skin is crisp. Next, I plate it with smashed ripened plantains and charred sweet corn, edamame, succotash and an orange- and yellow-pepper cumin sauce. It’s one of our best sellers: The lightness and texture of the hogfish are second- to-none, and it tastes great paired with the sweet mash of the plantains and the succotash, which is like an Asian salsa. There’s also our Essensia salad, with orchid leaves and organic rose petals from Paradise Farms in Homestead. We use organic extra-virgin olive oil and lavender honey to make the vinaigrette.
FROM LEFT: The dining room at Essensia; Rice flour-dusted, pan-roasted local hogfish.
You were born and raised in Brooklyn, went to the New York Restaurant School and trained with Daniel Boulud right out of culinary school. You know the New York restaurant scene. How does it compare to Miami?
We’re almost there. The thing that gives Miami a bad rap is that it’s known as a nightclub and party town. It’s not that we don’t have the restaurants or quality food or fantastic chefs, it’s that we don’t have the educated clientele to back them up. But there are some really talented chefs here, with more on the way. From what I hear, Mario Batali is coming down, Rachael Ray is coming down and Bobby Flay is looking to comedown. Then there’s José Andrés, who worked for Ferran Adriá at El Bulli in Spain, planning on opening in late 2011. Now we’re talking!
That’s Miami’s future. What’s next for you?
Jackie Nespral, of NBC-6, has a new show coming out called Foodies. I’m going to bring her into the kitchen, where she’ll cook with me, then we’ll both sit down and have dinner. I’d like to get involved in TV and remain involved in the community. I’m helping Miami-Dade County Public Schools expand children’s nutritional knowledge and improve their eating habits. And in terms of Essensia, I just want it to continue to grow: We need to stay clean, stay fresh and stay one step ahead of everybody.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY GARY JAMES