Ocean Drive gets an invite to Miami's most exclusive dinner party: a weekly home cooked meal with the city's most esteemed chefs.
The chefs and their guests swap war stories from the kitchen.
Throughout history, people have cherished the shared experience of sitting together for a meal. And the men and women who prepare some of the city’s most acclaimed dinners are no exception, including Diego Oka, executive chef of the Peruvian paradise La Mar by Gaston Acurio; Brad Kilgore, the owner of Alter, and his pastry-chef wife, Soraya; Macchialina veteran Craig Giunta; chef Roel Alcudia, the newest addition at Mandolin Aegean Bistro (formerly of Cypress Room); and tortilla wizard Steve Santana and Eric Saltzman of Taquiza, who gather with various others on a regular basis for a “family meal.”
For Miami’s top toques, many of whom have left their families behind to come to the Magic City, family-style isn’t just a dining trend. “I’m not from Miami, so I had to make a family here,” says William Crandall, executive chef at Izzy’s Fish & Oyster. “It all got started because it was Eric’s and my day off and we wanted to see all our friends together in one building. It wasn’t about food or about restaurants, but just about seeing everyone.”
That impromptu evening has turned into an almost weekly ritual, with the chefs alternating hosting duties. On this particular occasion, Oka is serving a home-cooked meal that’s a taste of Peru, with choclo (Peruvian corn), beef stew with carrots, ají amarillo potato purée, iceberg salad with balsamic vinegar and Parmesan (which Oka brought back from his recent staging stint at Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, named the second-best restaurant in the world in 2015 by restaurant magazine), and chicken anticuchos marinated in secret Peruvian spices, which the chefs are taking turns cooking on the grill.
“There’s some Cusco llama in there,” jokes Santana, while Gastropod’s Sam Beckerman tells Edge Steak & Bar’s Aaron Brooks, “I saw by the way you put that chicken on the grill you have no ego.”
Capturing the moment is almost as important as the meal itself.
One guiding principle of the evening: Never come empty-handed. Whether it’s celery, ají amarillo, and green star-fruit punch spiked with vodka (courtesy of Kilgore); a dozen oysters (from Crandall); America’s “best biscuits” (baked by The Federal’s Aniece Meinhold and Cesar Zapata); or top-grade caviar (supplied by Jeff Maxfield, chef de cuisine at Toscana Divino), which the chefs will later devour for dessert with Lay’s sour cream and onion potato chips, everyone has brought something to the table.
“Each person who hosts a family meal really tries to bring their style of cuisine from wherever they come from,” says Kilgore. “Most of us are from all over, and it’s a way to showcase how we grew up, when we had meals with our families. Others bring things to go along with the night’s inspiration, like [tonight] I brought a cocktail using ají amarillo, which I use at Alter and is indigenous to Peru. It was my way to respect his culture and his home.”
Faces familiar and new are welcome in whatever home happens to be hosting, growing the family and fortifying the camaraderie among Miami’s chefs. Collaborative dinners or new menu items may come out of it, but that was never the intent. It was the humble act of sharing what they love, cooking and eating, with one another. “My family doesn’t understand what this industry entails, but these guys do,” says Oka, while Maxfield adds, “This could happen every night of the week and I’d be okay with it.” Of course he and the other chefs are keeping Miami’s insatiable palates satiated the other six nights of the week.