Dining — 03 February 2012
Tastemaking Chefs, Restaurateurs

Influenced by sophisticated palates from around the world, South Florida enjoys an intriguing culinary heritage. Meet the culinary Tastemakers whose philosophies have helped to make this region a veritable melting pot when it comes to dining options. 


Dennis Max

Dennis Max is a well-known name to anyone who has followed the, dare we say, “trend” of successful restaurant ventures in South Florida. Largely credited with bringing California-style, New American cuisine to the region in the 1980s, this culinary entrepreneur can most often be found seeking out the next best location to offer a fabulous dining experience. His recipe for success? Find the best location and offer only the highest quality menu items using the freshest local ingredients.

We try to continually interpret what’s happening out there. We try to live in the moment.

As one of South Florida’s Tastemakers, how do you feel you have influenced culinary trends and/or the dining experience here? We opened Café Max in 1984 and were the first to locally feature California cuisine, which became New American cuisine, and then led to other things that were offshoots of that whole movement.

What is your culinary ethos? It goes hand-in-hand with Max’s Harvest: the farm-to-fork concept, which, again, is a continuing evolution of Café Max. In the 1980s we had to import a great deal of our products. Now, not only here in Florida but around the country, the local farming movement allows us to get much better products than we could in the past. Our ethos is centered around the best products — sustainably farmed, organic free-range, antibiotic-free — prepared simply. In the U.S. in the last 20 to 25 years, farming has become an honorable, important thing to do. We’ve gotten back to the basics.

How has your style evolved over the years? The beginning of the California movement — based on local ingredients — is really what we’re doing now. When we brought the style here, our chefs and other local chefs realized that we could utilize certain ingredients and styles, such as Latin American and Caribbean, that were indigenous to our area. Our dedication is in doing really good food simply. Does that mean Italian, Greek or Asian? It can be all of those; the genesis of those are all pure and can be done in a simple or more elaborate way; as long as you do them honorably and with integrity.

What are your three favorite ingredients to work with? Olive oil, tomatoes, cheese — Italian, French or Maytag blue cheese. 

What’s next? We are presently opening two Italian restaurants: Frank & Dino’s is traditional Italian/American; Assiaggo del Forno offers dishes from all Italian regions, each true to its origins. We’re always looking for new opportunities to grow. We look at an area we like, find a location, and try to come up with a concept that will work well in that area. We’re not married to a particular style; that all emerges once we identify an area — it’s a fluid, always evolving thing.

Chef Allen Susser

Accomplished chef, James Beard award-winner and author Chef Allen Susser is no stranger to the South Florida dining scene, having enjoyed nearly 25 years at the helm of the famous Chef Allen’s restaurant in Aventura. Intricate flavor combinations with perfect texture are the essence of his creations, influenced by local ingredients and cultures. www.chefallens.com

I am a fan of being able to taste ‘where’ you eat. People are more savvy about food now; they are attuned to quality and what is
available to them.” 

As one of South Florida’s Tastemakers, how do you feel you have influenced culinary trends and/or the dining experience here? In 1986 I opened Chef Allen’s, a uniquely American restaurant where the ingredients for success included innovation and a focus on local flavors. I’m happy to say it quickly became a Miami landmark, recognized for its innovative seafood and classic fine dining service.

What is your culinary ethos? When you have the best and tastiest ingredients, simplicity is best.

How has your style evolved over the years? My cross-cultural tropical cuisine that started with new world cuisine more than 25 years ago has been constantly evolving. My vision of what the future holds is a culinary fusion of cultures that share similar landscapes and tropical ingredients. Quality matters.

What are your three favorite ingredients to work with? Mangos, burgers, chocolate.

What is your spice of choice? The Caribbean has traditionally been a hub of the spice trade, which accounts for the wealth of spices we use here in Florida. At Burger Bar by Chef Allen, I am crazy about cumin. It is the secret to my spice mixture that I use to season my great burgers. It gives my burgers a sense of place here in the South Florida.

What’s next? The burger is the American food icon; nearly half the U.S. population eats a burger once a week. We all know how to eat and savor a burger. I understand how to make a great burger — it starts with carefully selected cuts of beef and quality ingredients. Over the next few years I will be developing a boutique chain of burger bars to keep South Florida happy.

Chef Jeff  McInnis

Jeffrey McInnis has an inherent knowledge of southern food, having grown up on fishing boats in Florida’s panhandle and working on his grandparents’ farm in Alabama. After culinary school, his career took him around the country and the world, where he perfected Japanese and French techniques. McInnis returned to Florida in 2004, heading up some of the most fabulous restaurants in Miami, including the Ritz-Carlton’s DiLido Beach Club and gigi. During that time he also cooked his way into the finals of the popular television show Top Chef. Ready to return to his culinary roots, McInnis opened Yardbird Southern Table and Bar in the fall of 2011 to rave reviews. Orchestrating flavors of southern cuisine with modern techniques, McInnis is bringing the “south” to South Florida.

Culture provides the very heart, soul and freshness of a cuisine.

As one of South Florida’s Tastemakers, how do you feel you have influenced culinary trends and/or the dining experience here? Miami used to be all about flashy, trendy, more expensive restaurants. Lately, though, there’s been a change and the focus is on simpler cuisine. I like to think I’m contributing to that trend by bringing unpretentious, good flavors to the Miami

dining scene.

What is your culinary ethos? I’m all about making sure the diner has a great experience and feels like he/she got the best value for their choice. It’s my responsibility to make sure they enjoy themselves.

As your style may have evolved over the years, where do you draw the line? I try not to compromise quality for anything. This means cooking everything from scratch and not using anything that comes from a can, but more importantly, it means respecting and sticking to my roots. This includes sourcing the best ingredients that are indigenous to my home.

What are your three favorite ingredients to work with? Pork, fresh fish and seasonal produce. In Miami, heirloom tomatoes just came in, and I love working with them.

What is your spice of choice? I’m going to go with coriander here. It’s always been a favorite of mine because it’s got this calming, sweet aroma. When I think of coriander I think ‘calm’ and ‘aromatic.’ I’ve always liked it a lot.

What’s next? Well, I’m getting married soon. No set date yet! Other than that, Yardbird is the focus.

Burt Rapoport

Award-winning restaurateur Burt Rapoport has led an impressive legacy in the South Florida restaurant scene for over 30 years.  President of Rapoport’s Restaurant Group in Boca Raton, he is recognized for his dedication to providing high-quality cuisine for a good value, a warm and welcoming ambience, and truly attentive service at all of his restaurants.

It’s been an exciting road to have been part of the South Florida dining scene for so many years and I am elated to continue to have the drive and passion to pursue new and exciting concepts.

As one of South Florida’s Tastemakers, how do you feel you have influenced culinary trends and/or the dining experience here? I’ve always tried to give our guests a consistent, casual dining experience using top quality ingredients as well as
providing value.

What is your culinary ethos? My personal style is to prepare a dish as simply as possible using the best ingredients.

While your style may have evolved over the years, where do you draw the line? I will never compromise quality for convenience or cost.

What are your three favorite ingredients? Top quality olive oil, fresh herbs and sea salt.

What’s next? My goal has always been to create restaurants that I am proud of that will withstand the test of time. The new Deck 84 celebrates the resort-style brand of South Florida by offering casual waterfront dining overlooking the beautiful Intracoastal with top-quality menu offerings at reasonable prices. This November, I’ll be opening another restaurant in the upcoming Delray Marketplace. It will be called Burt & Max, and will be inspired by Max’s Grille.

Stratis  Morfogen

& Executive Chef Philippe Chow 

Stratis Morfogen has enjoyed a lifetime in the restaurant industry; the third generation of the Greek Morfogen family who made their mark on the culinary scene in New York City with numerous successful eateries. The restaurateur is behind many well known establishments in New York City, but his most significant contribution has been the design and creation of the Beijing-style Philippe restaurant, along with famed chef Philippe Chow. The brand is now expanding worldwide, but not before it was introduced to South Florida, where Morfogen and his family enjoy a second home. (His brother, Nick, is the owner and executive chef of 32 East in Delray Beach.)

Who says Chinese food can’t be healthy?!

As one of South Florida’s Tastemakers, how do you feel that you have influenced culinary trends and/or the dining experience here? We are the first to introduce a Bejing cuisine to the South Florida market and are one of few restaurants nationwide to deliver the true art of Beijing
style cuisine.

What is your culinary ethos? Fresh ingredients cooked like the best restaurants in Bejing.

As your style may have evolved over the years, where do you draw the line? We do add an organic substitute to MSG to our cooking and have spent months tasting and searching for an organic substitute to MSG, which we finally found in Japan. We are the only restaurant that uses this organic substitute. I’ve also added to my satay menu beef, shrimp and lobster as well as my famous lettuce wraps. I’ve also brought a much healthier element to my menu by adding steamed fish and vegetarian dishes including tofu. We are one of the only Chinese restaurants to be diet-approved for our lighter, healthier Beijing style cuisine.

What are your three favorite ingredients to work with? Ginger, garlic and tofu.

What is your favorite spice? What makes my satay sauce famous is the mix of Chinese and Vietnamese spices — that’s why no one can copy it correctly.

What’s next? We are expanding to Fort Lauderdale. We have other deals in the works in Dallas, Vegas and Hotel Philippe in Chicago.


Steven M. Mariano

Steven Mariano is not a chef or a restaurateur, but he is a figure in wine appreciation in South Florida. An entrepreneur and businessman with 20 years of experience in the insurance arena, he gives his time to the annual home-grown American Fine Wine Competition and Gala, which will be held this year on April 19 at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, (www.americanfinewinecompetition.org), of which his company is a presenting sponsor.

This year, we plan to pair [Chef] Emeril (great food) with great American wine and return the American Fine Wine Competition and Gala to the business networking event we began for a phenomenally enjoyable evening.

What is your opinion of the wine culture in South Florida? It is maturing and growing. I am enthused about its progression and consider its palate sophisticated.

Are you a traditionalist or a modernist? As an Italian, I’m certainly a traditionalist but remain open minded.

What is always stocked in your wine fridge? Rothschild, Jordan Cab, Gaja.

What is your dinner wine of choice? Red always, preferably a cabernet.

What is your take on the merlot versus pinot noir phenomenon? I find it fascinating that a movie can have such an impact, but Bordeaux is Bordeaux.

Your favorite wine pairing? A great ribeye and Gaja.

Is it possible to get a nice wine from a box? They make wine in a box?!

How about whites, Rieslings, Dessert/fruit wines, sparkling wines… Your preference? I love a great sauvignon blanc for lunch, perhaps exclusively. Sparkling wine has its time. Cristal is a favorite sparkling wine.

CHEF ALLEN’S Beach Burger Recipe 


1 8 oz steak burger—blend of short rib, brisket and prime chuck steak

½ tsp burger spice

1 tsp olive oil

4 strips cooked Applewood smoked bacon

2 slices Swiss cheese, thick cut

2 sesame seed buns

1 tsp mayonnaise

½ tsp yellow mustard

6 slices sour pickle chips

4 slices Roma tomato

2 slices red onion

4 leaves Bibb lettuce

To prepare

Season burgers with burger spice

Drizzle a hot griddle with olive oil

Cook the burger for 2 minutes and turn with a spatula. Be careful not to lose crusty caramelized meat.

Do not be tempted to squeeze the juices out of the burgers! Cook for 3 minutes and check doneness.

Top with bacon and swiss cheese. Cover for 30 seconds until the cheese has melted.

Spritz buns with mayonaisse and mustard and place the burger on bun

Top with pickles, tomato, onion, and lettuce

Serves 2

DECK 84’S Key Lime Mahi 


2 cups lime juice

2 cups fresh orange juice

1 TBS chopped garlic

¼ tsp ground cumin

2 TBS kosher salt

¼ cup ketchup

1-2 TBS chili garlic sauce

½ onion julienne

½ bunch cilantro roughly chopped

Mix all ingredients together, set aside

mahi mahi fillets 7 oz each

1 ½ cups basmati rice 

1 chopped scallion

2 TBS chopped cilantro 

2 cups diced fresh pineapple

½ red pepper dices

2 tsp brown sugar

1 shallot

1 sprig fresh thyme

5 black peppercorns

½ cup dry white wine

3 TBS lime juice

1TBS heavy cream

½ pound butter, diced and chilled well

Salt and pepper to taste

½ pound spinach

Chopped chive


To prepare

Marinate fish for 2 hours, remove

Cook basmati rice and add scallion and chopped cilantro

In a very hot pan add pineapple and red peppers. Caramelize until golden, add brown sugar, add basmati rice, keep hot

In a sauce pot add shallot, thyme, peppercorns, wine and lime juice. Reduce until almost evaporated. Add heavy cream. Cook for 2 minutes. Whisk in chilled butter until almost completely melted. Strain and set aside in a warm place. Season with salt and pepper

Grill fish on both sides until done; about 4 minutes each side

Sauté spinach in butter, place on plate. Mound rice on top, place fish around and garnish with sauce and chopped chives.



Pasta ingredients

1 pound torchio pasta      

¼ pound butter      

½ cup all-purpose flour      

½ tsp Creole mustard     

5 cups of milk      

1 ½ cup yellow onion, finely diced     

2 bay leaves      

1 tsp paprika      

12 oz medium cheddar, shredded     

8 oz Grayson cheese (from Meadow Creek Dairy)     

2 tsp kosher salt      

½ tsp black pepper, freshly ground 

Topping ingredients

2 cups leftover bread crumbs (I like to use the
leftover corn bread)  

4 oz soft butter      

Pinch of fine herbs      

Salt & pepper to taste      

1 large pinch shredded cheddar (reserved to top
dish with)   

To prepare

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta to al dente (about 8 minutes).  Remove and cool pasta immediately in refrigerator on a flat cold sheet pan.

In a separate pot, melt the ¼ pound of butter. Whisk in the flour and keep stirring the mixture for about five minutes constantly. Make sure mixture is free of lumps and then stir in the milk, onion, bay leaves, mustard and paprika. Simmer for 10 minutes and remove the bay leaves. Stir in the cheese in batches, being careful not to break the sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Fold the macaroni into the hot cheese and pour into a 9-inch cast iron casserole dish. Top with a big pinch of cheese.

For the topping:  Melt the butter in a sauté pan and toss the herbs, salt and pepper, bread crumbs to coat.  Place a thin layer of the topping over the cheesy mac in the cast iron dish and place in oven. Bake approximately 12 to 15 minutes in a 450° oven, or until lightly brown on top.  Remove from oven and serve.


 PHILIPPE CHOW’S Chicken Satay Ingredients


1/2 pound chicken breasts, sliced into thin strips
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup corn starch
3 eggs
2 TBS canola oil
1/4 cup carrot juice
8-inch bamboo skewers
Another 2 TBS canola oil for frying

To prepare

Mix all ingredients except chicken in a large mixing bowl. After it is incorporated, add the chicken and mix gently, making sure the chicken does not break apart.Refrigerate for at least an hour and then take each strip of chicken and thread through the skewer. Set aside.Heat a large pan on medium high heat with 2 tablespoons canola oil. Place skewers on one side for about 2 minutes and then flip and fry for another 2 minutes. (Time cooking on each side depends on how thick the chicken is cut. Thinner cut chicken is better because it cuts cooking time to ensure the chicken is cooked without burning the outside). Plate and serve with your favorite store-bought peanut sauce in the Asian  aisle of the supermarket.







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