By Phillip Valys
Homemade beef jerky. Pasta Bolognese. A grilled-cheese sandwich.
The executive chefs behind South Florida’s top-rated restaurants may toil in those muggy kitchens all day for our delicious fix, but they’re also just like us. They need to unwind with a quick calorie bomb.
Our chefs get cravings for snacks that can’t be found at their restaurants, and after long evenings firing up grilled octopus and bone-in ribeye, they find their own zen in the simplicity of comfort food.
We spoke to a trio of local chefs from different culinary backgrounds: Sean Brasel of Meat Market in Miami Beach and Palm Beach, Josie Smith Malave of Bubbles + Pearls in Wilton Manors and Florenzo Barbieri of Chanson at the Royal Blues Hotel in Deerfield Beach.
Here are the secret, off-the-menu recipes they dished about.
EXECUTIVE CHEF / PARTNER
Meat Market Palm Beach, 191 Bradley Place, Palm Beach, 561-354-9800, MeatMarket.net.
Meat Market Miami Beach, 915 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, 305-532-0088, MeatMarket.net.
When Sean Brasel goes hiking in the mountains each summer, the executive chef behind Meat Market roughs it with packages of duck breast prosciutto, pasta primavera, short rib and an Indian curry quinoa stew.
There’s a reason Brasel lives it up in rugged luxury. These expensive meat and pasta dishes can survive in the Colorado heat of Steamboat Springs and Devil’s Causeway, where Brasel hikes with friends, because every ingredient has been dehydrated and cured into a savory beef jerky.
As part-owner of Meat Market Miami Beach and Meat Market Palm Beach, Brasel has been turning his own prime cuts into trail snacks since 2014, when he and restaurant partner David Tornek decided to trade chemical-ridden and freeze-dried jerky for homemade rations.
“This is, by far, the closest way to come to a gourmet meal in the wilderness,” Brasel says. “I was sick and tired of buying crappy jerky at supermarkets, so I started using my own inventory to make it.”
A fitness nut who also competes in BattleFrog and Ironman competitions, the Colorado-born Brasel says he enjoys returning to his home state to find splendor in the wilderness, a respite from the hundreds of customers who descend on both Meat Market locations every week. Brasel, who lives in Miami Beach, began his career as a sous chef at Denver steakhouse Cliff Young’s in the 1990s, rising up the food chain until he opened Touch, a seafood lounge, on Lincoln Road in 2000. After Touch shuttered in 2008, Brasel and Tornek opened Meat Market South Beach in 2009, followed by Meat Market Palm Beach in 2014.
To prepare his gourmet jerky, Brasel uses the South Beach location’s own commercial dehydrator, metal racks where fatty cuts of sausage and boneless short rib desiccate, losing about 70 percent of their fat content. Two days later, Brasel cures the meats with brine.
“What makes it ideal is the level of fat content,” Brasel explains. “When you dehydrate a leaner meat, you get that super-chewy, inedible store-bought quality. So what I do is take a half-pound of meat, dehydrate it and rehydrate it at the camp. You want to pack as little weight on the trail as possible.”
The idea, Brasel says, is to travel light, and he packs enough jerky for five dinners. To rehydrate the prime cuts, he combines the meat with homemade powdered soup mix packets, along with dehydrated roasted tomato penne pasta and dried vegetables such as tofu, broccolini, mushrooms, squash and green beans.
Brasel says he has no plans to introduce his jerky to Meat Market customers, but it will always be a staple for the outdoors.
“I must sound like a total aristocrat, but it’s perfect for hiking,” Brasel says. “At the end of the day after a long climb, you just want to sit down and relax, rest your sore muscles, take your Aleve, and say, ‘What’s my big dinner tonight?’ That’s what I look forward to.”
Josie Smith Malave
EXECUTIVE CHEF / OWNER
Bubbles + Pearls, 2037 Wilton Drive, Wilton Manors, 954-533-9553, BubblesnPearls.com.
It’s a recent Wednesday morning at Bubbles + Pearls in Wilton Manors, and executive chef Josie Smith Malave is bent over the ingredients for a grilled-cheese sandwich, laughing at her own humility.
“It’s like a pastry,” Malave says with a jolly, infectious guffaw that fills the cramped oyster and champagne bar on Wilton Drive. “You might laugh, but this is white American cheese and Nature’s Own bread. It’s like a dumbed-down version of a brioche.”
The Hialeah-born Malave is standing behind a wood-paneled bar lined with yellow aluminum stools, the walls distinguished by racks of champagne bottles. Four slices of Nature’s Own Butterbread and thin-sliced white American rest on a cutting board next to a mound of sugar in a metal dip bowl.
Malave is feeling much humbler these days living in Wilton Manors, after a 20-year career working in celebrated kitchens from New York to San Francisco, and globetrotting as a chef-testant on Bravo’s reality competition series, Top Chef.
After all the oysters are shucked and champagne is sipped on a tiring dinner service on the Drive, a grilled-cheese sandwich is the go-to dish Malave cooks for herself to decompress. It’s easy. It hits the spot.
And it’s nostalgic, a throwback to her working-class Hialeah childhood as the daughter of divorced parents – a Filipino father and a Puerto Rican-Italian mother. Grilled cheese is quintessential “parent food,” she says (there’s another hearty laugh).
“Humble’s where I started,” Malave, 42, says. “My dad told me, when I was growing up in Hialeah, that I would be famous, and I was all like, ‘Yeah, Dad, you’re gonna see my name up in lights. I’m awesome.’ And my dad’s like, ‘Maybe you should add some humility, too.’ ”
Malave says she checked her ego, but the offers rolled in. After graduating from Norland-North Center for the Arts, a Miami Gardens magnet school, she moved out of the house. Malave, who identifies as bisexual, says her parents wouldn’t accept her sexuality at the time. Eventually, she entered culinary school at the Art Institute in New York, which led to work in restaurants around Brooklyn and Manhattan. She joined the cast of Top Chef Season 2 in 2006, but was eliminated early, and competed again for seasons 3, 5 and 10.
Malave never won, but her high-profile led to stints as a spokesperson for LGBT-friendly organizations such as GLAAD and the ACLU. After more jobs in San Francisco, Malave moved back to South Florida in 2014, and opened Bubbles + Pearls last October.
Malave carries the ingredients to the kitchen and switches on a portable propane hot plate. She adds butter, which fizzles into a puddle, and sops it up with bread. Minutes later, the sandwiches are plated, each side golden-brown and greasy.
“This is the most important part,” Malave says, sprinkling a pinch of sugar over the sandwich. She chomps down. “Oh, yeah. Not too much sugar. You just want that salty-sweet crunch.”
Chanson Restaurant at the Royal Blues Hotel, 45 S. Ocean Way, Deerfield Beach, 954-857-2929, RoyalBluesHotel.com/Chanson_Restaurant
One of Florenzo Barbieri’s earliest childhood memories involves watching his grandmother tend to their farm’s vegetable garden in Italy, slicing up fresh tomatoes to dry under the hot Sicilian sun.
Although his grandmother died 15 years ago, Barbieri, 36, celebrates the family’s legacy by re-creating her most savory dish: “pasta lavatura,” a kind of rigatoni white Bolognese blended with ground beef and pork.
“The way I make it, it’s very simple,” Barbieri says. “I come from a humble family, not very rich, from a poor family. We only had three, four ingredients, and during Sundays in Italy, it was a family tradition to cook something special with the fewest ingredients.”
It’s a humble philosophy that Barbieri has brought as executive chef of Chanson Restaurant, the beachside seafood bistro inside the boutique Royal Blues Hotel in Deerfield Beach. He was hired in May, moving from his native Sicily to Sunrise with his wife, Valeria (they married in June), and 3-year-old daughter, Mia.
Although Barbieri’s style of cuisine is contemporary – he adds Italian flair to a menu that includes charcoal risotto and twice-cooked octopus – he says his grandmother’s traditional dish transports him to the past. For that reason, Barbieri prepares pasta lavatura only on holidays and special occasions for his family. The dish isn’t on the menu at Chanson.
“This is where I come from, where I fell in love with food,” Barbieri says. “And now, after 35 years, I’m repaying my grandparents in a humble way, learning so many new techniques to help me survive in a new world.”
If Barbieri sounds modest, his chef career says otherwise. Born in Hartford, Conn., he moved from the United States to Nigeria and back before settling in Syracuse, Sicily, where he attended culinary school. That earned him jobs working at Bella Vita, a Syracuse restaurant, and an apprenticeship working under Michelin-starred chef Peter Brunel in Florence. After meeting Royal Blues Hotel owner Edward Walson, he was offered a job in Deerfield Beach.
To make his grandmother’s pasta lavatura, Barbieri creates a broth of vegetable stock, adding carrots, celery, green onions, bay leaves and nutmeg. The ground beef and pork usually comes from the leg, neck and breast of the animals. He lets the broth simmer for two to three hours, which softens the meat.
“You get an explosion of taste in a little bite,” Barbieri says. “It’s something very special for me, and makes me feel very rich, because it was rare to eat so heartily back home. This recipe is over 100 years old, but it still works.”