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Born and bred in Miami of Cuban descent, Chef Angel Leon’s passion for cooking developed early in life. He learned hard work and discipline while helping out in his grandparents’ bakeries. At 17 Leon began his professional career at Azul at the Mandarin Oriental, Miami, under James Beard award-winner Michelle Bernstein. By his early 20s, Leon was working under his mentor, renowned Chef Pascal Oudin. After a short stint in New York, Leon returned to Miami and was tapped by Timon Balloo as opening Chef de Cuisine for Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill and then was part of the opening team for Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne (re-named Boulud Sud.) In 2014, Leon joined Seaspice Brasserie and Lounge as its Executive Chef.

Dining Out: How did the chefs on your path to Seaspice influence your career?

Chef Angel Leon: I am grateful and honored to have worked with great chefs that influenced my career, each one leaving an imprint in my DNA of cooking: the French technique that Chef Pascal Oudin instilled in me, the burst of flavors that Chef Michelle Bernstein engraved in my taste memory and the passion for learning true ethnic flavors that I learned from Chef Timon Balloo.

DO:  Tell us about the evolution of the menu at Seaspice since you became Executive Chef?

Chef: We have evolved to bring Miami a menu full of globally inspired influences and the highest quality fare. Our team has traveled the world, dined at the finest restaurants, explored cuisines and flavors from around the globe with the intention of producing a menu that truly embraces classic gastronomy with a modern flare. 

We have the highest standards for every ingredient in every dish we prepare. This starts with sourcing the finest organic produce, grass-fed, sustainable, certified Prime meats and Japanese A5 Wagyu beef. As we’re known for our incredible seafood dishes, we source both locally and flown fresh from seas around the world such as the Mediterranean, North Sea and Sea of Japan.

Our menu is at the core of the Seaspice dining experience. Guests may initially come for the ambiance and the views but they return time and time again for the decadent fare. 

DO: What is your one essential tool in the kitchen?

Chef: As a chef we are craftsmen and take our tools seriously. My favorite tool is my rational oven. 

DO: Why do you think Seaspice is a must-dine experience along the Miami River?

Chef: Well, obviously the location, the atmosphere, the wide selection of food, wine, entertainment and the passion that the Seaspice family projects.

DO: As a Miami native, how have you seen the city’s dining scene change?

Chef: It’s fascinating to see how the food culture has evolved and how Miami continues to strive to be a world-class culinary destination for combinations of flavors you can’t find anywhere else.

By Josie Gulliksen, Contributing Writer

Seasoned Miami chefs share their favorite kitchen hacks for the at-home chef

A spice grinder is not just for spices—you can make purées, sauces, salad dressings, marinades, and chop garlic or onion coarsely. I also like to dry roast my spices and then grind them in the grinder, then place them in a glass jar which makes the spices seem very fresh and flavorful. I learned this by trial and error in the kitchen as a chef.

One kitchen hack I’d like to share with the at-home chef is for dirty kitchen rags. Do not just take your dirty rags and wash them in the washing machine, because doing this may leave grease and food residue in the machine. Once you’re done with your rags for the day, put them in a pot of water and boil them for about 20 minutes. Boiling them will remove oil and food residue from the rag. Rinse them out with clean water after, and then they’re ready for the washing machine. I learned this kitchen hack in Haiti in 2016 while doing consulting for a restaurant there.

My tip for the home chef is to try to pick recipes outside of your comfort zone as much as you can. Don’t just roast a chicken, use fresh herbs and exotic spices to keep things interesting for your dinner parties. I’m currently crazy about Middle Eastern spices, like sumac and za’atar. And another great tip is always be sure you have enough alcohol in the house! Let’s face it, you can cook the best meal ever, but if you run out of booze, that’s all your guests will talk about. It happened to me once, and it will never happen again.

By DiningOut Staff

A chat with the owner of this Key Biscayne gem, Antonio Braschi

Just 15 miles south of Downtown Miami and a mini road trip across Rickenbacker Causeway is an escape to paradise on the island of Key Biscayne. And within this sliver of paradise, you’ll find some of South Florida’s finest dining options, including Costa Med Bistro + Wine. Not only will you find a taste of Key Biscayne at this restaurant, but splashes of Caribbean and Mediterranean flavors across the menu. Discover fresh, flavorful bites like Baba Ghanoush dips, Spanish Ibérico ham, Bourguignonne escargots, and Greek-style grilled octopus. Owner Antonio Braschi’s hard work has succeeded over a decade, so we sat down with him to find out what’s next for this island staple.

Greek-Style Grilled Octopus

DiningOut Magazine: Tell us about your culinary journey, and how you came to open Costa Med.
Antonio Braschi: I have been in the Hospitality industry for decades—I worked for several hotels in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Nassau, Bahamas; and Caracas, Venezuela. After parting ways with the hotel industry, I went on to work in food service and, in time, helped found a large distributor operation in Venezuela, which I managed until I moved back to the U.S. Having spent my honeymoon at the Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne, I knew that if I were to move, it would be to this island—and so I did. And I purchased a failed coffee shop, which now is Costa Med.

Costa Med is now celebrating 16 years on the Miami dining scene. To what do you credit the longevity of this success?
There’s no simple answer to longevity and success, but it definitely has distinct components, like hard work and sacrifice. I will never compromise quality for profits. My family eats here almost daily, so you can rest assured that every aspect of our food chain is methodically supervised.

Antonio Braschi

What would you say to someone that has not yet dined with you and your team at Costa Med?
You are missing out on the opportunity to enjoy top quality ingredients prepared with an exciting twist and served in a friendly environment. We treat all of our guests as VIPs, so you are going to be delighted here! Nothing we do is average. We’re about great food, awesome wine, and excellent service!

Surrounded by a blossoming food scene, what do you believe is the secret to staying fresh and relevant?
Research on the latest food news and service strategies, the use of the freshest local and seasonal products, and always investigating ways to make food taste good while staying within a healthy zone. I interact with my staff just as I do my customers. I have joined local institutions that allow me to keep a constant pulse on the state of our community and the chance to give back to it. I spend over 15 hours a day, 6-7 days a week, on my two businesses. I give them my undivided attention—I’m up and on the phone or the computer by 8:30am and do not slow down until I return home around midnight every night.

What is your favorite culinary trend in Miami right now? What’s your least favorite?
I am not too big on trends. I’m a fan of classic, good food and quality service! But if I must pick, I like some of the food halls. Among them, my favorite is Casa Tua Cucina inside the Brickell City Centre. They have done an incredible job of putting together the nicest food hall in Miami. This is my go-to place for informal dining. My least favorite trend would be the food truck scene, which I have steered away from.

Aside from Costa Med, where are some of your favorite places to dine out right now?
I hope someone opens up a great Lebanese restaurant soon, but while I wait, here are my favorites places in Miami by neighborhood: Novikov Miami in Downtown; Byblos in Miami Beach; Hillstone in Coral Gables; Café Roval at MiMo District; Tacology and Casa Tua Cucina in Brickell; Sapore di Mare in Coconut Grove; Swan at the Design District; Donut Gallery Diner in Key Biscayne; and definitely my top choice is my other restaurant, Kazumi Modern Japanese, also in Key Biscayne.

What’s on the horizon for Costa Med? Any big plans or changes we should look out for?
We are discussing revamping items on the menu and the wine list, updating the décor a bit, and continuing with our wine dinner series. Expansion plans are brewing, but nothing is definite yet. Meanwhile, we will be working hard toward our 17th anniversary in 2020, so that Key Biscayne residents can continue to boast one of the best restaurants in Miami.

—Interview by Peyton Garcia, managing editor

Chef Angelina Bastidas

The Village of Merrick Park’s newest eatery Piripi {320 San Lorenzo Avenue, Coral Gables; 305.448.2423} opened its doors in March with a bang. Already, it’s stirring the pot by introducing a brand-new executive chef: Angelina Bastidas.

At only 25 years old, Bastidas has had more than her fair share of culinary experience. She was still a student at Le Cordon Bleu when she began her career at Wish with Marco Ferraro (a Jean-Georges protégée). She then honed her skills in a number of Miami’s top dining destinations before taking on the position of chef de cuisine at South Beach’s popular Tongue & Cheek, where she was selected by Zagat Miami as one of the 30 Under 30 Miami Rock Stars Redefining the Industry.

Just weeks into her new position at Piripi, we had the opportunity to talk with Chef Bastidas about her background, her inspiration, what changes she has in store for the new menus, and even her guilty pleasures.

1. Tell us a bit about your history.
I am originally from the Bronx, but I was raised in Miami and my background is Dominican-Colombian. I have been interested in food since I was a young girl—I grew up with it as part of our family culture. As soon as I graduated high school, I enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu, and after two weeks, I started working in the kitchen at Wish. I’ve also worked at Area 31, The Bazaar by José Andrés, The Biltmore Palme d’Or, and Tongue & Cheek.

2. What drew you to Piripi?
As soon as I heard there was a restaurant opening named Piripi, I was intrigued. To me, it’s a word that perfectly describes Miami (“piripi” is Spanish for “tipsy”). I remember the first time I walked into the restaurant; I was really impressed with the space itself—it’s beautiful and immense—and I guess I felt a little “piripi” myself just walking in the door.

3. Tell us about the new menus. What are some changes you’re making?
We are introducing new brunch, lunch, and kids’ menus, and at some point, a happy hour menu. We have such a great bar, I’d love to see some dishes suited just for dining there. I am also restructuring the dinner menu; there will be a mix of new dishes, plus re-creations of some that are already on the menu. New dishes that I’m excited about are the Chistorra Piripi, the Roasted Beet Salad, and the classic Shrimp al Ajillo. In the future, I also plan on expanding the charcuterie menu, where we can feature housemade meats, torchons, terrines, etc.

4. What is your personal favorite menu item?
My personal favorite has to be the Chistorra Piripi. It’s probably going to be the biggest hit for Piripi yet. It has crispy potatoes, poached egg, and pan-fried chistorra with a Manchego espuma that melts in your mouth!

5. What might surprise visitors about Pirpi if they are coming in for the first time?
I think the first thing guests notice when they walk in has to be the extravagant artwork over the bar. I also think that some of the new dishes and composed plates we are presenting will surprise visitors—even those who are regulars. We are not changing the cuisine, we are reinventing it. At our core, we are still a Spanish restaurant, but we are ready to have fun with our food, with different textures and flavors.

6. How does Miami play a part when creating menu items, selecting ingredients, etc.?
Our location in Miami always defines my menus. I love to embrace what’s local and in season—that’s key to how I create my menus.

7. What Miami chefs or celebrity chefs do you admire?
Florida chefs I admire would have to be Norman Van Aken, Lindsay Autry, and Jeremy Ford. Celebrity chefs I admire are Curtis Duffy, Emeril Lagasse, and Daniel Barber.

8. Do you have a favorite cooking show on TV?
If I had to pick, it would probably have to be “Kitchen Nightmares.” Although it gives me major anxiety, it helps me improve on “cleanliness!”

9. Do you have a favorite food or guilty food pleasure?
My go-to has to be Hershey’s Pie. It relieves me from all the stress I deal with at work.

10. What do you love most about working at Piripi so far?
Working with the Piripi family has been a pleasure. Everyone is committed to doing their best and working as a team. When you’re around great energy, the workflow is just so much smoother.

By Sherri Balefsky | Online Editor