Chef Masamoto Hamaya —
Dragonfly Izakaya and Fish Market
Chef Masamoto Hamaya was born and raised in Japan. He went to college in Arizona, but returned home to Tokyo to go to culinary school. He came back to the United States to embark on an impressive culinary career: Hamaya was Head Sushi Chef at Uchi, James Beard Award Winner Tyson Cole’s restaurant in Austin, Texas, and he has played key roles as Executive Chef at Ozumo and Executive Sous at the Michelin starred Ame in San Francisco.
Chef Jose Mendin —
Founding Partner & Chef,
The Pubbelly Group
As the child of “food enthusiast” parents and a great-grandmother who was a cooking instructor, Chef Jose Mendin was born into a heavy food culture, though it wasn’t until he went off to college and needed to prepare his own meals that he realized his adoration for cooking. To that end, Mendin left his home in Puerto Rico to go to cooking school at Johnson & Wales University in Miami. After graduating in 2001, his continued passion for food and learning carried him into an extremely successful career. He was part of the opening team at Nobu, Miami and later Nobu, London, and used these foundational Asian influences to parlay the opportunity into a job at SUSHISAMBA Miami. After two years, he was appointed to Assistant Corporate Chef, overseeing all of the brands U.S. locations, which included the 2008 opening of the award-winning SUSHISAMBA, Las Vegas at the Palazzo.
While recognizable U.S. concepts like Mosaico adorn Mendin’s resume, his pursuit to learn in an international kitchen is perhaps what he regards as most influential in his culinary training. Stages in Spain, working under chefs like Jesus Ramiro and Juan Pablo Felipe, were creative processes that forced him out of his comfort zone and later played a role in the menu development at Mercadito, as opening chef of their Chicago and Miami outposts. While in Spain, he worked in Michelin-starred restaurants, cooked for the prince of Spain, and learned how to revitalize ancient recipes, by maintaining the integrity of a dish’s roots and infusing it with modern touches.
Today, Mendin is a hometown hero in his native San Juan and adopted Miami. Alongside his business partners Sergio Navarro, Andreas Schreiner, and Juan Fernando Ayora, he has taken numerous culinary concepts to critical acclaim and has been a recognized semi-finalist of the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef South” for five consecutive years from 2012-2016. When not in the kitchen, you’ll find Chef Mendin spending time with his fiancé Ali and his two sons, Ian and Noah.
Chef Roberto Dubois —
Vagabond Kitchen and Bar
Chef Roberto Dubois became passionate about food by learning to cook from his grandmothers and working as a teenager in his father’s restaurant. He learned the art of butchering and the finer aspects of organic gardening, which led him to later open his own restaurant. He enrolled in culinary school in El Salvador where he graduated as Valedictorian of his class. After graduating, Chef Dubois traveled around the world learning different types of cuisines, continuing to gain experience through stints at restaurants like Juvia, Makoto, Juniper on the Water, Klima, and Azul at the Mandarin Oriental. Since June 2016, Chef Dubois has brought his talent to Vagabond Kitchen and Bar, where he focuses on giving guests quality food with the freshest ingredients and aims to enhance the MiMo district with amazing food, drinks and ambiance.
Not too long ago, we told you about the wonderful experience we had at Drunken Dragon during their newly launched brunch service. We loved everything about the ingenious menu that stayed true to its Korean influence. We continue to be smitten by everything about Drunken Dragon and it was only fair that we highlighted chef de cuisine, Xavier Torres, on this edition of Chef’s Corner.
Chef Allen Susser
With more than 40 years of experience in the food and restaurant industry, award-winning Chef Allen Susser is a master of flavor. Infused in every dish he creates, is his passion for blending food with feeling to create memorable and delicious experiences. Chef Susser graduated from Florida International University with a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management. After graduating, he gained valuable experience working at the Le Bristol Hotel in Paris and New York City’s Le Cirque Restaurant before finally landing in South Florida, where he founded the esteemed Chef Allen’s Restaurant. For more than 25 years, Chef Susser served as executive chef of the establishment, which was highly regarded as one of the top restaurants in the country.
Julia Ning, Chef/Owner, Station 5 Table & Bar
Chef Julia Ning’s affinity for the culinary arts was forged in the kitchens of her grandmothers, as a young girl in Boston, Massachusetts. Of Chinese and French-Canadian descent, it was alongside her Chinese grandmother, “Ngin Ngin,” that Julia learned her undying hospitality. She would watch in awe as “Ngin Ngin” transformed her kitchen into a non-stop hub of cooking and entertaining for the Chinese-American community in Boston. It was at the knee of her French Canadian grandmother, “MeMe,” that Julia discovered her love for braising, charcuterie, and pickling; and experienced the consuming comfort, warmth, and love that can exude from a home cooked meal. With the help of “Ngin Ngin” and “MeMe,” Julia developed a passion for artfully seasoned and creatively executed comfort food.
Wolfgang Birk, Executive Chef, Area 31
Wolfgang Birk joined Area 31, a Kimpton restaurant, as executive chef in August 2013. A nationally accredited culinary expert with strong ties to the south Florida community, Birk brings his European training, vast international knowledge of sustainability, finesse with local ingredients and passion for vibrant, healthy cuisine to the kitchen of Area 31.
Francisco Anton, Chef/Owner, Cardón y el Tirano
A native of Isla Margarita, Venezuela, Chef Francisco Anton moved to the U.S. when he was 16 years old. After growing up between Louisiana and earning a business degree in Orlando, he decided to follow his passion for cooking and went to live and work in NYC. After stints in Brooklyn and Manhattan, he came into his own under Maximo Tejada who taught him how to merge his flare for Latin cuisine with French technique. After a few years, Chef Anton moved to Miami and, before opening Cardón y el Tirano, worked alongside Michael Shikany at SHIKANY and was also heavily recruited to work with Alex Chang at the Vagabond. Instead of continuing on a path of working for others, however, Chef Anton decided to follow his dreams and open his own restaurant, offering a contemporary take on more traditional menus from all over Latin America.
Brian Nasajon, Executive Chef/Owner, Beaker & Gray
A Miami native, Brian Nasajon was born into a family where a love of food and an appreciation of culinary arts were household values. Exposed to global flavors as a young boy, Chef Nasajon’s favorite memories include observing his grandfather’s every move as he expertly grilled asado – a staple of any Uruguayan household.
Santiago Gomez de la Fuente, Executive Chef, Cantina La Veinte
Cantina La Veinte’s Executive Chef, Santiago Gomez de la Fuente, is a talented young toque who offers a playful, yet sophisticated approach to traditional Mexican cuisine. His dishes reflect his passion for taking the rich offerings of Mexico’s agriculture and transforming them into contemporary masterpieces.