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.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
I knew I wanted to be a chef when cooking for friends and family became a real source of happiness for me.
What are the staple ingredients in your kitchen?
My go-to ingredients include soy, miso, and garlic.
What’s your favorite curse word to use in the kitchen?
If you had to pick one food item to best describe yourself, what would it be and why?
Definitely Mofongo for its obvious Latin influences and how it always brings me back to my Puerto Rican roots.
Who is your biggest culinary influence?
Two big influences for me are Thomas Buckley (Nobu) and David Chang (Momofuku). I’ve always been so impressed with the way they both mix their ingredients using Asian and European techniques. They truly take ingredients to another level; it’s the ability to combine these flavors that take their cuisine to the next level.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
Probably something in sports, like be part of a sports team.
What’s your current take on the Miami food scene?
It’s really great to see how much talent has come to light in the past couple of years. I’m constantly inspired and motivated by how my local peers take their cuisine to the next level and stay on the pulse of what’s new and interesting.
The Pubbelly Empire is slowly taking over Miami, but what’s your dream foodie city for expansion?
New York City and Toronto.
To what do you attribute your knack for menu creativity and flavor combinations?
I would have to say reading menus, magazines and always remembering to keep my mind open to new flavor combinations is what ultimately fuels my creativity as a chef.
What’s the most creative dish you’ve ever created?
Veal Brains with black butter, blue crab tartar sauce and bean sprouts.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Miami right now, other than yours?
What is your favorite thing about living in Miami?
The tropical weather is the best perk ☺