Suite 100 in Fort Lauderdale Promotes Ted Inserra to Top Chef
|Inserra is now top toque at Suite 100.|
Whatever caused the demise, there's no denying that Inserra has a hell of a kitchen résumé, and that's what helped him land quickly at the new Suite 100 in the Las Olas Riverfront complex. After just over a month as sous chef, Suite 100 has promoted Inserra to executive head chef. He spoke to Clean Plate Charlie about the new gig.
Clean Plate Charlie: You've just been promoted to executive head chef at the new Suite 100. What led to the change?
Inserra: I believe the owners thought the restaurant needed a new direction. Chef
Reed Alenik did a great job setting us up for success, but as in other businesses, a new voice was required to move Suite 100 into the top of the restaurant elite in South Florida and thought I could better take us there.
You've worked with South Florida's most well-known chefs, including Mark Militello, Michelle Bernstein, and Johnny Vinczencz. What did you take away from that experience?
It has been an honor working with these chefs and also chef Oliver Saucy and chef Peter Bouloukos. I was at Mark's Las Olas from day one and stayed for three years. Michelle was actually a sous chef for Mark, and we became very good friends. Johnny Vinczencz is an incredible talent and can blend hard work and still make it fun. All of these chefs do not compromise on the quality of their food. Mark once told me the difference between a chef and a cook is seasoning. I always taste everything all day to ensure top quality.
I was on the D.L. in Melbourne when reading an article about chef Mark Militello in Bon Appetite magazine, about his "Floribbean"-style food, and it hit home. And the last line in the article said "and soon to open Mark's on Las Olas," and for that very reason, in the cover of darkness, I came back to Fort Lauderdale to work for chef Mark, which really put my culinary career in motion. I was determined to be hired by Mark, and after several meetings with chef Peter Bouloukos and GM Tim Petrillo, I was hired.
It has been a few months since the rough collapse of Smith & Jones, where you were a sous chef. Any thoughts on what went down?
Ah, the Smith & Jones question. Let's stir up that hornet's nest again. It was not any one thing -- it was the number-seven combination platter. As with any business, it all boils down to money. We slowed down, overhead was very high, and that is a recipe for disaster. I still believe if you would have placed Smith & Jones on the other end of Las Olas or on Atlantic Avenue in Delray, it would have been a tremendous hit.
The Suite 100 menu now is pretty wide-ranging, from a meatball sub to tostones. Will you be changing it? If so, how?
We are very proud of our menu. Our food is outstanding. Once you try us, you will be back. We are starting to do specials now geared to my strengths, with Italian and Latin influences. Saturday and Sunday brunch is without a doubt the best in town.
Crowds haven't found the place yet. What do you do from here to change that?
Also changing with Suite 100 is going to be the marketing aspect of the restaurant. We have some advertising coming up, and we are scheduled to be present at the upcoming South Florida Culinary Events. We also have the best seating for the fantastic Christmas Boat Parade, and with all the people coming to the waterfront, we are expecting a big surge in business. Like I said, once you try us, you will love us.
The space has an amazing bar, and with that view of the New River, it could become a hot spot for happy hour. Any plans to make that happen?
We do have a beautiful bar, with a great staff, and the view is the best Fort Lauderdale -- the "Venice of America" -- has to offer. Our daily happy hour is two-for-one, with appetizer specials. Also, we have some martini-themed nights.
The Riverfront is something of an enigma. Great location, beautiful building, but it fell apart the last few years. How do you guys survive there, and can you help bring it back?
I love the Riverfront. I worked at China Grill when it was first opened, with even a Big Pink upstairs. Then, it was the bad parking situation, and the owners thought the theaters were going to be a big enough draw. Hopefully, we are the first of many new openings in that location. Off the Hookah and the Living Room do a great late-night, younger crowd, and we will capture the sophisticated and still-want-to-have-fun crowd. On the weekends, our outside bar along the water is a very fun place to hang out, and we have a water taxi dock within steps of our beautiful establishment.
What upsets me more than the decline of the Las Olas Riverfront is the decline of Las Olas Boulevard. And what do they both have in common? The Las Olas Co.! I was against the "alleged" Riverside Hotel from the beginning, and now what do we have? A torn-down O'Hara's, an institution, and a huge empty lot so we can show the movie E.T. on the side of the building and people can bring their own food and drink and not contribute to the businesses on Las Olas. Do not get me wrong: I love Atlantic Avenue in Delray, but I cringe every time I hear about another top chef or club opening there. Why not Las Olas? I was born in Broward General Hospital. I know Las Olas. It is a treasure that is failing because of "the corporation." I have spilled blood, sweat, and tears on that street, and when I die, my ashes will be spread on Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale beach, and Club Duece in South Beach!
In many kitchens, executive chef is more of a manager than a cook. Do you see yourself still working the line?
I am not a "clipboard" chef. I am very hands-on. I do all the butchering and soup- and sauce-making. The line is too exciting not to jump in. I have a "bring it on" line-cook attitude. I can still hang with the younger up-and-comers and sometimes can even show them a thing or two. Give me a speed rack full of tickets, my guys on the line, and some loud Rolling Stones and it becomes like a ballet -- except with chef pants and not tights.
Money is no object, and, let's see, Anthony Bourdain, is coming to Suite 100. What do you make him?
Ah, Anthony Bourdain. His book Kitchen Confidential changed my life. It's a very realistic view of the great restaurant business and how it becomes your family. You are together days, nights, weekends, holidays -- more than our own family! I am a South Florida native, so I would treat him to some true taste of our culture. Start off with some fresh conch ceviche, followed by my favorite plantain-crusted mahi, wild mushroom picadillo, chayote slaw, mango syrup, and a side of slow-braised oxtail, yuca mash, and sweet plantain flan. Not the most expensive dish but truly my style.
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