Chef Jamie DeRosa of Atlantic Ocean Club and Buddha Sky Bar: Interview, Part II
|DeRosa's Florida pompano.|
How did you make your way back to Florida after your global adventures?
In 2009, after the Olympics, I came home for Christmas... and I came down to Miami to work with a buddy of mine, Tim Andreola of Timo. Tim was opening a project and wanted some help... and that turned into a few months, and I ran into Chef Allen Susser a few times, and he told me he had a project in the works and would I be interested in coming to Delray. I didn't know where Delray was... I was living in South Beach at the time. So I came up and I loved it -- I fell in love with the town and the community.
What about the project?
He [Chef Allen] wanted to do a gastropub, so I wrote the menu and the concept, and we worked together on it, and we opened Taste Gastropub. I was just going to be a consultant, so I was consulting for six months, and that ended in June, and these guys [Atlantic Management Group] found me.
Were you hands-on at Taste?
I was there every day; I was just consulting because we didn't know what it was going to turn into. Chef Allen was a consultant, hired by Robert, so I said that I'd work as a consultant for a period of time.
Taste closed abruptly in November. What's your take on what happened?
I think it was the wrong time and the wrong location, and I think opening in April was the wrong move... We had 60 percent of our seating outside, and I think that was a big issue in the summer; people just don't want to sit outside. I think the food -- and not just because it was mine -- I think the food works. I just think it was the wrong time, the wrong location, and wrong design.
Tell me about Atlantic Management Group (AMG) and how you got involved with them.
I left Taste in June, and... then I met Larry of Atlantic Management Group. It's a brand of restaurants, soon to be hotels, which will carry the AMG brand, and we'll do a night-life segment. We have Atlantic Ocean Club and Buddha Sky Bar. AMG was established in 2010. Larry Lipnick, the owner, and Chris Licatta bought the land in 2006. The building has been designed from the old Powers Lounge back in the early 1900s, so when it was built, it had to be rebuilt within that design because Delray is such a small town, some properties are historic. When I came onboard, they had an idea of what they wanted to do but not a real clear direction of the food to a degree. When I heard about Atlantic Ocean Club, I really wanted to bring that California freshness to the market. I also wanted to incorporate a sustainable, organic program, which I think Michael, at Michael's Genuine in Miami, is probably the only one that does it. We're also working with the Clean Fish program, which means all of our seafood is sustainable; we're working with a lot of farmers from around the country, local and domestic. We really have an emphasis on farm-to-table approach. I'm also pulling a lot of my resources from working with the chefs that I've worked with. I'm able to get the product that some of the better chefs are using.
Why is Atlantic Ocean Club a great restaurant for Delray?
Here in Delray, people tend to eat a little healthier, they're usually outside, they're active. It's a small community; they dine out frequently... and we've got good food here in Delray... I think as long as the food is good and it can speak for itself, I think people are happy.
What will be your focus with the food at Atlantic Ocean Club?
Atlantic Ocean Club is a seafood restaurant, it's sustainable with the Clean Fish program and has the farm to table approach. We have wood-burning ovens and wood-burning grills.
Describe the look of the restaurant.
The design of the restaurant is beautiful; it's like walking inside of a yacht. It has teak inside. There's a boardwalk... There's blue tile off to the left and right that seems to be ocean. We have a mezzanine level that overlooks the dining room. On the mezzanine is a crudo bar that'll have raw product and seafood crudos. There's a DJ and lighting and sound system so that it can be a lounge in the evening after dinner, so there's a nightlife element to the restaurant.
So it's about more than just the food; you're looking to create a dining "experience"?
There's really a great entertainment factor to not only having great food but also excellent entertainment. It's a complete dining experience. The dinner element will have that, the lunch element will have that to a degree, and then we're going to do brunch Saturdays and Sundays. So we'll have a piano [playing] and beautiful scones, muffins, and eggs and just great dishes. We have outside seating and inside with live entertainment. There's just nothing like it.
What is Buddha Sky Bar?
Buddha Sky Bar is on the roof, and the idea behind that cuisine is that of my influences from my travels in Asia. We're going to have a lot of Chinese food; we're going to have a sushi bar. And it's on the roof, and it's all completely exposed in a glass atrium. So we're able to control the environment inside the restaurant, but you're also able to feel like you're outside.
Sounds exciting! When do you anticipate you'll be opening your doors?
We are scheduled to open the Atlantic Ocean Club the first week of January. Buddha Sky Bar will be ready at the same time, but we're waiting 30 days until we're ready.
What are your priorities right now with planning for the opening?
Right now, we're doing recipe testing.
What will the wine list be like?
The wine list is going to be friendly. I think we're going to have about 100 bottles of great wines by the glass, great pricing structure for those wines. We'll have some nice craft beers. We have some spectacular signature cocktails that we have a mixologist doing.
What are some examples of the food you'll be preparing?
Crudo items and appetizers are meant for sharing while entrées offer selections like chilled octopus with watermelon, avocado, poppy seed, and Meyer lemon; sautéed grouper and cheeks, ragout of braised rabbit, butternut squash gnocchi, and pickled
root vegetables; and salt-crusted yellowtail snapper "en croute," mussels, cauliflower, and confit pear onions.
What advice would you give to aspiring chefs?
I think that if anyone has any aspirations to be a chef, I think they should spend some time in a kitchen before investing any money or making any commitments. We do what's called a stage or a trail where we bring in candidates of any level and let them work in the kitchen for a day. We let them see and observe what it means to work in a kitchen with a chef... A lot of restaurants are more management and concept and management-driven, but when you're working in a kitchen with a chef, it's a different animal. It's like being in the military.
Do you think culinary school is essential?
I don't think so. I went to culinary school, and I've always said I learned more in the practical world than I did in culinary school... However, I do think culinary school builds a foundation, and I wouldn't deter anyone from doing it. I would just say, have some practical experience behind you first.
Who has been the biggest influence on your career thus far?
I would say early on it was Tim Andreola and Chef Allen because they were the ones who influenced who I am today and how I feel about food. I think later in my years, it was Wolfgang Puck and just his approach to having a balance of success and still being a chef. He never lost focus of being a chef from day one... He's never changed who he was; he's never allowed success to change what his business is about, and to me, that's inspiring.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I would like to see AMG grow into the restaurant and hotel market. I would like to see this brand become a restaurant and hotel brand. I'd like to continue my work with some charities here in Delray and Palm Beach. I work with Palm Beach Food Harvest whose "Feed the Need" program... feeds the homeless. I'd like to work with schoolkids and school lunch programs -- I think that's important. Ultimately, I want to provide a place for other chefs to come and be part of... I don't see there's a very big community in South Florida like we have in California where chefs come together... to really mentor the younger kids... I want to see their future be relative to our hard work. It's the Wolfgang motto of cultivating a place for people to grow within the company. My best days are the days where I hear the people that work with me are successful and have gone on to do great things -- I remember when people used to tell me that.
Do you like to entertain at home?
I do. I'm a big entertainer, and I'm a big sports fan. I like to have pool parties and have some fun on the weekends.
What do you like to cook for people when they come over?
I always like to have something that's interactive. I have all the ingredients there, and we'll make it together, or if I'm having a sushi party, I'll have all the ingredients there and teach people how to roll the sushi. Something that's entertaining, that doesn't take too much time for us to do together. They're always asking you questions anyway, so why not get them involved? I find that if I give them something to do, they don't ask so many questions.
What kind of music do you like?
I'm a big music fan. I like everything but country. I like a little hip-hop, a little alternative rock, and classic rock... I love to download music and have it in the kitchen... There's something about live music that's just inspiring; it's art. It's such an amazing connection to the people, almost like food is. For me, they go hand in hand.
What are some favorite artists?
[laughs and checks iPod] I did buy Kanye West's new CD. I'm really into the Black Keys, Deadmau5, and Miguel featuring J. Cole.
What is your drink of choice?
Usually bourbon; I'm a bourbon drinker. We make a few bourbon cocktails for the menu, and I really like the Chef's Special.
Watch Clean Plate Charlie for an exclusive drink recipe from Jamie DeRosa.
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