Chef Sean Bernal of The Oceanaire Seafood Room: Interview, Part Two

Categories: Chef Interviews
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Chef Sean Bernal
Here's Part Two of our interview with Chef Sean Bernal. You can read the first part of the interview here.

What do you consider the three most important factors on a plate?

First is the flavor combinations. Second is the color on the dish. Next one, is it has to be aesthetically right. Who is the star of the plate? When I think of this nouveau gastronomic stuff... Know what I call that? Harry Potter food! What I question is sometimes there are so many elements on a plate, what's your focus?

Any ingredients you don't like working with?

I hate white pepper. It smells like feet.

What ingredient appears on too many menus?

Sea bass. It's easy, sea bass marinated with miso. C'mon guys. Nobu came up with it, give it a rest. They should outlaw sea bass. It's never fresh. You go into any fish wholesaler here and they have a tank full of water and these stupid filets. There's a scum of fat on the top. Why do people eat this stuff? I'm guilty--I used to cook it. But when I got here to Oceanaire I got educated. Now when they ask me for it I give them black cod, which has all the same things people love about sea bass, because it's fatty, it melts in your mouth. Sable fish is the same thing. 

Most unusual food combination you ever served?

I put watermelon Jolly Ranchers on some tuna. I did that at James Beard House. I cut a little piece of tuna and made a syrup of wasabi. I wanted Pop Rocks, but they couldn't find them. So I got the Jolly Ranchers and crushed them up to make pink dust and I combined it with black salt.

Was it good?

I think people liked it. Another weird one I did here was bananas with scallops. People loved it. I served it with a curry sauce and the bananas were caramelized with soy sauce and sugar.

Who's the one person who has made you nervous in the kitchen?

I was most intimidated when Chef Jamie Oliver came in here to eat a couple of years ago. I was like, what the hell is this guy doing here? It kinda caught me by surprise. 

When Shaq played here, he used to come in all the time. His uncle would come here twice a day. He'd come here before the game, eat, and eat again after the game.

What would your final meal be?

Roast pork, arroz con gandules, boiled green bananas, Medalla cerveza, and some avocado salad. 

What's always in your refrigerator at home?

Beer, milk, strawberries... I love cheese and ham, eggs... This is my "live with a woman" refrigerator. My bachelor fridge had condiments. 

How do you unwind after a crazy day in the kitchen?

I get home and walk the dog. That really helps me clear my mind. I crack a beer and put on the news to catch up on the world. But my secret guilty pleasure is Dog Whisperer.

Which city has the best dining scene?

I'd be stupid not to say New York. But you know what? Atlanta. I spent four months there when we opened the Atlanta Oceanaire. What I liked about it is they had people really tapping into that Southern cuisine. 

Why isn't Miami the best?

It's not that there's bad chefs; it's the clientele. People are very fickle here. I liken it to the Rubber Band Theory: You open up a new restaurant, it's new, it's hot, everybody's there. Then someone opens up another restaurant. Everybody goes there. 

We're lucky here that we've created a great customer base of regulars. 

You were one of the first in the Mary Brickell area.

Yeah. Behind Perricone's

Did I hear the concept was bought out by Landry's? What are your thoughts on that?

I'm excited to be part of one of the biggest restaurant companies in the U.S. and look forward to continued success at the Oceanaire Miami.

Really? You're excited? [insert sarcastic tone here] 

There are a lot of perks. And we don't have to change much.

On another topic, how do you keep abreast of dining trends?

I read a lot: Art Culinaire, a ton of cookbooks. I collect antique cookbooks. I'm always on the Internet. Part of my everyday routine is to look on Short Order. I love Jacob's photography.

Plug! What's does the future hold for you?

I'd love to work for a year in the Caribbean. Sneak out and go diving.

At least twice a year I go to the Bahamas to go spearfishing. I can go about 40 feet of water on one breath. Very Tarzan-like.

You wear a loincloth?

[Laughs.] Can you imagine me in a loincloth? I'd probably be arrested. Someone would try and harpoon me.

Tell me about this "Latinean" cuisine Oceanaire's website touts as your forte.

I've kind of evolved from that. Lately I've been messing around with a lot of a Portuguese, Mediterranean, more of Spanish accents on the menu. But I still dabble with the Asian stuff. I change it up. Then there's days I go back to what I know, which is the Peruvian influence, the Cuban, the Puerto Rican... You look at my menu and I have mofongo on it.

Chef Guily Booth at Cafeina told me she can't find a decent mofongo anywhere in town.

Tell her to come here. Let me tell you something: I've heard from people in Puerto Rico this is the best one. I'm not just making this up. 

What's the secret?

There's nothing to it. We just use good quality ingredients. That's it. Garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and cilantro. We use pork belly to make chicharrónes so we've got some nice chunks of meat in there. 

Are you willing to share the recipe with Miami New Times' readers?

Riki, I'm an open book here. 

Anything you'd like to add that I didn't ask?

Are you hungry?

Stay tuned. Tomorrow we'll have Chef Sean's recipe for mofongo (he serves it stuffed with shrimp in Creole sauce) in Part Three of this interview.

Location Info

The Oceanaire Seafood Room

900 S. Miami Ave., Miami, FL

Category: Restaurant

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