12 Top Miami Chefs Who Were Not Too Big To Fail, Part Two

Categories: Top List
Michael Schwartz by Ben Fink_resize.jpg
Ben Fink
It was a genuine struggle to the top
In yesterday's installment, we listed six chefs, in alphabetical order, who at one point or another in their careers encountered a flop. We continue with the remaining half-dozen:

7. Chef: Andrea Curto-Randazzo and Frank Randazzo
Flop: Water Club
Talula folded this past year after a long and fruitful run, but the Randazzos kept busy by taking over the reigns of the Water Club. Andrea's turn on Top Chef, along with a lot of PR work, made the couple's takeover a highly anticipated project. By January they were gone.

8. Chef: Doug Rodriguez, De Rodriguez Cuba on Ocean
Flops: OLA Steak OLA Miami, OLA on Ocean, De Rodriguez Cuba at the Hotel Astor
It was only weeks ago that D-Rod announced the closing of his De Rodriguez Cuba restaurant, and the merging of that establishment with his recently opened De Rodriguez Ocean in the Hilton Bentley Hotel. De Rodriguez Cuba lasted but one year. OLA Steak was in Coral Gables, OLA Miami opened in 2003 on Biscayne Boulevard and 50th Street, and when that closed it became OLA on Ocean in The Savoy Hotel (where Michelle Bernstein's Strand folded). None of the three made it for very long, but OLA finally found a stable home at The Santuary in South Beach.

9. Chef: Michael Schwartz, Michael's Genuine Food & Drink
Flops: Atlantic restaurant at the Beach House Bal Harbour; afterglo
Michael took over the Atlantic restaurant in 2002; by January 2003, he was out (historical footnote: Cookbook author Sheila Lukins, who passed away last year, developed the original Atlantic menu). Menu items included grilled black grouper with lemon aioli and brussels sprouts with pancetta; alongside the duck entree was couscous salad spiked with grapefruit, amarene cherries, and fresh mint. Sounds pretty Schwartzy, no? Afterglo, opened in September of 2005, brought Michael closer to his farm-to-table roots, but the partnership between he and Tim Hogle (Tantra) lasted less than a year, as did the restaurant. Hard to believe how far Michael has come since then.

10. Chef: Norman Van Aken
Flops: Mundo, Norman's 180
Norman called Mundo "a reflection of almost 35 years of being a chef, a cook, a writer, a dreamer, an eater, a traveler, a teacher and a guy who wants to give pleasure -- all at a price that makes it very accessible. The sprawling, expensively designed Village of Merrick Park eatery opened in January 2004; it was a memory within a year. Last July, Norman and son Justin made a highly publicized return to the Gables with Norman's 180. After a month or so both were gone, but please keep this info under your hat as nobody has told the owners yet.

11. Chef: Johnny Vincenz, Johnny V's Las Olas
Flops: Johnny V at The Astor Hotel, Johhny V's Kitchen, Smith & Jones Bar and Grill
Chef Johnny Vincenz burst upon the scene at the Astor Hotel in 1995. He was called the Caribbean Cowboy back then, and enjoyed a successful 5-year tenure at the Astor -- so successful that he ventured into casual barbecue fare at Johnny V's Kitchen on Alton Road and 15th Street. It was a diner setting and the food was great, but perhaps V was ahead of his time on this one -- it flopped pretty quickly (and, come to think of it, Jonathan Eismann took the spot over and failed there too -- something I neglected to mention in yesterday's flop post). In 2003, Vincenz opened Johnny V Las Olas, which remains a popular Fort Lauderdale spot. A couple of years ago he tried a casual barbecue spot in Fort Lauderdale, but that didn't work either. Maybe he ought to just stay away from casual barbecue type joints.

12. Chef: Kris Wessel, Red Light Little River
Flops: Liaison, Elia
Wessel was ahead of his time with the 70-seat Liaison on Española Way, which opened in 1999. The critics adored the place, as did the public that managed to get by the construction barricades to try it. Too many didn't make it past, and by 2001 it was gone. Two years later Kris took the executive chef position at the regional Mediterranean Elia, a 300-seater in the Shops at Bal Harbor. That didn't last long (but, again, the food was faultless). In 2008, the lanky New Orleans chef tried again with Red Light, and this time the Miami public had caught up with him. (Historical footnote: Kris was executive chef at Mark Militello's Mark's In The Grove in 1996. His sous chef? Michelle Bernstein).

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2 comments
Rebecca
Rebecca

I think the important thing to take away from this series of articles is that we have outstanding chefs in Miami who keep at it until they find their groove. Cook on chefs...

Thechowfather
Thechowfather

Lee, I have a question/potential topic for you. shoot me an email when you can thechowfather@gmail.com

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