Interview With Chef Josh Becker of the DiLido Beach Club, Part 1
|Chef Josh Becker working beachside at the DiLido.|
New Times: What brought you to the Ritz-Carlton?
Josh Becker: What brought me to the Ritz-Carlton is what brings everyone to the Ritz-Carlton. Luxury at the time was going through a shift. We were getting away from the stiff-collared butler service and small portions on the plate. We're getting into something closer to home. That's what luxury is now. It's not what I can give you; it's that I can anticipate your wants and you don't even know that you want it yet.
That's what attracted me to the Ritz-Carlton. I've been with them for almost nine years now. I've been at this property for three years and specifically at DiLido since last November.
You took over for Jeff McInnis, who was on Top Chef. What is it like to take over a celebrity chef's position?
What I think Jeff did really well is showcase the feel of the restaurant, and that's what makes people come back. It's the only oceanfront restaurant on the beach that's chic. We want sustainable food from local foods. We want to showcase food with fresh and vibrant flavors.
DiLido closes early by South Beach standards. Why is that?
We close at sundown, but we've been playing around with longer hours. During the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, we had a weekend long Grill & Chill event. We do a lot of alfresco dining where we're open until 10 o'clock.
I loved that you had telescopes up to spy on the celebrities in the tents at the festival.
Yeah, we have those telescopes for full-moon parties. For the tent, they were so high-powered you were basically just zooming in on Cat Cora's nostrils.
Did people use them?
Yes. We even had some guests come down and show us how to adjust the eyepieces. But yes, after you come from the beach and before you doll yourself up for South Beach, we want to be a nice place to have a few cocktails and a few light bites.
What Ritz-Carlton properties were you at before South Beach?
I opened Spago at the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch with the Wolfgang Puck Group. Before that, I opened our sister property on Grand Cayman. I was working with Eric Ripert's team with Blue, with Periwinkle, and with Seven Prime. Prior to that, I was at the Lake Las Vegas Ritz-Carlton, and when I first started with the company, it was at Laguna Miguel in California.
Did you start at the Ritz right out of school?
I went to State in San Francisco and the California Culinary Academy and finished at UNLV. I started in kitchens when I was really young, at 13. I was washing pots. It wasn't something I really wanted to do. It was just a way for me to eat every day, to have some money in my pocket, and then it transformed from a job to a career. I saw how these amazing chefs worked and how they ran their kitchens. The attention to detail, the pride they put into their work...
Then I gradually got moved around a bit. It was a great opportunity to get to know several properties.
Do they tell you what positions are open in other properties?
In the beginning, they kind of dangle it in your face, it's kind of an idea. Typically it's going to be the younger guys and women who don't have too much tying them down. They don't really formally ask you -- it's usually the dangle effect where you snatch at it. Sometimes it starts with what we call "task force." That's where you're sent where there's a need. Then it evolves into a transfer and sometimes you just go for it.
Where are you from?
I'm from Southern California -- Orange County.
So are you like a Real Housewives son?
No. And I wish those shows weren't around because it's really nothing like Orange County at all. I lived comfortably, but it wasn't anything like on those shows. I don't watch television, but I've seen clips.
As a chef in a larger corporate structure, there might be some rules and structure that you might not have in a small restaurant. Do you have any standards and guidelines that you must adhere to?
Yes, there are, but it's business and it's something that even a very small restaurant should have. It's a question of accountability. A lot of times a cook will come in and all they see is the food, but there are other things that go into running a kitchen, like costing your products, safety, and sanitation.
But yes, there are certain corporate things that are set in stone that are a little frustrating, especially as a chef, but there are reasons for them as well.
I open a little farm in Homestead, and I have the best heirloom tomatoes in the universe. Can you buy from me?
I'd be knocking on your door tomorrow. The local fisherman here will bring me one or two fish, and I'll feature them.
We're in a big sport-fishing capital. If a guest brought in a fresh-caught fish, would you prepare it?
Of course. You'd have to sign a waiver, but absolutely. If you bring me a fish that you caught in the afternoon packed in ice, I'll do a braised tomato sauce with fresh lemon herbs and all kinds of goodness.
What are your favorite local products to work with?
It's got to be the fish. The snapper is amazing; Key West prawns are amazing to work with. Tuna's great; grouper's great. I've been working with a little farm in Homestead that has the best heritage eggplant.
Teena's Pride. She's great, but she refuses to deliver to me, so I have to send someone to buy from her.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview with chef Josh Becker.