In south Florida, there are few names that have made a long-lasting impact on the culinary industry. Chef Dean James Max is one. His name comes up not just for his talent in terms of churning out beautifully prepared sustainable seafood dishes, but for his impact on the next generation of south Florida chefs. Some of south Florida's biggest names have come out of his kitchen.
While he seems to constantly have something going on--new restaurants opening, new cookbook releases, culinary events--Clean Plate Charlie wanted to chat with him about his involvement in one of south Florida's newer large scale culinary events: the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival
. This year, he's participating at the Food4Thought: A Farm-to-Table Lunch presented by Panache Party Rentals at Swank Farms
Clean Plate Charlie: With everything you have going on, what made you decide to participate in the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival's Food4Though event?
Max: We were involved last year. We did the dinner at Buccan. It's good to see the festival growing. I've already done a couple of lunches at Swank Farms and I really like seeing the farm get the public exposure. They are doing an amazing job and I want to see them flourish. It's a big undertaking since it's not a cooking facility. You really need to be prepared. They have such good products. They probably account for sixty percent of our usage during season.
Do you know what you're going to make?
I'm planning on doing Wahoo: seared and sliced thin on side of the plate and a kale salad with pickled vegetables with a citrus vinaigrette on the other. I'm planning on using their baby carrots, radishes, and turnips in a quick-pickle. They baby kale is great. Kale is like the comeback vegetable of 2012. I would dare to say its outselling spinach. I'd like to highlight Swank's local stuff.
You're well-known for your work with sustainable seafood. Can you tell us more about that?
In the restaurant we're always rotating. Back to the kale, if it were a fish, we would be concerned right now. Seafood is seasonal. We used a lot of swordfish August, September, October, but we've stopped serving it now. But a lot of it has to do with location. There are certain things that people should watch from their areas. Pompano is a great fish down here, but it has a smaller population. It should be eaten here and not shipped all over the world. However, sustainable seafood can be difficult, because it's hard to get everyone to act in the same fashion. So much of it comes down to educating people. I try to be as responsible as I can with the fish we serve. People should focus on what's right to serve at what time.
Which organizations do you recommend for information about sustainable seafood?
I get a lot of my information from experience in the field. I think there's a balance in coming up with your opinion on what's right. I think NOAA does a great job of looking at fish populations, but the general public is not going to want to look at that data. They want facts, not data. That's where the Monterrey Bay Aquarium comes in. It's better that they are liberal in trying to protect more species, but a lot of it depends on location. I sometimes serve things that are on the red list, because the fishermen are right here and I know how they're sourcing it. I think the best way to really inform yourself is to scour the internet. Look at fishing groups, NOAA, Monterrey Bay Aquarium.
Another important point in terms of sustainable fisheries is fish farming. How do you feel about that?
I like the idea of fish-farms that replenish the ocean. If we want to feed the world, we're going to have to farm-raise. There are some local farms that are doing it right. MOTE on the west coast of the state, raises sturgeon, pompano, and snook. The really replenish the populations. It's not making money, because it's government funded, but the organization is learning about farm-raising fish and passing that information onto entrepreneurs.
The culinary industry is not known for having a ton of women, yet two of the more prominent local female chefs, Paula DaSilva of 1500 Degrees and Lauren DeShields of Market 17, have spent time in your kitchen. Are you trying to foster more women in the industry? Or did it just kind of happen?
[Laughs] At one point, we had eight people on the line with only three guys. It was like, "Man, we're surrounded by women!" We're probably the only kitchen in America where women outnumber men. I don't know. I run my kitchen in a certain way. I'm funny tempered, but I'm fair. Maybe that's why I'm able to keep women for a long period of time. Also, the ones who have lasted are really talented. Lauren is really strong. She's going to be great. Paula's super strong. And her sous chef, Adrienne Grenier, who was on Chopped, also worked for me for four years. She's really strong, as well. I've had more than six really strong women chefs come out of my kitchen. It's really amazing. I miss all of them. I try not to let them escape.
Where do you like to eat when you have a night off?
I really like Giovanni's food at Valentino's
. And I like to go to Buccan
. There is another woman chef who worked for me for a few years--I wish she would've stayed with me longer--is now a manager at Kapow!
. I like going there. I like what they're trying to do.
Are you getting involved in any other Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival Events?
I'm actually going to go to some stuff. I'm playing in the golf tournament. I'm going to the opening party Friday night. I might to to SUSTAIN Sunday night.
How's your game?
I grew up on a golf course in Stuart before I moved to Virginia. I don't play as much as I used to, but I play just enough to keep up on my game. When I was in LA, my sous chef played; we would play together. I don't really have the time to play anymore. I love it, but I have too many other hobbies.