When Smith & Jones closed in July, nobody was more in the middle of the fallout than Ted Inserra. In this blog item, Inserra blamed a slowdown in business, but many commenters blamed Inserra, despite the fact that he was just a sous chef at the Las Olas restaurant.
Whatever caused the demise, there's no denying that Inserra has a hell of a kitchen résumé, and that's what helped him land quickly at the new Suite 100 in the Las Olas Riverfront complex. After just over a month as sous chef, Suite 100 has promoted Inserra to executive head chef. He spoke to Clean Plate Charlie about the new gig.
Clean Plate Charlie: You've just been promoted to executive head chef at the new Suite 100. What led to the change?
Inserra: I believe the owners thought the restaurant needed a new direction. Chef
Reed Alenik did a great job setting us up for success, but as in other
businesses, a new voice was required to move Suite 100 into the top of
the restaurant elite in South Florida and thought I could better take us
You've worked with South Florida's most well-known
chefs, including Mark Militello, Michelle Bernstein, and Johnny
Vinczencz. What did you take away from that experience?
has been an honor working with these chefs and also chef Oliver Saucy
and chef Peter Bouloukos. I was at Mark's Las Olas from day one and
stayed for three years. Michelle was actually a sous chef for Mark, and
we became very good friends. Johnny Vinczencz is an incredible talent
and can blend hard work and still make it fun. All of these chefs do not
compromise on the quality of their food. Mark once told me the
difference between a chef and a cook is seasoning. I always taste
everything all day to ensure top quality.
I was on the D.L. in Melbourne when reading an article about chef Mark Militello in Bon Appetite magazine,
about his "Floribbean"-style food, and it hit home. And the last line
in the article said "and soon to open Mark's on Las Olas," and for that
very reason, in the cover of darkness, I came back to Fort Lauderdale
to work for chef Mark, which really put my culinary career in motion. I
was determined to be hired by Mark, and after several meetings with chef
Peter Bouloukos and GM Tim Petrillo, I was hired.
It has been a few
months since the rough collapse of Smith & Jones, where you were a
sous chef. Any thoughts on what went down?
Ah, the Smith
& Jones question. Let's stir up that hornet's nest again. It was
not any one thing -- it was the number-seven combination platter. As with any
business, it all boils down to money. We slowed down, overhead was very
high, and that is a recipe for disaster. I still believe if you would have
placed Smith & Jones on the other end of Las Olas or on Atlantic
Avenue in Delray, it would have been a tremendous hit.
The Suite 100 menu now is pretty wide-ranging, from a meatball sub to tostones. Will you be changing it? If so, how?
are very proud of our menu. Our food is outstanding. Once you try us,
you will be back. We are starting to do specials now geared to my
strengths, with Italian and Latin influences. Saturday and Sunday brunch
is without a doubt the best in town.
Crowds haven't found the place yet. What do you do from here to change that?
changing with Suite 100 is going to be the marketing aspect of the
restaurant. We have some advertising coming up, and we are scheduled to
be present at the upcoming South Florida Culinary Events. We also have
the best seating for the fantastic Christmas Boat Parade, and with all
the people coming to the waterfront, we are expecting a big surge in
business. Like I said, once you try us, you will love us.
space has an amazing bar, and with that view of the New River, it could
become a hot spot for happy hour. Any plans to make that happen?
do have a beautiful bar, with a great staff, and the view is the best Fort Lauderdale -- the "Venice of America" -- has to offer. Our daily
happy hour is two-for-one, with appetizer specials. Also, we have some
The Riverfront is something of an
enigma. Great location, beautiful building, but it fell apart the last
few years. How do you guys survive there, and can you help bring it
I love the Riverfront. I worked at China Grill
when it was first opened, with even a Big Pink upstairs. Then, it was
the bad parking situation, and the owners thought the theaters were
going to be a big enough draw. Hopefully, we are the first of many new
late-night, younger crowd, and we will capture the sophisticated and
still-want-to-have-fun crowd. On the weekends, our outside bar along the
water is a very fun place to hang out, and we have a water taxi dock
within steps of our beautiful establishment.
What upsets me more than the decline of the Las Olas Riverfront is the decline of Las Olas Boulevard. And what do they both have in common? The Las Olas Co.! I was against the "alleged" Riverside Hotel from the beginning, and now what do we have? A torn-down O'Hara's, an institution, and a huge empty lot so we can show the movie E.T. on the side of the building and people can bring their own food and drink and not contribute to the businesses on Las Olas. Do not get me wrong: I love Atlantic Avenue in Delray, but I cringe every time I hear about another top chef or club opening there. Why not Las Olas? I was born in Broward General Hospital. I know Las Olas. It is a treasure that is failing because of "the corporation." I have spilled blood, sweat, and tears on that street, and when I die, my ashes will be spread on Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale beach, and Club Duece in South Beach!
In many kitchens, executive chef is more of a manager than a cook. Do you see yourself still working the line?
am not a "clipboard" chef. I am very hands-on. I do all the butchering
and soup- and sauce-making. The line is too exciting not to jump in. I
have a "bring it on" line-cook attitude. I can still hang with the
younger up-and-comers and sometimes can even show them a thing or two.
Give me a speed rack full of tickets, my guys on the line, and some loud
Rolling Stones and it becomes like a ballet -- except with chef pants
and not tights.
Money is no object, and, let's see, Anthony Bourdain, is coming to Suite 100. What do you make him?
Anthony Bourdain. His book Kitchen Confidential
changed my life. It's a very realistic view of the great restaurant
business and how it becomes your family. You are together days, nights,
weekends, holidays -- more than our own family! I am a South Florida
native, so I would treat him to some true taste of our culture. Start
off with some fresh conch ceviche, followed by my favorite
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plantain-crusted mahi, wild mushroom picadillo, chayote slaw, mango
syrup, and a side of slow-braised oxtail, yuca mash, and sweet plantain
flan. Not the most expensive dish but truly my style.
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