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Chef Carlos Fernandez of Hi-Life Cafe Goes to Sea

After owning Fort Lauderdale's Hi-Life Cafe for 15 years, Top Chef season two contestant Carlos Fernandez decided to pack up his knives and go. Well, sort of. He sold the restaurant but stayed on as executive chef for another two years. He actually packed up his knives about six months ago.

Fernandez then decided to take a bit of a break from the industry, but now he's back and ready for action, this time at chef Tony Sindaco's renowned seafood restaurant, Sea.

See Also:
- Chef Carlos Fernandez From Hi-Life Cafe: Interview, Part 1
- Chef Carlos Fernandez From Hi-Life Cafe: Interview, Part 2
- For Just One Night, Sea Restaurant Pairs Chefs Tony Sindaco and Angelo Elia of Casa D'Angelo

Fernandez started at Sea about three weeks ago. He plans to amp up service in the front of house while Sindaco mans the kitchen. "In order to stand out, we need to be better than everyone else," he says. "I want to bring fine, polished service in, without feeling fine or polished. We want to be the quintessential neighborhood bistro with great food and great service."

While he's excited to break out of the kitchen and get back to work, Fernandez admits he needed a break for a while. "When you own a small business, you're the chief bottle washer, public relations, human relations -- everything falls on your shoulders. I owned a successful place for 15 years. I was afraid I was going to get burnt out, so I decided to hang my hat up. I paid my dues," says Fernandez.

After leaving Hi-Life, Fernandez took a six-month break. "I did the whole Eat, Pray, Love thing. I did some traveling, visited family. I organized every closet. Painted shelves. I did a lot of yoga. It's a nice way to get yourself in tune," he says.

Is the Top Chef going to be getting back in the kitchen anytime soon? Sometimes. According to Fernandez, there is "a little bit of a menu collaboration going on." Sea holds wine dinners once a month, often bringing in guest chefs for pop-ups. This month, Sindaco is preparing a Halloween-themed four-course paired meal with a dessert. This one, which occurs on Halloween night, is $85 per person, but the dinners can run up to $110. They are usually held on the last Wednesday of the month. According to Fernandez, "For the next one, I'll come in and do something fun."

When asked about the long-lasting effects of Top Chef, Fernandez lights up. "It's kind of funny. In order to [take time off to be on the show], I needed to hire two people. I didn't let them go when I got back, because I don't work that way. In the end, I really needed them, because business increased by 20 percent. It was nice to have that national recognition with people running up to me in airports and wanting to shake my hand. Top Chef fans are great; most of them really are foodies who get really excited about it."

It's no wonder he did so well with the fans. With such a warm nature and charming personality, he is a no-brainer for public or guest relations. And it is easy to understand why the personable chef would make the change to front-of-house operations.

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Sara Ventiera

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