Chef Mike Hinojosa Takes Over the Kitchen at Red Tapas: "I Just Want to Cook Good Food"

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Late last year, Red Tapas opened its doors in Palm Beach Gardens. With bright red decor, Mac "Viva Glam" red lipstick as part of the female servers uniform, and a world-view menu of tapas, the place put a lot of emphasis on the details.

It's now in the process of reinventing the food. Executive chef Mike Hinojosa started with Red Tapas just a couple month back and he's been working to make improvements on the menu since.

This Puerto Rican-born, Italian food fanatic with an extensive corporate restaurant background plans to roll out a seasonal menu with fresh Florida fish, weather-appropriate braised meats, and simple ingredient-driven fare.

See also: Red Tapas in Palm Beach Gardens: Where Server Dress Code Includes a Specific Shade of Lipstick and Servers Work From iPods

Hinojosa found his love of food, and more specifically Italian food, at the age of 15 while working in a pizza place in Coral Springs. As a young dishwasher -- before the time of the mechanical dishwashing machine -- he was awed by the sights and smells of the kitchen.

"Smelling real Italian food just blew me away," he said. "Sometimes the owner would bring me over to the range and let me try things. He did octopus and calamari; I'd never heard of calamari before."

From then on Hinojosa was hooked on working in the kitchen. While he continued his high school cooking career in other pizza places -- embarrassingly enough, Pizza Hut and Dominoes sprang up in his resume -- he later moved into high-end corporate spots like The Capital Grille and later Seasons 52.

He joined the Red Tapas team at the owners other Palm Beach Gardens location, Cabo Flats Cantina & Tequila Bar as sous chef before moving up and taking the reigns at the globally-inspired tapas concept.

While the menu had just been revised right before Hinojosa stepped in, he has been making his mark by switching up ingredients on existing dishes and adding specials to the daily line-up. A new menu should be introduced in October.

"The menu changed over, like, two days before I got here, so it's set in stone for now, but I've been changing ingredients that aren't listed in the descriptions to improve dishes and I've made a lot of improvements in presentation," said Hinojosa. "I've started doing specials, which have never been done here before, so customers can get a feel for me. We've starting getting busy again."

Hinojosa has made changes to the cheeseboard by bringing in new varieties, accoutrements, like honey and homemade jams, and giving it a more rustic presentation. For the most part, he's received a positive response.

He describes his style of food as modern American with Italian flair, using Italian and French cooking techniques. He plans to bring in locally caught fresh fish, rustic braised dishes, like short rib, light and flavorful crudos, lots of seasonal vegetables, and, as the name indicates, Spanish tapas plates all in a scaled down menu.

For now, Hinojosa is just happy to be hands-on in the kitchen again.

"A lot of corporate restaurants get to the point where they don't even cook real food," he said. "I just want to cook really good food, in a fun restaurant, to just blow people away.

Red Tapas is located at 11701 Lake Victoria Gardens in Palm Beach Gardens. Call 561-333-7331, or visit redtapasbar.com.

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.

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