For most, a deli is merely a place to satisfy a lunchtime craving, but for Jeremy Bearman, executive chef at Fort Lauderdale’s hottest new restaurant One Door East, it’s where his relationship with food began. While discerning South Florida diners may best know him by his tender lobster toast smothered in saffron butter sabayon or the spicy tuna tacos topped with a creamy avocado and a spattering of cilantro at his global-inspired tapas spot, his roots are much more simple.
At just fourteen years old, Bearman found himself up to his elbows in all things meats and cheeses on the other side of the counter at the local delicatessen in his hometown of New York. Fast forward a few years and this more-than-just-a-paycheck teenage job has led Bearman into the arms of Cornell University’s Hotel Hospitality Management program with a focus in food and beverage. Not letting go of his first love, Bearman continued to cut his chops at the deli throughout college, but it was when walking into the kitchen for the first time during an internship at local restaurant Citrus Grill that his mind caught up with what his heart already knew: This was what he wanted to do.
“The energy of the kitchen, the speed of it all, it just clicked,” he recalls. “I thought, 'Wow, I love this.'”
And thus began the journey of chef Bearman. After getting a taste of flavors everywhere from Las Vegas — including stints at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Medici Café and Terrace at Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas — to San Francisco, where he served as executive chef at Lark Creek Steak, Bearman finally made his way back to his New York roots at Rouge Tomate NYC, a restaurant with a menu as health-conscious as it is tasty. The restaurant is guided by the principles of the SPE nutritional charter, AKA Sanitas Per Escam, fancy Latin meaning "health through food."
Ironically, it was this healthy premise that made Bearman hesitate before taking on the executive chef role. While he was familiar with New York fine dining, he’d never cooked for a restaurant focused on health and nutrition before. Instead, his experience was with French chefs; “cream” and “butter” (lots of it) were the main words in his vocabulary. But after flying out for a tasting to see if he could adhere to the principles the restaurant’s owner, Emmanuel Verstraeten, was trying to instill and whether he’d be happy doing so, he was sold on the restaurant’s potential and the idea of taking things in a different direction.
“It was a progressive way of cooking — marrying health and nutrition for the fine-dining world, especially in New York City, and executing at that kind of level,” says Bearman. “We were almost pioneers in what we did. If you look around now, you see a lot of that — vegetables, healthier eating — a lot more people are interested in that.”
And as they say, the rest was history. At the helm for nearly six years, Bearman helped this breakthrough health-minded concept earn a Michelin star roughly a year after opening in 2008. As he puts it, it was a challenge on many different levels, from navigating a huge space, kitchen, and staff of more than 100 employees to working with the restaurant’s extensive beverage program and private events, all of which he credits with helping him grow tremendously.
Most significantly, it was here that he picked up a healthier and cleaner style of cooking.
“I learned the respect of products and their well-being and understanding how to cook and manipulate products to shine on a plate without drowning it in lots of fats, sugar, and salt,” he says.
There’s no denying that this experience influences Bearman’s cooking style, which he describes as simple, seasonal, and clean. A huge proponent of sourcing locally grown and sustainable foods, Bearman also infuses inspiration from local products, the farmer’s market, reading materials, and his travels to places like Spain and Italy into his cuisine.
These elements can certainly be found at the tables of One Door East — perhaps it’s this similarity that appealed to Bearman, or perhaps it’s the challenge of something different that attracted him to Giovanni Rocchio’s hot new concept, which he stumbled upon after a year in the Caribbean with the Auberge Resort. While the restaurant’s cuisine is in line with Bearman’s myriad influences, it also offered him a more casual cooking style.
When it came to the pairing of Bearman and chef Giovanni Rocchio for One Door East, some could say it was a match made in heaven.
“Just by meeting him, I could tell he was passionate about learning and surrounding himself with good people to put out a great product,” says Bearman.
And when asked why Bearman was the guy for the job, Rocchio didn’t miss a beat.
“Creativity, work ethic, and demeanor,” he says, citing his reasons as short and sweet.
Over time, Rocchio has given Bearman the liberty to take their menu collaborations and “just run with it,” which has allowed Bearman to play around with different flavors and types of dishes. Because of Bearman’s love for different cuisines, the large menu of small plates works well for him.
“There’s very little limitation in terms of cuisine style and not having to define a cooking style,” he says. “It’s a very cool concept.”
While One Door East’s ever-changing seasonal menu offers a different experience each visit, a true taste of Bearman can be found in the oysters on the half-shell with black peppercorn shallots, crispy ginger, and a housemade mignonette that changes seasonally — currently, it’s a fresh strawberry. A fan of smoking and making his own sausages and charcuterie, Bearman undergoes a laborious process to prep what he calls a more rustic dish, the Kielbasa and in-house red sauerkraut with honey crisp apples — three to four days to smoke the meat and three weeks to a month to perfect the cabbage. Bearman also has a soft spot for the brussels sprout and Asian pear salad with hazelnut and housemade ricotta, which, while simple to make, deceives its basic perception by delivering what Bearman calls an incredible and wow-worthy flavor and texture. Each dish embodies Bearman’s earlier cooking-style reference: seasonal, clean, and simple.
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Always creating and refining a new dish, Bearman says, “At the end of the day, One Door East is a fun place to work without limitations.”
One Door East. 620 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale; 954-368-6902; facebook.com/OneDoorEast.