When you think of fashion, do you also think of food? Juan Gando says you should. He owns a string of dining establishments in Wellington that sell what he describes as "fashion cuisine." For him, eating and style go hand in hand.
If you're not quite sure what fashion cuisine means, don't worry. Each menu has the term clearly defined, printed as if it were a dictionary entry, that reads: "a manner of preparing food that is stylish, seasonal, and pleasing to the eye."
"Here, the focus is on the experience. This is delicious, fashionable cuisine. I want your food to look as good as it tastes," Gando told Clean Plate Charlie.
Originally from Ecuador, Gando moved to the United States in 2003. His goal was to live the American Dream, he said -- a goal that manifested when he became a successful restaurateur in South Florida's elite polo and equestrian community in Wellington.
In 2010, Gando opened his first establishment with partner and Wellington native Dustin Parfitt, who also works as executive chef for two of the three fashion-cuisine restaurants. Those are Oli's, the Grille, and the new Seahorse Fashion Cuisine. Gando and Parfitt met in early 2004 while working in the restaurant industry together on the island of Palm Beach.
Before they could move west and turn dreams to reality, they had to learn the ropes -- specifically from restaurateurs Frank and Nick Coniglio, owners of Cucina Dell'Arte, Nick and Johnnie's, and ER Bradley's Saloon in West Palm Beach. Gando began working for the family as a busboy at Cucina and eventually worked his way into management roles, while Parfitt worked his way in the kitchen.
"[The Coniglio family] taught me everything I know. Without them, I would not be here today," said Gando, who left his position as general manager of Cucina to partner with Parfitt.
Located in the Wellington Green Square shopping plaza, Oli's is a casual eatery that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast offers up omelets and standard breakfast fare, but the eggs Benedict are the real stars -- especially the lobster and asparagus take ($12 to $17). The lunch and dinner menus swap out sandwiches for flatbread come evening, but both have a good selection of starters ($5 to $12) and "greens" -- nearly a dozen or so salads that include healthy or high-end toppings ($15 to $22).
The Grille, which opened in 2011, is the late-night spot, said Gando, open for lunch, dinner, and an after-hours bar scene in which DJs spin music until the wee hours. Here, executive chef Clayton Carnes, former executive chef for Nick and Johnnie's, serves tapas-style eats with a lunch menu that covers everything from sandwiches and single sliders like roasted wild mushroom or braised short ribs ($3 to $5) to main plates like a barbecue summer salmon and his own take on lettuce wraps with grilled crispy pork ($12 to $20).
For dinner, you'll find a long list of hot and cold starters, many of them items carried over from the lunch menu with a few seafood highlights like scallops, jumbo roasted shrimp, oysters, and a creative take on ceviche with chargrilled octopus and shrimp in a three-pepper sauce ($9 to $15). The menu continues with a section reserved for pasta, steaks, main plates, and the house specialty of parrillada mixta.
Recently, Gando and Parfitt opened their third establishment, the Seahorse Fashion Cuisine, a high-end seafood concept just a few doors down from Oli's. Open for dinner only, the menu features a raw bar that highlights something not seen on many menus: caviar. Alongside oysters, shrimp, and chilled King Crab legs, you'll find osetra, American paddlefish, and hackleback, sold separately or as part of a sampling platter ($40 to $100). A short list of starters acts more like small plates, including seared sea scallops, lobster mac 'n' cheese, and tuna tartare ($14 to $22). Lighter fare comes from a soup and salad section, like the crab and corn chowder that can be paired with jumbo lump crab salad ($9 to $20).
Will there be any more fashion cuisines? For now, Gando has his hands full. "Three restaurants in three years is good enough for now. For me, it's not about making money. It's about being happy. And this is what makes me happy."
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