Steak 954 has introduced a new menu for summer, with ten new dishes created by chef Jason Smith, who has been at the restaurant in the W Fort Lauderdale Hotel for three years. Clean Plate Charlie caught up with the chef in an email interview last week to learn more about the offerings -- which include a baby beet salad, slow-braised ribs, and Florida red snapper -- and how a chef in a predominantly touristy area keeps on his toes. His answers, after the jump.
Clean Plate Charlie: How do you keep things fresh? Do you travel to derive inspiration? Is keeping things new and exciting a challenge in an area that appeals to tourists vs. working in a metro area?
Smith: I keep things new by reading online blogs, looking at cookbooks, watching cooking shows, talking to purveyors about what is new and in season and what products are not used much yet. I also like to eat out at competitors or other innovative restaurants, and bounce ideas around with my sous chefs and corporate chef.
I have worked previously in Miami and I find that Fort Lauderdale's tourists are just as sophisticated and daring as anyone.
What is your favorite dish to cook in the summer? Please elaborate on why you chose some of the new dishes for the menu.
My favorite dish for the summer is whole snapper on the grill, prepared in my backyard. The fish in South Florida is so incredibly fresh that it is perfect for me and reminds me of my childhood on the farm. This is why snapper is a new addition at Steak 954 for our summer menu -- local and fresh and accompanied by a cucumber and yogurt relish with cilantro coulis, fava beans, and taisins (grape tomatoes turned into raisins).
I also love the summertime because of the sweet corn that becomes available in Florida in the early part of the year, then moves north as it gets warmer. This brings me back to my childhood in Indiana where corn is everywhere. I also love the tropical fruits that I get from the organic growers in Homestead.
Where do you go in South Florida in your off hours to eat/drink?
I love (Hiro's) Yakko-San in North Miami Beach because they are open late and the food is like nothing in South Florida. La Sandwicherie on South Beach, again, because they are open late when us chefs get out of work and they use very fresh bread and ingredients. If I am with my family, I frequently go to Makoto in Bal Harbour Shops. It is not only one of my sister restaurants in the Stephen Starr empire, but Chef Makoto-san is an amazing chef; a true artist.
What is your signature dish? Is there anything you hate to prepare, or a least favorite dish?
Ironic to say this, but the one dish that consistently brings people back to the restaurant is our local tuna tacos with chipotle aioli, avocado salad, and seared foie gras. If I were to pick a steak, it would be our 18-ounce prime dry-aged rib-eye from Gachot & Gachot out of New York. It is the best steak that I have ever had and it gets huge raves from our guests.
I love to cook! There's really nothing that I hate to prepare, but I really dislike working with inferior products or products that aren't fresh.
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Is there anything that has been taken off of the menu to make room for the new seasonal dishes?
Yes, we try to keep our menu from getting too large. Our 14-ounce veal chop was taken off, as well as a beef carpaccio that was switched for a beef tartar, a glazed carrot side was traded for buttered corn with oven-dried tomatoes and sweet peas. We also did an update on the beet salad to be a little lighter and more modern for summer, as well as the hamachi sashimi, which is now a little more fun and modern with wasabi ponzu, avocado, and corn nuts. Yes, corn nuts.