Broward County is known for many things: beautiful beaches, spring break, megayachts, the largest per-capita gay community in the nation — the list goes on and on.
Having a world-renowned culinary scene, however, is not on the register.
But things are changing. This year was the first to mark the expansion of the famous South Beach Wine & Food Festival into Broward County, a nod to the growing pool of talent in these parts.
Sure, Broward might not have any Michelin-starred establishments, but what this South Florida county lacks in accolades, it makes up for with a variety of creative concepts helmed by topnotch chefs. And these talented toques deserve some credit.
In honor of this county’s kitchen greats, New Times brings you the best chefs in Broward.
10. Philip Darmon
Executive chef/owner at Hardy Park Bistro
Hardy Park Bistro's chef-owner Philip Darmon, an Australia native, has charted a unique course through the culinary world, guided in no small part by coincidence and fate. While working as a chef in high-end Sydney restaurants, he lost a close friend to suicide. The traumatic event led Darmon to question the meaning of life, so when a friend — and yacht captain — offered him a job cooking on a boat, he wasted no time packing up his knives to cook in the galley of a yacht moored in Saint Thomas. After meeting his wife, Jessica, the duo planned on opening a restaurant of their own. And they did just that: On November 2013, the couple opened Hardy Park Bistro, a quaint eatery in Fort Lauderdale serving upscale food in a casual neighborhood environment. Though Darmon has an affinity for the Mediterranean and its cuisine thanks to his travels throughout the region, his food also reflects a rich Southeast Asian influence because of the area's proximity to Australia. Today, the restaurant — open for lunch, Sunday brunch, and dinner — is best known for Darmon's seasonally rotating menu.
9. Kevin Dreifuss
Executive chef/owner at Ends Meat
For Ends Meat chef-owner Kevin Dreifuss, making ends meet has an especially poignant meaning. A good portion of his professional culinary career has been spent working day and night to support himself and, more recently, his growing family. When he purchased the Ends Meat domain name in 2009, it seemed fitting. It would be four years before the chef found a vacant space in downtown Hollywood to build his first restaurant and another year of renovations before he would unveil Ends Meat. Today, the modern American eatery is earning rave reviews with locals and foodies alike, drawing crowds for a taste of his creative, quirky dishes — especially his handmade mahi fish sausages, his reuben egg rolls, and the Mitch HedBurger.
8. Lauren DeShields
Executive chef at Market 17
One of the leading ladies of the Fort Lauderdale culinary scene, this Florida native churns out an always-changing menu full of as many local products as she can get her hands on. From grilled, locally caught grouper with crispy mofongo cakes, farm zucchini, sautéed kale, pickled pearl onions, and chimichurri sauce to pan-roasted pork tenderloin with brown butter corn bread, mustard greens, broccolini, rutabaga, rainbow carrots, and mustard demi, DeShields focuses on sourcing the highest quality ingredients possible and treating them with the utmost respect. She's also got a killer charcuterie program, all made in-house. It's details like these that earned her a spot on our 2013 "Tastemakers" list.
7. Gavin Pera
Executive chef at Burlock Coast
At just 33, Pera is at the helm of your experience at Burlock Coast, the restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale. With a career that's spanned 15 years and several luxury hotels, he has just one goal in mind: Let nature create the menu. While the concept of using local purveyors and artisans to spotlight the abundance of South Florida-sourced fare is not new, Pera has a way of making you believe in it all over again. To say Pera relies heavily on the bounty of local farmers and fishermen is an understatement; he might as well be married to the menagerie of purveyors he works with daily. Right now he's partnered with several from across the state, relationships he's cultivated over the years as tenderly as the Little Pond Farm owner who delivers his heirloom tomatoes cares for his crop. The concept even crosses into the restaurant's carefully curated marketplace, where guests and visitors can find the chef's picks for items like bread made by revered Miami baker Zak Stern (AKA Zak the Baker), a hot cup of Panther Coffee, and charcuterie from Dade-based Miami Smokers.
6. Louie Bossi
Executive chef/co-owner at Louie Bossi's Pizzeria & Ristorante
Self-taught chef Louie Bossi is the man behind the boisterous Italian restaurant of the same name that opened in downtown Fort Lauderdale late last year. Not a native Floridian, Bossi grew up in the Astoria section of Queens in the 1970s, moving to New Jersey when he was 10. A year later, Bossi was offered his first job at the local pizzeria, a move that would later lead to one of his most successful menu items to date. From there, Bossi spent more than 15 years with the Big Time Restaurant Group — the company behind Rocco's Tacos and City Cellar — earning his street cred. His dream, however, was always to have his own restaurant. After telling the partners at Big Time for years that they needed an Italian restaurant in their stable, Bossi started his own, taking inspiration from Eataly founder Oscar Farinetti (who partners Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, and Lidia Bastianich brought to New York City and Chicago). Nearly everything is made in-house, and the Fort Lauderdale food scene is all the better for it. The journey from pizza-maker to restaurateur has been a good one for this self-made chef.
5. Mike Hampton and Christy Samoy
Executive chef/owners at Hot & Soul
Two heads are better than one, the saying goes. In the case of this mom-and-pop couple, you can’t help but agree. Separately, each one can cook up a storm. Together, they create a dizzying array of homemade fare served with a hefty side of soul at their 3-year-old Fort Lauderdale establishment, Hot & Soul. The place hasn’t changed much since then — from the birthday song singing to the signature dishes and the list of daily rotating specials — and that’s just the way Mike Hampton, his wife Christy Samoy, and regulars who frequent the eatery like it. The couple — along with a loyal, nearly all-original staff of eight — serves dinner six nights a week. These days, the place is well known for the chefs’ take on international cuisine, what amounts to dishes that cover a range of Asian and Indian to South American and classic European. There’s the popular “naughty gnocchi,” made with oxtail, San Marzano tomatoes, basil, and pecorino; Pilipino chicken adobo, with soy sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, bay leaves, peppercorns, and jasmine rice; and Cajun gumbo yumbo, a combination of ham hock, andouille sausage, and chicken gumbo served with scallion rice. Save room for dessert; selections change nightly and are worth every sinful calorie. You can feel the love oozing from every bite. And in the end, that’s definitely all you need.
4. Angelo Elia
Executive chef/owner at Casa D'Angelo
The patriarch of fine dining in Fort Lauderdale, executive chef/owner Angelo Elia is known for elevating the city’s food scene with his flagship, Casa d’Angelo. Over the years, he’s racked up a number of accolades, ranging from Zagat’s America’s Top Restaurants; Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence on numerous occasions, including 100 Best Wine Restaurants in 2012; and a number of New Times nods, including Best Place to Close the Deal in 2009 and Best Italian Restaurant in 2016. When he’s not cooking dinner for the fine folks at the James Beard Foundation, the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, or some other elite culinary event, he’s at one of his many local spots, watching over simple Tuscan fare such as bistecca alla fiorentina — dry-aged New York strip steak marinated in olive oil, rosemary, and garlic — and one of the many daily specials. In recent years, he has expanded his restaurant empire to include two Casa D’Angelo outposts — in Boca Raton and Paradise Island, Bahamas — as well as a new line of casual eateries called Angelo Elia Pizza, Bar & Tapas, with locations in Fort Lauderdale, Weston, Coral Springs, Delray Beach, and two others set to open in Doral and Aventura. Elia’s newest concept, Angelo Elia the Bakery Bar, in Fort Lauderdale, also shows his skills aren’t restricted to just fine dining.
3. Adrienne Grenier
Executive chef at 3030 Ocean
After racking up awards alongside then-executive chef Paula DaSilva in 2011, Adrienne Grenier is making some amazing food back at her alma mater, and we’re all the better for it. Following an intensive three-month renovation that revamped 3030 Ocean into a more sophisticated, fine-tuned establishment, today the kitchen belongs to this 32-year-old phenom. Grenier attended Florida State University, where she studied food science and nutrition. After college, she enrolled in culinary school at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. In 2005, the young chef was hired as an entry-level cook at the restaurant where she’s now executive chef. At the time, she worked under Dean James Max, who was among the first to bring the green concept to South Florida, winning praise for his fresh and sustainable approach to seafood and showcasing local farmers, fishermen, and food producers. Today Grenier carries the torch — and does so with a fresh pizzazz that shows both skill and creativity.
2. Giovanni Rocchio
Executive chef/owner at Valentino
At Valentino, refined palates can take refuge. The restaurant specializes in true culinary ambition. Giovanni Rocchio has an impressive resumé, but he isn’t a self-important chef — he’s a culinary savant with a passion that runs so hot it has helped propel his Fort Lauderdale eatery into a class of its own. Born into an Italian restaurant family, Rocchio developed a zest for food at the age of 7 while working in the kitchen with his father, Tony Rocchio, at the original Valentino in Plantation. After taking off to learn techniques and skills at high-end Italian spots in New York and the motherland, he returned to South Florida to open his own Valentino in Fort Lauderdale in 2006 and has been wowing patrons ever since. After another move, a few blocks north and across the street, Rocchio now serves homemade and innovative new Italian fare, ranging from homemade pastas to venison with butternut squash, braised red cabbage, and blueberry to monkfish accompanied by sunchoke, black trumpet mushroom, and crisp shallots. His fare is Italian like you’ve never experienced. Now, you can also experience his new global tapas concept, One Door East, now open next door to his longtime, special occasion establishment.
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1. Alex Becker
Executive chef at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino's Kuro
After graduating from Johnson & Wales University in 1999, Alex Becker jetted off on a globetrotting adventure that would take him from Michelin-starred Ristorante Gardenia in Turin, Italy, to Japan for a seven-year career at the world-renowned Nobu, for which he was executive chef for outposts in New York, Hawaii, and Los Angeles. Later, he was corporate executive chef for equally well-respected Katsuya in Los Angeles. Today, we know him best as the Kuro executive chef, as well as the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s creative culinary director. The chef sources exotic items for the restaurant’s new-style Japanese creations — dishes grounded in tradition and executed via a unique kaiseki (carefully prepared multicourse experience). The idea: Offer a menu where no two dining experiences are alike, each tailored to a patron’s preferences. Fish for sushi is delivered three times a week and stored in a Sub-Zero freezer. The bar is stocked with several Japanese whiskeys, shochu, and more than 20 sakes. Dishes feature four varieties of miso, several types of wasabi, and various kinds of soy sauce; exotic produce such as yuzu, mushrooms, and lotus root comes from overseas. If it’s a taste trip you’re after, Becker is the man to give it to you.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.