Top Fine Dining Chefs in Coral Gables 

A Moveable Feast

Anyone who has read the book “Kitchen Confidential” by the late Anthony Bourdain, or even one of his short tales in The New Yorker, understands one thing: The life of a chef is all-consuming, if not downright exhausting. You feel like you need a nap after reading about a day in the life of Mr. Bourdain. 

For the great chefs of Coral Gables, that scenario is not far from the truth. A 60-hour week is a light week. The days will often stretch to 12 hours and will involve not just cooking in the kitchen but also checking the quality of the produce, meats, and fish, instructing staff, deciding on the day’s specials, and orchestrating everything from preparation to presentation. And then there is the constant evolution of the cuisine, discovering new tastes and concocting new recipes for the latest seasonal offerings. 

From the days of Norman van Aken, who put the city on the national culinary map, Coral Gables has been a magnet for the chef-driven kitchen. While many restaurants, especially national chains, serve predictably good food, their menus are designed elsewhere and delivered by executive chefs who follow the formula. A local, one-of-a-kind chef-driven concept is a different animal, unique and creative and outside of the box. 

For this feature, we chose six top chefs at the helm of fine dining establishments. Each one brings a special perspective to their establishments, and the flavor array they provide is one of the things that makes Coral Gables a world-class city. 

Chef Niven Patel 

Restaurants: Mamey, Orno

Cuisines: Caribbean, New American 

Chef Niven Patel- Top Fine Dining Chefs

Since launching Ghee Indian Kitchen in Dadeland in 2017, Niven Patel has earned a national reputation as a rising culinary star – from being named one of Food & Wine magazine’s “Best New Chefs” in 2020 to a lead feature in the New York Times’ Sunday food section last year. He’s also been a multiple James Beard nominee and a semi-finalist in Best Chefs in America. But for Coral Gables, what matters is Mamey restaurant, opened last year at THesis hotel. 

Mamey represented the culmination of years of hard work in South Florida and Caribbean kitchens, including at 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale, Atlantic’s Edge in the Keys, and Max’s Brasserie on Grand Cayman. Back in Miami, he became chef de cuisine at the tony Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in the Design District, where he began his obsession with farm-to-food cooking, planting his own 2-acre farm in Homestead. 

At Mamey, Patel created a Caribbean-based menu with Latin, Polynesian, and Thai fusions, along with a touch of Indi-an flavors. The result: plantains roasted in Indian clarified butter (ghee); lemongrass glazed salmon with bok choy and Thai curry; watermelon salad with goat cheese, peanuts, starfruit, and tamarind sauce. 

“Once we started growing, that turned into a philosophy of really caring for the products you cook with,” says Patel. “People are able to taste things at a level they haven’t before. I estimate that less than fifty percent of people have ever had a real tomato.” 

That philosophy will be even more apparent at Orno, his New American restaurant (also at THesis) opening this month. “I just bring stuff from the farm, and we just cook,” says Patel, who gets only 3 to 4 hours of sleep a night. “That’s what Orno will be all about. Forty to fifty percent of the menu will be constantly changing.” 

Chef Adrianne Calvo 

Restaurants: Forte, Red Fish Grill 

Cuisines: Italian, Sea Food 

Chef Adrianne Calvo is one of South Florida’s most celebrated chefs, having opened her first restaurant in 2007 – Chef Adrianne’s Vineyard Restaurant and Wine Bar in Kendall. In 2019, having released her fifth and sixth cookbooks, she launched a fine-casual concept called Cracked by Chef Adrianne, in South Miami. 

Last year she exploded onto the Gables culinary scene with Redfish by Chef Adrianne, a mecca for seafood lovers in the historic coral stone building at Mattheson Hammock Park, followed this year by Forte, a high-end Italian concept on Miracle Mile. Both have become overnight successes. 

What Chef Adrianne prides herself on is the concept of “Maximum Flavor,” the title of her first cookbook. It was that book, written at the age of 22, which launched her career. She wrote it at the encouragement of judges after winning a streak of cooking competitions as a student at Johnson & Wales in North Miami. 

At the time, television host Montel Williams was looking for guests in a segment he was producing about young authors and entrepreneurs. Calvo flew to New York and did a cooking segment for the show. Williams held up Maximum Flavor and said, “I don’t eat scallops but today I learned to love scallops. Buy this book. You have to have this book.” The book sold like wildfire and gave Calvo the cash she needed to open Vineyard. It was out near Tamiami Airport, but as one of her mentors (chef Thomas Keller) told Calvo, “People will travel for good food, no matter what.” 

Fortunately for Gableites, they won’t have to travel far to sample stunningly good Italian or seafood cuisine, from dishes like her famous brown sugar-crusted salmon to her wagyu Italian meatballs with mortadella cheese and truffle oil. Never one to look back, she also now has a travel show called “Searching for Maximum Flavor.” 

Chef Christian Chirino 

Restaurant: TUR 

Cuisine: Mediterranean 

Chef Christian Chirino - Top Fine Dining Chefs

Chef Christian Chirino, a native of Chile, is the newest of Coral Gables’ top chefs, having taken the helm at TUR Kitchen just over a year ago. But in that time, he has taken the restaurant to new culinary heights with a flavor palate from the Eastern Mediterranean – Turkish, Middle Eastern, North African, and Greek. 

Trained initially at culinary school in Santiago, Chirino spent four years working in Paris following an internship at 3-Michelin-star restaurant Le Chateaubriand. While there he met the famous Basque chef Andoni Aduriz at a food conference in Madrid, who became an early mentor. “At that time, I understood that [cooking] was my thing. I felt the passion, and the satisfaction of people saying, ‘I love your food.’ There is no money that can buy that satisfaction.” 

Also, during his years in Paris, Chirino spent time traveling through Morocco and Tunisia to study their cuisine, something that would pay off at TUR – but only after he returned to Chile, finished his university studies, and became executive chef for a mining operation that employed – and had to feed – 5,000 workers. After nine years of that corporate chef role, he moved to Miami and worked at No. 3 Social in Wynwood. A year later he started at TUR. 

Chirino stays within the spectrum of Eastern Mediterranean cuisine but uses only local produce (the fish are flown in from Spain and Turkey). Working twelve- and thirteen-hour days, he uses traditional ingredients but not traditional recipes. “I do it my way,” he says. “In every dish, we have a touch of citrus, a touch of sweetness, a touch of the spicy – we need to have more than two or three flavors in the same dish. And we need to have surprise flavors.” For example, his braised goat dish includes gnocchi, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, and Medjool dates. 

Chef Manuel Garcia 

Restaurant: Zucca 

Cuisine: Italian 

Born in Venezuela, Chef Manuel Garcia received his first training in French cuisine in Caracas and then learned Mediterranean cooking in restaurants in Barcelona. That was before he moved to Miami 18 years ago – where he discovered that his opportunities lay in another type of food. “To my surprise, there wasn’t much in the way of nice French restaurants,” says Garcia. “I soon realized that everyone loved Italian.” 

So, Garcia started at the bottom at the legendary Casa Tua in South Beach, working first as a chef de partie (line cook), then as a sou chef, then as chef du cuisine. In the end, he became the executive chef, running the kitchen at the award-winning restaurant for the last half of his fourteen years there. Next came Zucca, where he took over the kitchen four years ago. 

Like most top chefs, Garcia works a twelve-hour day, from 10 am to 10 pm, six days a week. “It’s a very tough business,” he says. “You have to be very passionate and very dedicated.” That passion shows up in an amazing variety of deftly executed classic Italian dishes, albeit with contrasts and nuances that are Garcia’s own – like prawns wrapped in phyllo pastry paired with organic black rice. 

“I’m trying, especially since I’m not from Italy, to be as authentic as possible,” he says. I am always trying to do the research… I always go to Europe once a year, to Spain, Germany, Portugal and of course Italy. You get new inspiration; you get to see what people are eating.” 

And, while he says he “thinks like a French cook,” he follows the Italian mantra of basing your dishes on the freshest ingredients. “To be truly Italian,” he says, “I start with a product in season and attach it to a classic recipe. But with a twist.” 

Chef Pascal Oudin 

Restaurants: Pascal’s on Ponce, the Brasserie 

Cuisine: Classic French 

Chef Pascal Oudin - Top Fine Dining Chefs

In Coral Gables, the undisputed crown for Haute French cuisine goes to Chef Pascal Oudin, a master of what was once considered the most sophisticated food on the planet. For his stalwart fans, it still is, and for that reason, they have returned again and again for the last 21 years to his shrine of French cooking, Pascal’s on Ponce. 

Like many chefs, Oudin fell in love with cooking at an early age in his native France, starting work at a restaurant in Moulins at age 13. By age 17, he was awarded “Best Apprentice Chef ” in all of France, which let him work under the legendary Alain Ducasse of the Louise XV in Monaco. He also undertook chef’s training under other French luminaries such as Roger Vergé, Joseph Rostang, and Gaston Lenôtre.

With this impressive pedigree, he came to the U.S. in 1982, working first in Washington, D.C., before coming to Miami Beach in 1984 as the executive chef at Dominique’s. After a stint at the Colonnade Hotel, he spent a dozen years running the kitchen at the Grand Café in Coconut Grove’s five-star Grand Bay Hotel. He then started Pascal’s on Ponce in 2000. Years later he also launched the Brasserie Central bistro at the Shops at Merrick, but it’s at Pascal’s where the master continues his craft. 

“At this stage in life, what keeps me going is the clientele. People have been coming here for twenty years. Now I am serving their kids,” says Oudin. 

While he likes to tweak the classic recipes “to refresh things a little bit,” he says clients raise a ruckus if he tries to change things too much. “I have a classic training and I don’t regret it… We change the menu a little bit, but not too much. If I change it too much, they hang me.” 

Chef Giorgio Rapicavoli 

Restaurants: Luca, Eating House 

Cuisines: Italian, New American 

Chef Giorgio Rapicavoli - Top Fine Dining Chefs

Chef Giorgio Rapicavoli has been the darling of local food critics since he first opened Eating House on the north edge of Coral Gables in 2012. He had just won the first episode of the Food Network’s popular show “Chopped” (which he won again in 2014) and wanted “to take advantage of the momentum.” What he started created a cult following, with a menu that’s been referred to as “elevated stoner food” – dishes like Captain Crunch pancakes, or pork belly with banana mole and smoked jalapeno. 

Since then, Rapicavoli has upped his game with Luca, a sophisticated Italian café on Giralda Plaza that’s allowed the chef to bring his creative touch to the Italian food he experienced growing up part-time in Italy (the other time in Doral). “My mom’s family is from Bra, Italy, and we would go there about six months a year. The smells of that town were crazy,” he says, from the bakeries and coffee shops to the salumeria and even his uncle’s garden. 

Before starting Eating House, Rapicavoli served under a string of influential Florida chefs, including Robin Haas and Adam Votaw, and worked as executive chef at Chis- pa in Doral and at 660 in The Angler’s on Miami Beach. He also designed the menu and helped run Glass & Vine in Coconut Grove. But it’s at Luca where Rapicavoli has been able to fuse his childhood memories of Italian cooking with his talent for disruptive, creative cooking – dishes such as Pasta Al Limone, a tagliatelle with creamy Parmigia- no Reggiano and a “whole lemon,” or Patate Fritte, a plate of small spring potatoes in a foam of creamy Parmigiano with egg yolk and black truffle sauce. 

“People ask when I wanted to be a chef and I don’t really have an answer,” he says. “It’s all I’ve ever known and all I ever wanted to do.” 

Photos by Jonathan Dann