Sit down for dinner at Michael Mina’s Stripsteak, inside Fontainebleau Miami Beach, and after one bite you may ponder, ‘this is the best rib-eye I’ve ever had.’ Tempted to ask the waiter about the beef’s origin, you hesitate; you don’t want to be like the lunatic couple in “portlandia” who travels to a local farm to investigate the provenance of a chicken on the menu.
If curiosity gets the best of you, Dining Out Miami is here to dish all the secrets. Located underground Fontainebleau, stretching four miles of pathways, is a culinary city that buzzes 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Housing a complete butchery to a full-service bakery operation, countless chefs venture down to the underground hub to source goods for Fontainebleau’s 12 restaurants and banquets.
After a $1 billion expansion and renovation in 2008, the beachfront marvel that once entertained Hollywood’s silver screen legends and served as Elvis Presley’s rollicking playground reopened with a flourish, determined to be a modern resort with Old World culinary values. Vice President of Culinary Operations, Thomas Connell, are quick to point out that all seven kitchens have a dedicated saucier — a chef who prepares delectable sauces. “Every kitchen has a kettle that may have 200 pounds of veal knuckles deglazing, cooking, and reducing for a total of 36 hours to get one liter of demi-glace”, he explains. This mouthwatering demi-glace is the rich brown sauce that accompanies steaks.
Now, about that steak. You’d have to travel to Pennsylvania and introduce yourself to the Amish farmhands to ﬁnd the cows that Connell selects. Sourcing strictly from Moyer Farms — a collection of family farms that dates back to 1877 — Connell credits the region, lack of pesticides and hormones, the soil’s nitrogen cycle, and Amish traditions for producing a natural product unlike any other on the planet. “I’ve never seen this kind of quality anywhere”, he admits.
Neither have the trained butchers, who age 250-pound quarters of beef for 60-days for the hotel’s burgers alone. New York strip steaks and rib-eyes age between 28 and 45 days in Locker 28, the hotel’s meat locker and market where restaurant chefs come daily to select special cuts for Michael Mina, Scarpetta, Hakkasan, Pizza and Burger, and the rest of the hotel’s stellar eateries. For the butchers, the meat locker is their domain. It is overseen by Chef Carlos Ladinas, who has been there since the reopening (as have the masters of each of the hotel’s individual culinary ateliers). The seasoned, tight-knit group of ﬁve butchers have a combined 30 years of experience together and dedicate themselves to carving quality cuts in the 50-degree butcher shop. Like true masters, they also experiment. Currently, Locker 28 has a stash of New York strips wrapped in cheesecloth that they baste with whiskey every two weeks during the aging process. If successful, this experiment could lead to a new menu item.
Another vast point of differentiation in meats is the cut. The New York strip, for example, usually has a nerve running through the end. “Most restaurants cut and serve that piece, which is chewy. We cut off the last two bones from every New York strip before it is dry-aged, which means everyone essentially gets a center cut when they order that steak”, Connell elaborates.
Adjacent to Locker 28 — also under the tutelage of Chef Ladinas — is Water World, an extraordinary 2,000-gallon collection of six saltwater tanks that hold a bounty of Maine lobster, Norwegian king crab, Spanish blueﬁn tuna, and local ﬁsh from the resort’s own 44-foot BleauFish commercial fishing vessel. Created by Fontainebleau Owner Jeff Soffer and boat captain, Mike Henry, the operation is owned by the resort. It is the only one of its kind in Miami hospitality, and may even be exclusive in the United States, according to Connell. “There are people who have relationships with fisherman”, he says, “But no one goes out on their own vessel.”
Daily, the BleauFish ventures into Florida waters and returns with an average of 500 pounds of line-caught ﬁsh, including mutton and cubera snapper, yellowtail, tileﬁsh, mahi mahi, grouper, and pompano. Every August, the four-man crew drops 2,500 lobster traps near Marathon, Florida. In November, they will release 2,500 stone crab traps. Everything is returned to the mammoth Water World and kept in temperatures that are set to the comfort levels of each species. Every week, a truck transports 3,000 gallons of ocean water from Haulover near Bal Harbour. Chefs Connell and Ladinas change ﬁlters daily, adjust the UV lighting that kills bacteria, and monitor the highly complex ﬁltration system. An independent biologist checks on the ﬁsh twice a month.
The chefs have become marine experts and troubleshoot everything in Water World’s six high-tech aquariums. The aquariums are circular, because, as Connell explains, wild ﬁsh will swim in a circle but don’t understand the mechanics of back-and-forth swimming and would die in square tanks. Oddly, the ﬁsh know where they are to a certain extent. “When they see a white chef coat, they all swim to the other side,” Connell says. “They know one of their buddies is leaving.”
And when they leave, they, along with the crustaceans, head straight for one of Fontainebleau’s restaurants. Surprisingly, it is not just chefs who gather around every morning to select the fish for daily menus. “We had a customer in the middle of Boat Show who came into Water World and picked out his crab”, Connell adds, “He asked for it to be presented to his table later with a bottle of Cristal. Another customer found out when the king crab was arriving from Norway and reserved two in advance.”
For a sweet ﬁnish, follow your nose to the heavenly-scented 10,000 square-foot pastry kitchen. Helmed by French Pastry master Simon Brigardis and his team of artisans, the pastry wing is key to any and all things sweet at Fontainebleau. Within this buzzing, 24-hour operation, bakers make 48 different types of bread; glacier Jose Martinez creates 28 ﬂavors of gelato; pastry chefs produce 15,000 delectable sweets daily; and chocolatiers craft 5,000 pieces of sweet decorations. French chocolate is made here every two weeks — 4,000 pounds of it, that is. Brigardis regularly makes 14 different ﬂavors of bonbons using the ﬁnest Valrhona and Cacao-Barry chocolate. These chocolates are completed with delectable ﬁllings like salty caramel, coconut, guava cream cheese, and imported French passion fruit purée. A modest seven tons of chocolate is made each year in this kitchen. (Repeat: seven tons.)
It is an underground metropolis that people rarely get to experience. But, oftentimes, the best things are the ones left unseen.
“They do what they love in an environment that supports it, and that’s where the magic happens.”— Chef Connell
To schedule a tour and experience our amazing water world and other areas of the property, be sure to visit our concierge desk to reserve your seat or dial +1 (800) 548-8886.