This year’s Iron Fork Chef Competition will go down between Chef Brian Nasajon of Beaker & Gray and Chef Santiago Gomez of Tacology. The winner will take home the coveted Iron Fork Skillet! Which Chef do you want to win? Vote here!
Chef Brian Nasajon
A Miami native, Brian Nasajon was born into a family where a love of food and an appreciation of culinary arts were household values. Exposed to global flavors as a young boy, Nasajon’s favorite memories include observing his grandfather’s every move as he expertly grilled asado – a staple of any Uruguayan household. “We had chefs and serious cooks in the family,” says Nasajon of those early years. “Great food was the center of our lives so it became almost instinctual for me as a kid. Later, it seemed obvious that cooking professionally would be my life.”
Be that as it may, he was pursuing a degree in Philosophy at New York University when he embraced kitchen life and left school to begin his true vocation. His first stop: a one-year apprenticeship under acclaimed Joshua Capon at the chef’s wildly popular Lure Fishbar in Manhattan. One week in and Nasajon knew the kitchen was truly where he belonged.
A Miamian at heart, Nasajon returned to his roots in 2009 where he got his first paying job as line cook at the critically acclaimed restaurant Wish at The Hotel of South Beach. There, he sharpened his skills and dove deep into the arts and sciences of flavor development, menu creation and dish composition. Nasajon would go on to fill the role of Sous Chef and eventually became the restaurant’s Chef de Cuisine in 2011.
In late 2011, Nasajon joined SUSHISAMBA as Executive Sous Chef of their Miami Beach location, where he explored the brand’s fusion cuisine of Brazil, Japan and Peru. Nasajon took a special interest in flavor combinations and, in time, became Executive Chef of both Sushisamba locations in Coral Gables and Miami Beach.
Now, backed by the support of his family, Nasajon embraces a new role as chef/owner of Beaker & Gray. With complete creative control, Nasajon’s vision is to offer diners elevated global dishes in a fun, approachable environment. The concept is focused on an ingredient-driven menu and global dishes with unique spins.
Chef Santiago Gomez
Tacology’s Executive Chef Santiago Gomez is a talented young toque who offers a playful, yet sophisticated approach to traditional Mexican cuisine. His dishes reflect his passion for taking the rich offerings of Mexico’s agriculture and transforming them into contemporary masterpieces.
Born in Mexico City, Gomez’s interest for cooking was sparked while he worked as a deliveryman for a local seafood distributor and often observed chefs at work. Their focus and passion inspired him to go to culinary school and in 2007 he graduated from the city’s top culinary academy – Centro Culinario Ambrosia. Gomez confesses he has always had an affinity for higher education and following graduation, continued his studies in Barcelona, Spain at the renowned culinary and hospitality school, Hofmann.
Gomez graduated in 2008 and was seeking what was next. A friend encouraged him to join him and see what Miami had to offer; and an opportunity to work for the fast-expanding NOBU brand seemed opportunity enough. Although he spent just one year in South Florida working for NOBU, before returning to home to open NOBU Mexico City, he recounts “Miami life” memories of serving Lenny Cravats and partaking in extravagant Dom Perignon truffle dinners.
Upon his return to Mexico City, Gomez danced his way into the palate of NOBU “restaurant regular” Alberto Cinta – who more importantly was the CEO and Co-Founder of Mexico’s largest hospitality company, Cinbersol Group S. A. Cinta hired Gomez as Sous Chef for a Thai/Japanese concept they had plans to open called Erawan. “The lineup was a ‘dream team’ of chefs,” says Gomez, which included a former chef of Miami’s China Grill, an experienced sushi chef from Los Angeles, a chef from Thailand and the pastry chef of NOBU.
Those two years at Erawan scripted the next volume in Gomez’s culinary novel. Gomez worked on multiple concepts for the Cinbersol Group in multiple capacities, including Sud777, a fine dining restaurant in Mexico City that was recognized by San Pellegrino as Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Gomez was eventually promoted to Corporate Chef where he would open Cantina La Numero 20, which today is one of the Group’s first internationally expanded concepts. When it’s initial Mexico City concept opened, it was so popular that after just 18 months it started a multi-city expansion eventually opening three additional concepts in Polanco, El Angel and Santa Fe.
Before opening Cantina La Veinte in Miami in July 2014, Gomez took a one month, preparatory stage at Daniel by renowned chef Daniel Boulud. He set out to “refresh” his kitchen techniques, but notes that what he found most valuable was learning the precision and technique behind the actual operation of a Michelin-starred kitchen.
Today, Gomez is the Executive Chef at Tacology, a Mexican concept located in Brickell City Centre, which opened in February 2017. Tacology offers authentic Mexican fare in a Mercado-style setting. Gomez has created a refreshing dining concept that is made up of equal parts food as it is fun.
Gomez has also become the spokesperson for brands such as Barilla, Tabasco and Don Julio.
Chef Dustin Ward
Chef Dustin Ward is the Chef de Cuisine at BLT Prime at Trump National Doral. A San Diego native, Ward began cooking for his family at just six years old. At ten years old, he enrolled in his first cooking class, and by age fifteen he was catering events and parties for his high school teachers. Ward went on to receive his culinary arts degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and upon graduation accepted a position at Equinox Resort & Spa in Manchester, Vermont.
In 2003, he was lured by the famed Breaker’s Resort and Spa in Palm Beach where he spent three years at L’Escalier, the resort’s signature fine dining restaurant, rising from Chef de Partie to Sous Chef. From 2006 to 2012, Ward helmed the kitchen at Gordon Ramsay’s Cielo at the Boca Raton Resort before joining the opening team for Chef Jose Andres’ The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel on South Beach.
After consulting for the hipster Wynwood gastro pub, The Butcher Shop, Ward joined the opening team for BLT Prime at the newly renovated Trump National Doral. Chef Ward infuses the famed modern American Steakhouse’s menu with a distinct Floridian flavor, best showcased through BLT Prime’s weekly blackboard specials highlighting his passion for cooking and his love for fresh local ingredients.
Chef Jose Mendin
The Pubbelly Group’s Founding Partner and Chef, Jose Mendin, was born into a heavy food culture, the child of “food enthusiast” parents and a great-grandmother who was a cooking instructor. Though it wasn’t until Mendin went off to college and needed to prepare his own meals that he realized his adoration for cooking.
“My mom was master of her domain and so she never let us cook at home.” explains Mendin. “It was only when I lived on my own that I started to cook. The reaction I received from people enjoying my food was so gratifying that I was immediately hooked.”
With a collegiate volleyball scholarship just out of reach, it afforded him the opportunity to leave his home in Puerto Rico and pursue something new, and so he enrolled in cooking school at Johnson & Wales University in Miami, graduating in 2001.
Mendin’s passion for food and learning has carried him gracefully into a successful career. He was part of the opening team at Nobu, Miami and later Nobu, London, and used these foundational Asian influences to parlay the opportunity into a job at SUSHISAMBA Miami. After two years, he was appointed to Assistant Corporate Chef, overseeing all of the brands U.S. locations, which included the 2008 opening of the award-winning USHISAMBA, Las Vegas at the Palazzo.
While recognizable U.S. concepts like Mosaico adorn Mendin’s resume, his pursuit to learn in an international kitchen is perhaps what he regards as most influential in his culinary training. Stages in Spain, working under chefs like Jesus Ramiro and Juan Pablo Felipe, were creative processes that forced him out of his comfort zone and later played a role in the menu development at Mercadito, as opening chef of their Chicago and Miami outposts. While in Spain, he worked in Michelin-starred restaurants, cooked for the prince of Spain, and learned how to revitalize ancient recipes, by maintaining the integrity of a dish’s roots and infusing it with modern touches.
Today, Mendin is a hometown hero in both Miami and San Juan, making both of his cities proud. Alongside his business partners Sergio Navarro, Andreas Schreiner and Juan Fernando Ayora, he has taken numerous culinary concepts to critical acclaim, including: Pubbelly (now Pubbelly Noodle Bar), Pubbelly Sushi, Barceloneta, Macchialina, PB Steak and L’echon Brasserie. Chef Mendin has been a recognized semi-finalist of the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef South” for five consecutive years from 2012-2016 and has received national acknowledgements from Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, Departures Serious Eats, Departures and The Cooking Channel, among many others.
The Pubbelly Group’s collection of restaurants and bars continue to expand on both a national and international scale, and now includes: Pubbelly Noddle Bar, Pubbelly Sushi (American Airlines Arena, Brickell City Centre, Casa de Campo and Miami Beach), Food Republic (aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Escape), Pubbelly Station, Pawn Broker, Pubbelly Sushi Market, Baja Bao and their latest concept in Mendin’s hometown of San Juan, Puerto Rico, named PB Ysla.
The group’s rooftop bar, Pawn Broker, was awarded the accolade of “Bar of the Year” by Eater Miami, and also received a culinary nod from Bloomberg News. And 2016 saw the group venture into the digital world with a digital cook book featuring a collection of Chef Mendin’s dishes, aptly named Food Republic by Jose Mendin, a collaboration with Norwegian Cruise Line.
When Mendin is not in the kitchen, you’ll find him spending time with his fiancé Ali and his two sons, Ian and Noah. He enjoys the sun and sand of Miami and still has the occasional “itch” for a good game of volleyball.
Chef Sean Brasel
Behind every great restaurant, there’s a creative, talented force that brings forth passion, dedication and excellence to every bite. The partnership between Chef Sean Brasel and co-owner David Tornek exudes such dynamic force that after 13 years together they continue to create the hottest see-and-be-seen restaurants in the business, by virtue of Brasel’s exquisite cuisine, Tornek’s innovative concepts, and their combined talent for exceeding diners’ expectations. Their award-winning creation, Meat Market – a sizzling contemporary American steakhouse with a bustling vibe that has taken the Miami and beyond, by storm.
Born in Colorado, Brasel dreamed of being a chef as a young boy. He got his start as a sous chef at Cliff Young’s in Denver, taking the helm shortly thereafter. The talented chef soon won a prestigious scholarship to Madeline Kamman’s School for American Chefs in Napa Valley, beating out more than 2,000 applicants. Upon graduation, Brasel returned to Denver to start a restaurant-consulting business, and it was while he was working at an Italian concept, that he met his future business partner, David Tornek. In 1994 they opened several successful restaurants in Colorado before relocating to South Florida, launching Touch in the heart of South Beach on Lincoln Road. The restaurant went on to garner acclaim for Brasel’s ambitious contemporary American cuisine as well as a well-earned reputation as a see-and-be-seen hotspot by virtue of its sexy ambiance, celebrity diners and offbeat entertainment.
As Touch restaurant quickly gained notoriety, Brasel became a go-to talent for off-site catering, eventually leading to the creation of Touch Catering in 2005. A wildly successful venture from the get-go, Touch Catering has drawn big name clients (the Super Bowl and BMW to name a few) and positioned Chef Brasel and David Tornek as superstars in South Florida’s catering circuit. After taking an amazing offer and selling the building where Touch restaurant was situated, Brasel and Tornek focused much of their work on bringing the contemporary American steakhouse into the 21st century with Meat Market. “Touch had such an amazing run and remained successful since it opened in 2000, but it was time to bring forth a new, fresh concept to the South Florida dining scene,” says Tornek.
Since its inception in 2008, Meat Market has been a staple on the Miami Beach scene and was even touted by Condé Nast Traveler as one of “Miami’s Buzziest Restaurants.” For Meat Market, Brasel has created a menu that embraces the staples of a classic steakhouse – a variety of prime cuts, generous portions of innovative seafood, amazing sides and appetizers, top notch wine list – but infuses it all with an artful, contemporary spin. “We want to appeal to those looking for a more ‘traditional experience’ as well as more adventurous diners,” he says. To that end, Meat Market also features a posh Crudo Bar, an eclectic, sumptuous raw bar featuring seafood delicacies, as well as an affordable bar menu ideal for a light bite or dinner, with a perfect perch for people watching. Menu standouts include tropical braised “fatty” brisket with coconut, mango, Cuban sweet potatoes and wild mushrooms; Kobe skirt steak with lemongrass, ginger and roasted local chili; buffalo tenderloin steak with a chili and espresso rub, topped with bittersweet chocolate mole butter; and a wild African pheasant roasted with tamari and braised chicory. Sides also delight with truffle creamed corn, lyonnaise potatoes with blue cheese gratin, wood roasted hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, summer squash cobbler, brown butter popovers, and green chili cheddar corn bread.
Meat Market is a see-and-be-seen dining destination and as a result, Brasel has cooked for some of the most well-known celebrities in the world, from professional athletes like Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Scottie Pippen and Alex Rodriguez and Hollywood big-names like Jerry Bruckheimer to famed culinary personalities like Emeril Lagasse and Guy Fieri.
A well-known name in the culinary scene, Brasel is not only a go-to chef/restauranteur in the South Florida broadcast market but he has also appeared on a number of national television shows including The Food Network’s Chopped, Esquire Network’s Knife Fight, and TLC’s Miami Ink, where he did a cooking demonstration on-air for Kat Von D. Brasel can also
navigate his way in a galley, thanks to his experience as a celebrity chef on Royal Celebrity Cruise in the Caribbean in 2011 and Holland America’s Alaskan cruise in July 2013.
A long-time ambassador for Certified Angus Beef and Goya Foods, Brasel is a well-respected name in the culinary community. He contributes, not only his talent, but his time to a number of non-profit organizations, including March of Dimes, No Kid Hungry, Share Our Strength, FLIPANY, Diabetes Research Institute Foundation, among others.
Chef Ingrid Hoffmann
Ingrid Hoffmann, professional eater and host of Top Chef Estrellas (Telemundo, NBC), Simply Delicioso (Cooking Channel) and Delicioso (Univision) is passionate about food and entertaining and spends each day sharing her enthusiasm and talent with an international audience. Her goal is to spread the joy of cooking to her many followers via her own cookware line, cookbooks and the media. In 2015, Ingrid launched her very own food brand, Cocina by Ingrid Hoffmann, which focuses on easy, delicious and healthy meal solutions for the family. For 2018, Ingrid is working on the launch of a new book and a digital lifestyle brand and website targeting the modern woman with easy recipes, health, travel, entertaining tips and highlighting Ingrid’s favorites all around.
Ingrid’s loyal fan base in both the English and Spanish-speaking communities, has inspired her to publish her cookbooks in both languages. Ingrid’s most recent book is LATIN D’LITE : Delicious Latin Recipes with a Healthy Twist (Celebra/Penguin Hardcover; $29.95, April 2, 2013) and LATIN D’LITE (Spanish edition): Deliciosas Recetas Latinas con un Toque Saludable (Celebra Trade Paperback Original: $19.99; April 2, 2013; 978-0451416285). In contrast to other health-centric cookbooks, Ingrid reveals her easy and delicious go-to ingredients that turn bold and hearty Latin dishes into good for you meals with a side of splurge! Her first best-selling cookbook SIMPLY DELICIOSO: A Collection of Everyday Recipes (Clarkson Potter/Random House) positioned Ingrid to be voted Flavors of Passion Chef of 2011 for her contribution to bringing awareness to the flavors of Latin America.
Ingrid’s fascination with food, cooking and style began as a little girl. She started cooking with her mother, a Cordon Bleu chef, at such a young age that she needed a stool to reach the stove. She discovered not only a love of cooking, but a flair for entertaining, and in no time developed her own distinctive style.
Raised in Colombia and the Netherlands, Ingrid moved to Miami where she once owned a high fashion luxury boutique as well as the restaurant Rocca. Appearing regularly on local TV, Ingrid was noticed by Hearst Entertainment who signed her for her first cooking show, Delicioso with Ingrid Hoffmann, which initially launched in Latin America. In 2006, the show moved to the Spanish language network, Galavision. Ingrid’s English show, Simply Delicioso, premiered on the Food Network in 2007 and moved to the Cooking Channel in summer 2010. She writes a monthly column in Delta Sky Magazine and is a frequent guest of shows like Un Nuevo Día, The Talk, Oprah, Martha Stewart, The View, The Today Show, The Early Show, and Wendy Williams Show.
Ingrid’s success has afforded her the opportunity to give back to the community as a board member of New York City’s Food and Education Fund and Miami’s Amigos for Kids, as well as an active supporter of Manhattan’s Food and Finance High School and Believe for Colombia Foundation, amongst many others.
MIAMI INITIATION CHEFS
CHEF LAWRENCE PAGE
WE tv announced today that it has ordered a new docu-series, “Hustle & Soul,” produced by Big Fish Entertainment, focused on the owner and staff of Brooklyn’s Pink Tea Cup restaurant. “Hustle & Soul” follows owner and head chef Lawrence Page on a quest to make the Pink Tea Cup the first soul food restaurant to garner the coveted Michelin Star, all while trying to manage staff in-fighting, power moves and love triangles.
CHEF RYAN MARTIN
Chef Ryan Martin, a native of Longmeadow, MA began his love with food and cooking at age 13. He attended George Washington University in Washington DC before moving to Manhattan where he received his formal culinary training at the former French Culinary Institute, now known as the international Culinary Center. Chef Ryan used his training to land gigs under such acclaimed chefs as Chef Todd Erikson of Haven Lounge and Chef Sonny Oh of Nobu and Juvia. He later left his Executive Chef position at the Clevelander in Miami, to open his own gastropub concept, 180° @ the DRB, in downtown Miami in 2014.
Asked to describe the cuisine at 180°, Chef Ryan says “I call it global ingredients done my way. I’m classically trained in French cuisine, and there’s some pretty heavy Asian and Latin influences.” The menu changes frequently based on what is fresh and what the chef wants to experiment with. The chef also employs many techniques and tools in his kitchen — such as blowtorches, dehydrators, and liquid nitrogen — to achieve the desired result.