American chef and restaurateur Andrew Carmellini brought The Dutch to Miami in the cultural and culinary height of the season over Art Basel December 2011. One year in, we spoke with Carmellini about opening his first restaurant outside of NYC, what attracted him to the Magic City in the first place, and his plans for The Dutch-Miami and the ever-growing Carmellini Dining Dynasty in 2013.
What made you want to open The Dutch in Miami? My father is from Miami and we still have family down there so I always feel like I half grew up there. They're from Little River so I'd spend the holidays and summertime there. Over the years we've had opportunities to open elsewhere but when the opportunity came up to open at the W - South Beach, it's just such a great property, we said, "Sure, let's do it".
How did the opening go? What were some of the challenges? It was definitely the hardest restaurant opening I ever did. Just coming in one day and taking over the hotel and its operations. It was even more challenging because we opened two weeks before Art Basel and it was a tremendous amount of work. We have a great team there now—the chefs and managerial and floor staff—but it took us some time to build that and get it to where it is now. We've done hotels before but it was my first time doing something outside New York; we take things for granted in NY, so it was just being in a new city culturally, away from your home base, dealing with things differently.
A year later, what has changed at the restaurant? Like any restaurant, you're always improving. Locals know we're there and what we do, the staff is very comfortable with the Miami season and working with local farms and purveyors, getting our supply chain in order and being able to capitalize on that as much as we can is great. Now the farms in Miami are starting to be active, whereas in NYC we're done now for season, like Florida heirloom tomatoes are in season. It's refreshing to go from squashes up north to amazing summer produce down south.
What's the most difficult part about having a restaurant in two cities? I've always been a very hands on person and moving from one restaurant to four, and one of them being outside of NYC, I had to deal with not having that hands-on approach constantly. I had to communicate things that needed to get done and do it from afar or [while] I'm down there seven days a month, so it's a new way of thinking, organizing myself. I always wonder how other guys handle it properly who have restaurants in Asia and other far places. It's an interesting process.
What's been your biggest success at the restaurant this past year? Last year for Art Basel was a really big challenge, [it's] the busiest week in Miami, and it was difficult for us because it was so new and there were so many parties and events. So this year, having gone through that once, the staff and the team, they seemed to really kick ass. They took care of guests...both on hotel and restaurant side.
What are you focusing on right now for The Dutch? I'm always nervous about sophomore years just because if you have a great first year, [it] doesn't mean you should rest on your laurels. So whether they're staying in room 805 or driving in from South Miami for a meal, it's about taking care of every guest who comes through the door. [I] just want to focus on being a great restaurant for everyone in 2013.
Any plans for opening The Dutch in other cities or any other Miami projects in the works? I have a very big project opening in NYC in March—Lafayette—this is always my dream if you will, to have a French restaurant, an Italian restaurant, and an American restaurant. 2013 is just going to be focused on that.
When you're in Miami and not at The Dutch, where do you like to eat? My aunt's house. My dad gets on his bike and goes down to Coconut Grove and gets fish, we grill up corvina in the backyard. But last time I was in town I went to Michael Schwartz's place. I always love it there; Michelle Bernstein's spots; I've been going to My Ceviche a lot and I like eating outside at Mandolin. I'm glad the Bar Lab guys opened Broken Shaker again because I love going there for drinks.
What's your favorite thing about Miami? Miami is very unique, it's like New Orleans/San Fran/NY in a way because when you get off the plane you know you're in that place and Miami has that. I've seen it evolve over the years and I remember it from when I was a kid, and I've seen the progression in the last 35 years. That feeling that you know where you are when you're here. Doesn't feel like anywhere else and that's why I've always liked it.