Washington D.C.-born James Cawley graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in October of 1991. After his first job at NYC’s Tribeca Grill, he relocated to Palm Beach to work at Café L’Europe. Next he served on the opening staff of Pacific Time on Miami Beach, followed by a three-month staging at Michelin-starred Georges Blanc in Vonnas, France. From there he worked at a variety of restaurants in the Miami area including Nemo. Cawley joined Rosa Mexicano where he started as Executive Chef of the restaurant’s Union Square location in July 2009. Since relocating to South Beach for the opening, Cawley has been named Regional Chef and talks to us about his first year back on South Beach.
How was the opening?
We were blessed to have such a strong opening team. As Rosa’s second restaurant in Miami, we were fortunate that the locals already had some awareness about Rosa Mexicano as a destination for upscale, authentic and festive Mexican. But debuting in South Beach is a whole new community and part of town.
Were there any challenges about opening on Lincoln Road?
Lincoln Road brings a lot of foot traffic, but it can also be unpredictable, particularly after Labor Day. Now we have our footing with the locals though and nothing beats strong word of mouth.
A year into the opening, what, if anything, has changed at the restaurant?
We began working with culinary advisor Jonathan Waxman, a fantastic chef who has crafted unique, seasonal additions to our menu with themes like Eclectic Cuts, Mexican Passover and Foods of Baja. It’s some pretty cutting edge stuff.
What are your priorities at the restaurant right now?
We’re always focused on serving top notch, authentic Mexican cuisine in an inviting atmosphere. Right now, we’re gearing up for the spring Flavors of Mexico celebration, Mexican Passover. We’ll be featuring dishes like Matzoh-Breaded Chicken Breast and Pulled Beef Brisket Tacos.
What's been your biggest success there this past year?
It’s great when the restaurant has been around long enough to start feeling like part of the community. We have regulars who can order without even looking at the menu, but it’s easy enough to look around and realize you can’t go without ordering our signature guacamole, which we make tableside in a lava rock Molcajete. It’s a big hit.
Your biggest not such a success?
We get slammed after movie premieres, which we didn’t expect, especially big families out for the night. Now, we know to get ready for that onslaught of kids who want to make their own guacamole.
What are your plans at Rosa Mexicano for the future?
We are using locally sourced ingredients when possible and planning really incredible seasonal celebrations with Culinary Advisor Jonathan Waxman, like the Baja menu this summer with some stellar tacos. [EaterWire}