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Dena Marino on The First Year at MC Kitchen

MC Kitchen, possibly one of Miami's most sought-out Italian restaurants, has officially been open for one year, time during which the eatery has established itself as a Miami go-to and amassed numerous accolades. Opened by chef Dena Marino and partner Brandy Coletta, MC Kitchen been referred to as the "best and best-looking restaurant in Miami" and "one of the best in America" by Esquire Magazine and it's received notable mentions from several other publications. "We're just very honored and fortunate for how well we were accepted into Miami", Marino tells Eater. Here's the full interview:

How did MC Kitchen come to be?
My business partner and I were … I guess when I left Devito very quickly, we always stayed in touch. And when I was thinking of going back to Colorado we were like, "no, should we go back to Colorado or shouldn't we go back to Colorado?" and she lives here part time and she lives in New York part time so she said, "there is nothing in Miami that is similar to what you do, why don't we look around and try to find a space and let's see if we can make something work here so you can stay in Miami because I don't want you to go back to Colorado." So, that's how it started. She was a hostess with me at Ajax Tavern in Aspen and she was one of the first people I called when things changed, so that's kind of how things started to happen.

How did the opening go, what was something that surprised you about it?
Well, we jumped in full force with just a few days before Art Basel and we said, "well, if we can do it now, then we can do it, so we might as well go for it." And it was a success. We all worked really, really hard and the great thing was we opened and it was super busy and we went through the entire season super busy, so we never stopped or slowed down until September. It was just, I think, a super good way to do it.

What were some of the challenges that you faced over this past year?
I think the biggest challenge is learning, maybe learning the work force … the style and the work ethic of different cultures here in Miami. We trained and had quite a bit of a turnaround on staff and we do have about ten employees on staff that were with us since the beginning, which we're super fortunate to have and they're amazing. I feel like it took us about a year to really hone in on what works and what doesn't work and what people grasp onto and what they don't grasp onto and the style of teaching and learning here. That was probably our biggest challenge. Like people not showing up, people calling out sick and then you see them on the street a few hours later. Basic staff problems. But more than I've seen anywhere else. But I feel like maybe because we were new on the scene and no one knew who we were and once they saw that we weren't going anywhere and saw some of our press and knew that we were real restauranteurs then we started to get staff that wanted to be in an environment like that so it worked out great.

What's been your biggest success at MC Kitchen so far?
The amount of locals that we see everyday. We have an amazing group of clientele that dine with us three – four times a week and I couldn't have asked for anything more. I love seeing the same people over and over and we love having that support for us and when they walk in the door I think they like knowing we know what they like and we have their table ready. There are customers that only sit at the same table or order the same thing all the time. We know what wines they like and what cocktails they like. And the other biggest success I think was our Esquire award for not even being a year old.

A year later, what, if anything, has changed at the restaurant?
I don't think there's anything we've changed over the year from day one. We change our menu seasonally, Mercato opened half the year in, but nothing has changed since we've opened physically or anything major.

Do you have anything in store for the future?
Right now, there is nothing in the works. MC Kitchen is our baby, is our diamond, and I think we need at least another year here to make sure it is a well oiled machine and it needs to be taken care of for another year before we even think of something else. And Mercato has become a second restaurant, so we actually do have a little side restaurant over here, which is a handful and has been amazing as well.

What is your focus at the restaurant right now?
My focus is to be involved and cook with our cooks more than ever, to hone in on their skills and the best of ingredients the best quality of ingredients that we could ask for. And to try and source out more and more ingredients; everyday I'm learning about a few more … different purveyors or different farms, so I want to get more and more involved in that. I am working with and trying to be more involved with Oxfam, which is a national organization for farmers and different organizations that are global and dealing with natural disasters and children and schools and just a lot of different things like that. We're also doing the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, they asked me to be on the advisory board, so that's really fun and great. I haven't had a chance to spend any time in Atlanta and that part of the south so that's going to be a real treat for me and I'm super excited about it. And also very excited about South Beach Wine & Food this year as well, we're involved in two great events.

When you're not at MC Kitchen, where do you like to eat in Miami?
I like to eat at Michaels, Harry's River Oyster. I kind of stick in the neighborhood because it's easy. Michy's … where have we been lately? … Jimmy'z Kitchen … I have a six year old, so my one day off I usually spend with him and it's really about what he wants. And probably Lucali.
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MC Kitchen

4141 Northeast 2nd Avenue, , FL 33137 (305) 456-9948 Visit Website

MC Kitchen

4141 NE 2nd Ave #101a, Miami, FL 33137