Metropolitan by COMO soft opened a few weeks back, along with its restaurant, Traymore. Named after the former Traymore Hotel, the restaurant serves up a fresh menus of seasonal dishes curated by executive chef Jonathan Lane and desserts from pastry chef Emmanual Alves. In addition to the main menu available inside at the restaurant or on the patio, Traymore also offers a light pool menu with items like salads and pizzas, as well as a bar menu. And then, there is the COMO Shambhala menu, a few pages of uber light and healthy options reflective of COMO properties' approach to wellness and lifestyle. To check in on how their first week open went down, we spoke with chef Lane, who dished about the good responses, spoke on challenges and gave us a little background on himself.
I know you have an interesting story, so tell me a little bit about yourself and how you ended up in the restaurant industry.
I started in the restaurant industry washing dishes in a Korean restaurant in college. A friend of my friend from school had owned a Korean import/export business and Korean restaurant and I was looking for work, so I ended up there washing dishes and washing floors. Then I started prepping, chopping vegetables and stuff like that and I took a keen interest in it after college. I moved down here to South Florida in 1993 and started an apprenticeship program in Fort Lauderdale and I started cooking in the area, in South Beach and Fort Lauderdale. So, I spent some time as a prep cook, cleanining fish and chopping vegetables and making pates and whatever the chef required. I spend about three years here in South Florida and then I got an opportunity to work with the Four Seasons hotel in Dallas in 1996 and took it. I moved around with the company, opened the Las Vegas property and the fine dining restaurant there, then I had the opportunity to be the chef de cuisine at the Four Season hotel in New York City – I was there for about six or seven years. And then I left the company and took a position in a restaurant called Kittichai, a high end restaurant from a chef out of Bangkok. Then I joined again with Four Seasons and moved to Chicago and worked for the hotel as exec sous chef. We received a Michelin star there. Then I opened a place called Benny's, a farm to table restaurant, and I was there for three-and-a-half years. Then I came here and joined COMO Hotels and opened this wonderful establishment.
I read that you grew up on a farm…
Yeah I grew up in Western Kansas. My father owned a John Deere dealership and he owned a farm. We raised cattle, wheat, corn, soy bean, sunflowers, all times of different agricultural aspects. My mother and grandmother also grew up on farms, raising pigs and stuff like that. In my early life, I really did have the best of everything. All the eggs we got, we would go to a local lady and get the eggs from her, we wanted cream, we'd go to a local lady, so I really had this beautiful thing of fresh …. When we were young we'd go get the sweet corn out of the field – for me getting sweet corn out of the fields was very common. During harvest season, we were cutting wheat, we had this amazing butter that was churned fresh, so you know, it's one of those things you don't realize at the time while growing up. Not knowing later in life that I'd end up here, I guess it was just the way that it was meant to be.
I'm sure it's impacted the way you view and use food.
Very much so. It's funny because the other day we got these beautiful tomatoes from Homestead – they were really fantastic – and I was telling one of my cooks that one of the best things I used to do as a kid was go to my mom – she had this beautiful garden – and just pick a tomato right off the vine, it was warm from the vine and with a little salt on it, it was one of my childhood favorites. Living in that environment, I used to hunt for pheasants or quail or ducks or geese and go fishing and stuff like that and bringing it home … it was just a way of life. It all plays into now. I love to butcher animals, I love to butcher birds, but that was something I did very commonly as a kid. If I shot it, I had to clean it!
It's a lot of hard work on a farm. I started working on the farm with my dad when I was 11 or something like that and it's hard work. It's not just something … people I think take for granted that these things are there, you know, you go to Publix and stuff's just there, but it's a lot of work. I have that appreciation… Like someone raises a cow for three and a half years to sell to market, they go to the ends of the earth to make sure that cow survives, so you really appreciate, especially when you cooking something, you don't want to just destroy it or throw it in the garbage because someone's put a lot of work into getting that product into your hands and to the plate and to the guest to enjoy it. It's a big, long process, that I don't think people sometimes realize what it takes.
How was opening day at Traymore?
It was … we got in the kitchen a little bit earlier than the rest of the people and the kitchen is a small operation for a hotel. I was really, to be honest with you, pleasantly surprised because I have a really good team and when we opened it was very smooth and it's really, as we get busier and busier, my team just hasn't missed a beat. You're never sure what to expect when you first open something, you'll always wonder who's going to come or if anyone's going to show up. But, especially as time has passed this team has done a great job adjusting and handling the blows with the limited space that we have. It was extremely great.
How did the rest of the week go?
It was definitely… we were trying to find out footing, organizing everything, seeing how it works in the limited space. It's not like we only do dinner, we have breakfast, lunch and dinner, the pool kitchen and the bar menu and the COMO Shambhala menu, so we had to really kind of think about it and see what worked and where we had to make adjustments. We moved equipment around a little bit, moved our storage space a little bit, so the whole week was adjusting and I think we made adjustments fairly quickly and we were able to keep ahead by utilizing everybody's mind and asking everybody what they thought. I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least.
What challenges did you face that you weren't expecting?
We had some equipment issues, some power issues that with any building built in 1936, there was a lot of new wiring and new plumbing and things that had to be done, so we did have some issues with some equipment. So that was challenging at times, but our support team did a fantastic job. Also, finding room for the china and finding room for everything actually was a challenge, but we made it happen. We got there.
What have been people's responses to the restaurant so far?
It's really been … we got TripAdvisor, we're number one for the beach for the hotel. We've had a couple of food critics, two or three food critics from outside publications, different travel magazines and they were very positive reviews. What we really want in this location is for the locals to be part of this operation, for me that's the most important thing, to make sure that the locals come and spend time with us. The tourists will come, but we really want the locals. So I make a conscious effort to walk out and ask what they think, do they like the food, and the responses have been great. I'm happy about that because that's really important to us.
What are you most proud of at Traymore so far?
My team. They've done such and amazing job. Sometimes Miami gets a bad rap for finding great work, but I have a team down here that's incredible and I'm really proud of that.
Like all COMO hotels, there's this element of "wellness" incorporated into the property and restaurant. How's that working out here? How is the COMO Shambhala menu faring with the locals?
Very, very well. Extremely well. We design also the main menu to be light and fresh. The COMO Shambhala menu is done very well, the juices are done very well. There are some favorites like the salmon, the chicken and the kale salad, but all in all the locals really enjoy it all. It's definitely a selling point for us. Very tasty, fresh and it fits in for the spa and the hotel. And people that frequent COMO hotels look for it, so it's a nice thing to have and it's a great alternative that people are looking for. That being said, from the pool, to the restaurant, to the Shambhala menu, all have had very positive results.
What's in store for the future?
We have Easter coming up and it's really our first event and I think we're going to aggressively try different things and different dinners, special lunches, we want to keep pushing the envelope on the menu and keeping it seasonal and up to date and just putting ourselves on the map in the Miami/South Florida scene.
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