This week, we caught up with Chef Julie Frans in Miami. The passionate young culinary star is a San Diego transplant at the helm of the kitchen at Essensia, the flagship restaurant of the serene Palms Hotel & Spa, located just north of the hustle and bustle of South Beach.
The sophisticated, yet beach-casual restaurant's cuisine is a fusion of styles that include American, Middle Eastern and - of course - Miami Latin. Dishes such as Snapper Ceviche with Papaya, Watermelon & Prosciutto Salad, and Grilled Mesquite Korabuta Pork Ribs are elegantly plated and created with locally sourced ingredients and herbs (the restaurant has a lovely herb garden on the hotel grounds).
Check out our "5 Questions with..." Chef Julie to learn more about her background and philosophy!
What led you to become a chef?
This profession really found me. I always loved to cook and was always interested in health, wellness and the idea of food as medicine, but had actually gone to college to be a teacher or a journalist. After college graduation, my father passed away and it turned my preconceived notions upside down.
I decided to pursue world travel and scuba diving. I soon found myself working as a chef on liveaboard dive boats and charter yachts, where I was able to travel, dive, cook, and make a living- I loved being able to nourish people with healthy food to enable them to pursue their passions.
Tell us about The Palms... what is unique about the resort, its philosophy and how that is infused into your cuisine at Essensia?
The Palms' green philosophy and its focus on nature is very much aligned with my values and style of cooking. I am proud to be a part of an organization that is leading the way in green hospitality practices, and making an impact through green initiatives, beach clean-ups, naturalist education, etc.
The resort is unique in that it allows me to have an onsite garden allowing me to use home-grown ingredients and invite guests to learn about growing food to it. I am also involved in the community through programs like Common Threads and the Miami-Dade Public Schools Department of Food and Nutrition, where I am able to have a positive impact on students and faculty in the way of healthy eating.
What about living in Miami inspires your cuisine?
The longer I am in Miami, the more I turn to my California style- realizing that there is such a demand for simply prepared, fresh, farm grown food. My cuisine is very globally inspired, with lots of different herbs and spices- but through and through, the ingredients are at the forefront- and it’s all about highlighting the fresh, locally sourced, high quality ingredients.
I also keep increasing my reach more in areas of gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian, and paleo offerings. I have found that my style is very different from a lot of Miami cuisine, and that is working for me- so I develop my menus and “season” my food with California Love as much as possible!
What is the biggest trend you see in Miami's culinary scene right now?
There are a few trends that stand out. One that has been around for a while but seems to be sticking around is heavy comfort food done in “hip” and progressive ways- mac and cheese, interesting versions of burgers and dogs, braised meats, lots of pork on menus in the way of pork belly, bacon, etc.
The other big trend is “Florida Style”- combining the roots of Miami cooking traditions with locally sourced ingredients and modern style. I think Kris Wessel was the first to really make the Florida cuisine big with his grandmother’s recipes at Red Light and Florida Cookery, now to Oolite, but you see a lot of other chefs and mixologists grabbing onto that Old Florida concept too.
If you were a prisoner on death row, what would your last meal request be?
Yikes. I hate the thought of that… but if I had to choose my last meal, I would ask for a smorgasbord of Middle Eastern and traditional Indian food- complete with rich & spicy sauces and Indian chutneys & pickles, naan bread, basmati rice, mango lassi and traditional mint tea. And a crisp Moschofilero (white wine) to wash it all down.