This article originally appeared in the 2010 edition of “Taste,” the guide to fine dining in Broward and the Palm Beaches published annually by New Times for which I wrote all the editorial. To read the rest of my pieces in the 2010 edition, select the Taste category at the top or bottom of this article.
At 4:30 every afternoon, a printer at 3030 Ocean in the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa cranks up and fills its output tray with that night’s menu. The menu has been put together at the daily chefs’ meeting based on whatever fresh, high quality products were available from their purveyors that morning. And that’s the only way executive chef Dean James Max is willing to have things work.
“We don’t run specials; we change the menu every day,” he says. “We do signatures that are local enough that we usually have them, but if we can’t get what we need fresh, they’re taken off the menu. For example, our mussels dish is a signature, but I’ll only use bouchot mussels from Maine. If they have to close the beds for some reason, it’s 86′d. The bottom line is that if the product is substandard, we won’t serve it. We’ll stay creative, but we won’t ever force things just for the sake of getting them on the menu.”
A recent menu listed an array of dishes like ahi coconut tuna ceviche, anjou pear salad, carpaccio of American bison, sautéed Florida red snapper, grilled lamb chop and braised shoulder, and seafood pasta with clams, fish, and wild Gulf shrimp. True to Max’s word though, on this night mussels were absent.
The philosophy works. Max just copped another James Beard Foundation award nomination (Best Chef, South) for his work at 3030 Ocean, and he’s opened restaurants in Ohio, the Florida Keys, and the Caymans. None of which changes the fact that his culinary home is here in South Florida.
Max arrived at 3030 Ocean almost 10 years ago with his own ideas about how things ought to be done: this wasn’t going to be just another resort restaurant turning tables and serving up the same thing night after night to clientele that would be leaving in a few days.
“We opened 3030 with a local street restaurant concept, even though it was located in a resort. I wanted people to walk away from a meal here feeling like they’d been at a neighborhood restaurant,” he says. “So we started with great ingredients, kept things creative, made it about the people, and worked hard to build a local following. We do a lot in community, host charity events, run a newsletter to reach out and stay in touch with locals, work with local purveyors, do cooking classes,” he continues. “Our local following at 3030 is over 50% of our business, which really gratifying to me.”
Since Max came to 3030 Ocean a decade ago a lot has changed, and both the local culinary scene and the restaurant’s menu has evolved. More great chefs, more quality purveyors, more local ingredients, and more new restaurants have made things better than ever if you’re looking to avoid the overly-sauced, deep fried nightmares that some restaurants churn out with regularity.
“The scene down here keeps getting better, and I’m looking forward to that continuing,” he says. “From a diner’s perspective, there are more great places to go eat. From a chef’s perspective, there’s more flexibility in what we can work with, which opens things up a lot. We’ve nurtured local purveyors, who have grown, and now we don’t have to ship everything in. Local farmers markets have grown as well, and it’s much easier to get a variety of great, fresh, local ingredients.”
Of course, using those ingredients, setting up that menu every day to reflect Max’s sensibilities and keep things creative and exciting, requires a kitchen staff he can count on, particularly in light of his occasionally trips out of town.
“I call it farm-teaming my chefs. I find people who live and breathe my philosophy and style, which is to be friendly, to give people what they like, to use great ingredients, to avoid fussiness for no good reason. Then those chefs can be depended on when I’m not in the restaurant. If I make you a tuna ceviche at 3030 today, it’ll be great – but if I’m not there it will still be great, because I have great young chefs working for me like sous chef Jeremy Ford and chef de cuisine Paula Dasilva.”
The mention of Dasilva brings up an interesting aside. Max and 3030 Ocean almost lost the chef last year when she made it to the finals of Gordon Ramsay’s harsh-fest reality show Hell’s Kitchen, something about which Max had mixed feelings.
“I think everyone was rooting for Paula to win except for me,” he laughs, “but then again I thought there was no way she’d lose because I know how talented she is.”
After the show wrapped, Dasilva returned to where Max needs her, running the kitchen at 3030.
“I hired her out of culinary school and she’s worked with me for years. I was happy because I got her back and I didn’t want her to leave, but she’s a brilliant chef and deserves huge success. The fact that she didn’t win just proved to me that there’s no way reality television is real.”
Max will be celebrating 10 years at 3030 Ocean with the release of a new cookbook this December. He has a few other projects he’d like to tackle in the future and still travels regularly, but there’s only one place he keeps his guitars and fishing gear.
“It’s the best of both worlds for me. I get to travel around and enjoy new places, and I’m lucky enough to meet and get ideas from great chefs all over the world. But at the end of the day, I love South Florida,” he says. “I grew up in Stuart, I live in Boca, I love fishing, surfing… I couldn’t live without the ocean. And 3030 Ocean is my home.”
3030 Ocean is located in Marriott’s Harbor Beach Resort & Spa, 3030 Holiday Drive, Fort Lauderdale. They’re open for dinner every day from 6 PM to 10 PM. Call 954-765-3030 or visit www.3030ocean.com for more information.