Big Easy is our new South African restaurant, set to open at the long awaited Brickell City Centre, this fall; filling an important culinary gap, which has been missing in South Florida, until now. Big Easy Grill & Winebar is an unpretentious yet sophisticated dining destination hailing from the stunning Western Cape region of South Africa – inspired by the lifestyle and spirit of South Africa’s most recognized export, Golf-icon Ernie Els, whose nickname is “Big Easy”, based on his easygoing personality and effortless golf swing.
Deciding on which new cuisines to bring to Miami is no easy feat; Miami is a city that has often lagged behind in rich culinary innovation over the years, but that is rapidly changing. We took a step back, and looked at the dining scene to find out what we felt was missing.
In general, every time we consider a new project, we ask ourselves if this specific project is bringing something new or different to the landscape. I think we’ve been successful meeting this standard in our new restaurant projects. Our contribution to Miami so far includes; Glass & Vine, the great chef-driven restaurant surrounded by a gorgeous park landscape; the forthcoming Stiltsville Fish Bar, which we describe as a great seafood restaurant on the water with an amazing rooftop deck; American Harvest also to be opening it’s first location at Brickell City Centre, one of the first American farm based fast casual concepts focused on “clean eating”; and a new “Harbour” project, which will include a cornucopia of ocean side commerce, focused, of course, on food.
Identifying South African cuisine for our latest venture, came from what we have observed in the last few years, that a burgeoning foodie culture in Miami has given rise to a wider array of dining options, pushing the culinary trends to new places. We aspire to capitalize on that progress, while also contributing to the culinary landscape of the city we love. However tricky it sounds to balance appealing to the entrenched palates of local restaurant patrons while offering them something new enough to get excited about, we feel that in this case, the divide may not be so deep.
It turns out that Cape Town and Johannesburg dwellers have fairly similar palates to those of the Latin-influenced diners of Miami. Indeed, South Africa’s culinary traditions are as diverse as Miami’s, with the range of influences coming from indigenous peoples, Dutch, French, and British settlers, and Southeast Asian island nations like Malaysia and Indonesia. While there are some unfamiliar items like Ostrich and Biltong, the majority of the menu will be flavors everyone can recognize.
Boasting a rich experience in South African cuisine as a native, we have brought on board Chef Maryna Frederiksen, who has been cooking at highly acclaimed kitchens in both South Africa and the United States for over 20 years – most recently at a farm-to-table restaurant in Orlando – will take the lead. Chef Maryna will incorporate many of the local flavors of South Florida while also staying true to the flavors of the region. We’re fortunate Miami is such an international city that already offers so much gastronomic variety, so the menu will have flavors everyone can appreciate.
Once we determined our new concept and identified a brilliant chef to drive the vision, we then felt an urge to fully immerse ourselves into the culture and hospitality of what we would be serving our guests. We trekked to South Africa as we embarked on our new project, out of a trifecta of goals: to understand South African culture, to experience South African cuisine, and to visit the local vineyards in Stellenbosch, where we will be sourcing our wines.
Besides, as anyone who has enjoyed tapas on the street in Seville or a plate of homemade pasta fresca al pesto in Rome can attest, there’s something qualitatively different about encountering a dish in its natural environment. You simply cannot get the same understanding for food and culture by researching online as compared to actually being there to see the life of the streets and absorb the sensory details travel provides. Anytime we travel for personal leisure or business, we make it a point to visit the best restaurants in that particular city. During our South Africa trip, we visited Test Kitchen, rated one of the 50 best restaurants in the world by Pellegrino. Throughout our culinary journey that lead us from ultra fine dining to adventurous street food, as you can imagine, we encountered an array of indigenous and exotic fare, but were also invigorated by the relatively close ties of flavor profiles familiar to everyday American palates.
The warmth and hospitality of the South African people was our greatest inspiration during our visit. The team felt remarkably at home every place we visited and discovered that the best way to represent that genuine South African kindness and hospitality was to invite several South Africans back to Miami to work with us. During a focused scouting segment of our trip, we interviewed candidates we are planning on hiring under a J-1 visa to work at Big Easy. We couldn’t be more excited to deliver our guests an authentic South African experience through integrating the culture and people of the region into the culinary and service teams.
What would a culinary R&D trip be without a vineyard tour? Big Easy’s concept is not only touted for it’s South African cuisine, but for being a wine bar with vintages direct from Ernie Els coastal vineyard, offering an extensive selection of highly rated varietals indigenous to the coastal regions of South Africa. Though South African wines have made a splash in the US retail world, there hasn’t been a dominant presence within a dining concept to pair the wide variety of varietals and profiles the South African region offers. We are accustomed to utilizing our knowledge of Californian and Italian vintages to guide us through our choosing, but we found many – maybe too many- accessible options we believe our guests will love. We anticipate there will be an opportunity to educate our patrons through pairings, tastings and wine dinners to create a sense of discovery and familiarity, of the distinguished options of vintages South Africa has to offer.
Launch preparation for Big Easy is well underway, actually close to complete, which brings a rush of excitement for our team, as we continue to share our passion for great culinary experiences with Miami —this project represents new horizons. More than anything else, we are thankful to be able to work in an industry we so enjoy. We love to eat, we love to try new cuisines and love new experiences shared with those around us.