He Wrote his Story like Jay-Z Wrote Big Pimpin’
A RAP SESSION WITH CHEF JAMIE DEROSA FROM TONGUE & CHEEK
The best way to start any ordinary afternoon is definitely with a cocktail. But, not just a cocktail alone. A cocktail with Chef Jamie DeRosa from Tongue & Cheek.
His laugh? Completely contagious. Background music? Yes, please.
We will take our sexy drinks, as he likes to call them with some delicious tunes from Frank Sinatra, MC Hammer, the Naked and Famous and Jay-Z.
Why not? It’s a jam fest.
No but seriously, what you have to understand is that everything about Tongue & Cheek is the farthest thing from average. And we aren’t just talking about the food, but also the personality of the spot.
A local place that is making Miami what it should be: awesome food, so awesome that even a vampire would say, ‘fuck True Blood I want me some fried chicken and some pot pie.’
But enough of what we have to say.
Hungries, see for yourselves how Chef Jamie DeRosa wrote his restaurant, his story.
THP: When did you realize that this was what you wanted to do?
JDR: The business? Well, I don’t have one of those stories were I grew up in a French kitchen at the age of nine, but I did grow up in a household where I was an only child. My grandparents are from Spain and Cuba and I grew up in a family that was always cooking, always in the kitchen. It just came natural.
I actually went to school to do criminal law. I wanted to be DEA, FBI. And the whole time I was cooking at Outback Steakhouse and I was just good at it and never knew it. I decided I didn’t want to do it [criminal law] anymore. I moved to Miami. I still didn’t know what I was going to do and I was still cooking, just for a job.
I left Outback and I got a hotel job and the chef in the hotel was like, ‘you know you are really good, you should consider going to culinary school.’ And I was like okay!
So, I went to Johnson and Wales. I loved it.
I started working at Chef Allen’s (now closed) in Aventura. That was really the stepping stone and I didn’t realize that I could actually make a career out of this.
So, it was a good thing I didn’t really like school. If I liked school, I would have probably never continued cooking. Or maybe it’s not a good thing that I didn’t finish school because I work too hard. One or the other, I don’t know.
THP: Tell us how Tongue & Cheek began?
JDR: Well, I left Tudor House (now closed) in July. I had a baby in August, our first baby. I wanted to take some time off with the baby. I really wanted to write what I envisioned my dream restaurant to be. I came up with Tongue & Cheek. I originally wrote it for Wynwood.
I really wanted it to be this cool and hip, concrete floor, New York graffiti, fun, energetic, good music, obviously great food and service. But, I was fighting the area of Wynwood for lunch; it’s difficult to get people over there.
I think it’s a little bit ahead of its time. And we found this location in Scott Robins’ and we loved it. I wasn’t looking to be on Miami Beach. I really wanted to be a local restaurant. I’ve done everything I can with the concept and with this location.
THP: Talk to us about Tongue & Cheek? How would you describe it? What’s the concept?
JDR: Tongue & Cheek is a play on words. The expression is tongue in cheek and a lot of people get that confused. It wasn’t because I serve a lot of tongue or a lot of cheek. It’s kind of about my personality. I’m very playful but I’m very serious about my food. The concept is just that it’s whimsical, but it’s sophisticated. It’s fun, but it’s serious. We have great music, we have cool art, we have good food. But it’s all done a little different. We have sprayed painted murals, characters on the menu, octopus lady, and the ox. All of that is that whimsical humor. There is no Miami Beach feel.
We have a lot of Spanish and Mediterranean influences because they are part of my heritage. But it’s just American Fare.
Everything is recognizable, you should be able to read the menu and understand almost everything. I don’t put these big fancy words on the menu or French words. It’s an American restaurant, chef driven, ingredient driven, we use things that are in season, and you know, we have fun with it.
It’s south of fifth, so we have a lot of locals, we do the happy hour from 5-7 PM every day, a $10 meal for every day, that changes. Monday is Mexican Monday, Tuesday is Asian, Wednesday is BBQ, and Thursday is grilled cheese night.
That’s my way too of trying to give back to the community and be a local restaurant. We do $5 valet, $10 on the weekends. Where can you go in Miami Beach for that?
We play old-school hip hop, we have fun, no table clothes. My goal was to really have a restaurant where you could come to and feel comfortable and not feel like you are going to one of the bigger hotels with the $30 valet and the $500 meals.
I think prices here are pretty reasonable; all of the entrees are under $30.
THP: What’s brunch like?
JDR: So, we just started doing brunch every Saturday and Sunday. I do free coffee from 10 AM -12 PM. I actually put the coffee station outside and anyone can just pass by. We have some people that jog this way and get a cup and jog back this way and get a cup.
They will sit outside with their dogs because we have the dog bowl out there for water. I get The New York Post, The Times, The Herald, The Sentinel so people sit outside and read the paper.
The brunch starts at 10:30 AM, so we do a full à la carte brunch from 10:30 AM to 3:30 PM.
Brunch is fun. It’s a different element, cool jazz, funky music, laidback, killer mimosas, we make amazing Bloody Marys. I do a raw bar for brunch with oysters, mussels, clams, shrimp, and king crab.
We do donuts. We do cool muffins, cool donuts, and sticky buns.
THP: What’s the thought process when it comes to creating the menu?
JDR: You know it’s interesting, years ago I felt like I was writing menus for myself always wanting to be different, creative and unique. I think people are smarter these days; they are more informed about what food is. The public knows more about food than they did a few years ago, ten years ago, and five years ago. Ten years ago you could never serve pork belly on a menu, no one would eat that. I have lamb belly on the menu with octopus which is a little adventuresome, but at the same time, I have meatballs and pasta. I have pot pie, I have a fried chicken, I have a burger. So, if we do something that is more common [like a pot pie] my goal is always to make something better or do something different to it. We put crème fraîche in the pot pie, which we make ourselves; we make biscuit dough for the top of it. We do a lot of things differently. So when you read pot pie on the menu you should feel comfortable with it. You read chicharones and your mind takes you to El Palacio de los Jugos.
At 10 AM you are like eating bags of chicharones, that’s where your mind takes you. These are clean, they aren’t greasy, they are made with chicken, they are fancy chicharones! That’s a Prada product, right? Something you find at Bal Harbour.
So, that’s where I am today, I’m writing the menu today, to really find out what Tongue & Cheek is, find out what our clients like, who they are. But, at the same time, I want to do some things that you may not necessarily find somewhere else. The chicharones are something that is like that, the beef cheek burger is something that you hopefully don’t find in other places. We make the spaghetti and meatballs; we make the meatballs with pork and beef cheeks which is different. The fried chicken takes 4 days to make. Four days from start to finish. At the end of the day, you are just like this is amazing fried chicken and it’s not that simple.
THP: What are your favorite things on the menu?
JDR: For the snacks, I’m probably pretty partial to the Chicken Liver Pate and the Oysters. I think the oysters are so unique, the way we do them with the alginate bath, we carbonate them and they have these spheres on them, so they are insulated in these bubbles and when you eat them they just pop in your mouth and the carbonation comes out. The Iberico Ham is obviously something that is close to my heart, being from Spain. The Cauliflower Panna Cotta is something we do different here. You either love it or you hate it. It’s a very divisive dish. Peaches n’ Cream (great song). I’m really in love with the Trout these days and the Burger. I think the burger has come along since we started. And then for dessert, the Strawberry Shortcake gets me every time and the Cracker Jack Milkshake.
THP: What is your favorite cocktail on the menu?
JDR: The Bourbon for Apples, it’s a unique cocktail that we do here. We do it with Buffalo Trace, a rye whiskey, we muddle green apples, we use fresh thyme and then we take these little molds and make red ice cubes that are circles and they look like red apples. Bobbing for apples!
THP: Who do you consider to be your mentor?
JDR: My three biggest mentors for the industry were Tim Andriola who owns Timo in Sunny Isles, he was my chef at Chef Allen’s who has been a great friend of mine for a 20 year period. Chef Allen himself, who I still talk to this day and Wolfgang Puck. I feel like at any time if I ever had a question and I have, I would be able to call them and ask them what I could do.
THP: Any regrets?
THP: Where do you eat out in Miami?
JDR: I’m really into the sandwiches at Macchialina these days. Pirolo’s Panino, the roasted pork sandwich is my favorite. The Pubbelly guys are great. I think Danny Serfer does a great job at Blue Collar. I have big respect for Giorgio [Rapicavoli]. He really has put Coral Gables on the map which is cool!
THP: If you could open a restaurant anywhere in the world, where would you open it?
JDR: I always wanted to go back to the hometown where I grew up, Coco Beach. There is a little town called Coco Village, I always thought I’d go back and open up a spot there, kind of like the prodigal son comes back. Nothing like fine dining but bring some culture, something exciting to the area.
THP: Future plans?
JDR: My wife and I are coming up with a baby food concept. A storefront, think of like a yogurt shop where you have all this cool baby food that is natural and healthy. So that, and I’d still like to do something in Wynwood.
That’s all for now Hungries. It was our greatest pleasure to have introduced to you Chef Jamie DeRosa. Be sure to check out his place.