Chefs do some things outside of the kitchen. Some of these things are interesting. To chronicle what some of these things are, here's Out of the Kitchen, wherein we'll hang out with chefs (and other interesting food people) outside of their kitchens.
"My dad used to have this real redneck joke where he'd tell people we were from L.A.," says Jeff McInnis with a chuckle, before getting to the punchline. "Yeah, Lower Alabama." It was there, the Florida panhandle, where the Miami-based chef spent most of his free time surfing, spearfishing, and hunting. "It was better than getting wrapped up in shady stuff, and my parents supported it."
So instead of doing a traditional interview while I was down in South Florida to chat about the restaurant he'll be opening down here at the end of the summer, he decided to pick me up this morning — café con leches from David's in hand — to show me what he can do on a surfboard.
We rode up to Haulover Cut, a landmark from the days of the Miami cocaine trade (now mostly condos, yoga on the beach, and European tourists), where he jumped in and let me snap some shots.
He's just gone through corrective surgery to fix one of his big toes, since it was broken for years and he hadn't done anything about it. "I'll give you something, though," he assured. The waves weren't particularly gnarly, but with the sun poking in and out of the stormy sky around 9 AM, he managed to catch his first few since he went under the knife. It wasn't extreme. It was a quiet, nearly zen-like rinse and repeat that confirmed what he had told me on the way there: "It sounds a bit corny, but it really is my escape."
And given his professional circumstances, not hard to buy: McInnis recently left Gigi, a wildly successful Midtown restaurant where he was earning much buzz and praise, so that he could get going on his own spot, Yardbird. Located just off of Lincoln Road, the restaurant will be a casual southern concept serving lots of fried chicken, grits, and a bit of barbecue. He goes further: "There'll be more than a few surprises and personal touches, because I can't just give you a plain plate of mashed potatoes. I also realize that we're in Miami, so it has to somehow reflect that." In other words, they will be serving plantains.
Though he's teamed up with the operators of the popular Lime Fresh Mexican Grill for this project, he admits to having maxed out some credit cards and borrowed money from relatives to make sure he's an owner this time around. "It's a big risk, but I believe in it." To that effect, he's got a whole slate of meetings planned for this afternoon, his day off. But at least for forty-five minutes this morning, he couldn't be bothered.