Growing up, Tyler Bienvenu had no desire to work in the kitchen. In fact, he had a full scholarship to Penn State lined up and had been working his way to playing professional hockey.
But like most things in life, it didn't exactly turn out as planned.
Bienvenu was raised in one of Miami's most legendary restaurants, Joe's Stone Crab, where he now serves as sous chef and head meat cutter. Bienvenu's father is Andre Bienvenu, who has been Joe's executive chef since 1999 — the restaurant's first and only ever executive chef in its more than 100 years in business.
"People always told me I was going to be just like my dad," Bienvenu recalls. "I said ‘hell no, I don't want anything to do with that.' We laugh about that now."
During his off time between hockey seasons in his late teens Bienvenu's father put him to work in the Joe's Stone Crab kitchen, and this was when he says everything started to click. Before long the passion for the kitchen took over and he decided trade in his hockey stick for a set of kitchen knives and worked his way up in the ranks at Joe's.
While Bienvenu has no formal culinary school training, he has staged and interned at an impressive list of restaurants that includes Eleven Madison Park, the French Laundry, and Morimoto's Napa Valley outpost, and was even recipient of the Lettuce Entertain You's culinary scholarship, all by the age of 23.
He traded in his hockey stick for a set of kitchen knives
So how does a young chef put his touch on a menu that has stayed pretty much the same over the past century? Bienvenu says a little bit at a time — in order to avoid "backlash" from loyal patrons — with a focus on fresh ingredients and expanding the restaurant's meat program.
And the Joe's customers have been receptive to the change.
"When my dad started, 80 percent of the restaurant's sales came from stone crabs," says Bienvenu. "Right now it's only 30 percent ,so it's becoming more and more an a la carte kitchen. We want to be known for more than just stone crabs, we want to be known for some of the best steak in the city."
He now oversees the entire meat program at Joe's, making sure that each piece served is from cattle that was bred and raised in Florida, sourcing his product from Central Florida's Buckhead Beef and helping to facilitate a strong partnership between Joe's and the farm.
Joe's is still famously owned and operated by founder Joe Weiss's family, namely great-grandson Stephen Sawitz and Joe's granddaughter Jo Ann Bass, and the ownership is where Bienvenu ultimately credits his success.
"I don't know what's next or what might be coming, but I'm really grateful for the family here," he adds. "I handle the most expensive protein in the building and they trust me enough to handle it and create these different programs. They are the ones that have allowed me to grow so quickly."