This is part of Restaurant Hospitality’s special coverage of the 2014 South Beach Wine & Food Festival held in Miami Beach, Fla., Feb. 20-23.
For years, Dena Marino toiled with style and grace for the beautiful people of Aspen at several restaurants. In 2010, she packed her knives and headed to Miami, another city that attracts the bold and beautiful. More than a year ago she opened MC Kitchen in the Design District, where she does what she does best, cook full-flavored, lusty Italian food.
1. How does a New Jersey girl end up cooking in Aspen and then in Miami, two places where the bold and the beautiful frolic?
I graduated from culinary school and my goal was to meet chef Michael Chiarello, who was at Tra Vigne in Napa at the time. His family is from Calabria in Italy and so is mine. Well, I got a job at Tra Vigne and worked there for a few years and Michael said I had outgrown my sous chef position at Tra Vigne and he sent me to the Ajax Tavern in Aspen, which he also owned at the time. I worked there for 13 years.
2. So, you’ve been in Miami for a few years. Does your approach to cooking differ from your style in Aspen?
Not at all. But I had to learn who all the local farmers were and adjust to the different seasons. I still do what I love to do, but I have held on to some mountain ingredients that I fell in love with, including venison, which I include in my Bolognese sauce, and Colorado lamb. I just love it.
3. What was the biggest surprise moving to Miami?
I had no idea how hugely diversified the population is down here. There are so many nationalities. But I struggled for over a year to find the level of servers and cooks that I require. This is a tourist town and so many people here are transient.
4. What’s the story behind your newest restaurant, MC Kitchen, in the Design District?
The M stands for me, Marino, while the C stands for my friend and business partner, Brandy Coletta. I’m still cooking Italian, but many of the dishes I’m cooking here have changed. They’re more evolved and cleaner.
5. What are some of your signature dishes that customers can’t get enough of?
We use a local fish to do a Cobia Crudo with hearts of palm, celery, shaved baby artichokes, lemon and Maldon sea salt. Another hit is Stone Oven-Roasted Octopus with Nero risotto forma and a pancetta-sherry vinaigrette.
Restaurant Hospitality editor Mike Sanson reported live from the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami Beach, Fla., Feb. 20-23. The event, now in its 13th year,attracted more than 60,000 attendees, 150 celebrated chefs and 250 wineries and spirits producers. A component of the festival is trade panels designed specifically for restaurant operators. Sanson's reports from South Beach focus on those talks and interviews with top chefs attending the event.