Four months into 2012 and it has already been a big year for this week’s Chef in the Spotlight, Jeff McInnis who was a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation Best Chef of the South, and his restaurant, Yardbird Southern Table & Bar was nominated for Best New Restaurant; Food & Wine Magazine also had him in the running for The People’s Best New Chef 2012. Taking all these accolades and publicity in stride, McInnis continues to do what he does best and loves best, cook.
McInnis’ culinary roots are firmly tied to the south; he grew up in the Florida Panhandle, spent summers working on his grandparent’s farm in Alabama, and spent six years entrenched in South Carolina becoming one with low country cuisine; learning it, loving it, and perfecting it. After his time in low country came the travel, both domestic and international it was at this time that McInnis began to add finesse and range to his culinary style; Japanese, French, Mediterranean and Fusion. After more than two decades as a student of food, McInnis has come full circle incorporating his diverse and inventive culinary style on his great love, classic Southern cuisine, the one that he grew up on. I present this week’s Chef in the Spotlight, Jeff McInnis.
South Florida Food and Wine: Where do you get your culinary inspiration?
Jeff McInnis: Chef Phil Corr at Atlanticville, a small restaurant on Sullivan’s Island, where I spent my formative years as a cook. He was a friend and mentor, and inspired many dishes in my repertoire, from Pad Thai to Shrimp and Grits.
South Florida Food and Wine: When did you realize that cooking was your passion?
Jeff McInnis: I’ve been working in restaurants since my early teens, when I got my start working on fishing boats and farms, and in kitchens cleaning fish and cooking on the line. It’s always been a passion.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your favorite item on your menu at Yardbird?
Jeff McInnis: I’m all about the Fried Chicken (it’s a 150-year old recipe that takes 27 hours to make, start to finish), the Brunswick Stew (with house-made alligator sausage and rabbit), and the Shrimp and Grits. They’re comforting classics, but they have modern, interesting ingredients added to the mix.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your favorite dish to make at home?
Jeff McInnis: Bistro-style roasted chicken
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your one go-to ingredient and why?
Jeff McInnis: It’s a tie between good sea salt, bacon, fresh fish, and in-season heirloom tomatoes.
South Florida Food and Wine: It’s your last day on earth, what would your final meal be?
Jeff McInnis: Any tasting menu from a young chef who’s cooking regionally. The best meals I’ve ever had have always seemed to have been when an eager young professional showcases his favorites.
South Florida Food and Wine: Who is the one person you would love to cook with and why?
Jeff McInnis: Thomas Keller. Between Per Se and Ad Hoc, he’s an extremely versatile and talented chef with unparalleled skills and range. I think I could learn a thing or two from him.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your one guilty pleasure food?
Jeff McInnis: The richest, gooiest macaroni and cheese possible with a crusty, buttery breadcrumb topping.
South Florida Food and Wine: What was the last restaurant you ate at?
Jeff McInnis: Michael’s Genuine. Everything he does tends to be good. The Charred Florida Octopus was the stand-out of the meal.
South Florida Food and Wine: Who would you most like to cook for? And why?
Jeff McInnis: I love to cook for my wife the most. At Yardbird, I love to cook for all of our guests and give them a great experience, but I always love the chance to cook for my wife and I, when we have the chance to sit down together and have a leisurely meal.
South Florida Food and Wine: It’s your day off, what do you do for fun?
Jeff McInnis: I head to the beach for some fishing and surfing – my two favorite hobbies
Yardbird Southern Table & Bar 1600 Lenox Avenue Miami Beach, Florida 33139
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