This week’s Chef in the Spotlight is Dena Marino, the quiet and unassuming chef who will soon be making a not so quiet and unassuming splash in Miami’s Design District with her own restaurant MC Kitchen.
Dena Marino is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has paid her dues in some very exciting places and chef positions; Marino was a Destination Chef with Celebrity Cruise Lines, a Sous Chef under the tutelage of Michael Chiarello at Tra Vigne in Napa Valley and in Aspen she held a variety of Chef positions at D19, Ellina and Ajax Tavern. It was in Aspen where the culmination of dues paying paid off with Aspen Magazine dubbing Marino as “the hot young chef” of 2001; it was at this moment the floodgates opened for critique from the food-centric media circus; and open they did; on the national stage Marino appeared on the Food Network’s “Follow That Food with Gordon Elliott;” Tom Colicchio’s “Eat Drink or Die” series and in January of 2010 she challenged Masaharu Morimoto to “Battle Fig” on “Iron Chef America.”
With all the travel and chef accolades on her resume it was growing up in a big, Italian food-oriented family where Marino’s culinary foundation came from. Dena’s Nonna taught her how to love and respect food. Nonna was inspirational to Dena where she sat front and center on her kitchen counter showing her the path to true food love and nurtured Dena’s natural ability for cooking. It is this food love and natural ability that we all are waiting for with bated breath in Miami with the summer 2012 opening of MC Kitchen.
Move over Aspen, Miami’s got Dena now. I present this week’s Chef in the Spotlight Dena Marino.
South Florida Food and Wine: Tell us what you’re doing now, and your plans for the future.
Dena Marino: I’m currently beginning renovations for my new restaurant MC Kitchen located in the Design District. As far as the future goes, I’m shooting for the stars!
South Florida Food and Wine: Where do you get your culinary inspiration?
Dena Marino: With an outspoken family like mine, you can imagine that much of my culinary inspiration starts at home. My Nonna says to me,“Why don’t you make this?” “Why don’t you make that?”
South Florida Food and Wine: When did you realize that cooking was your passion?
Dena Marino: As an Italian I remember many days cooking with my Nonna – she is the one who set a fire inside of me. I later realized that cooking professionally would be not only my career choice, but also my passion in life. I owe it all to her.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your favorite dish to make at home?
Dena Marino: Baked Ziti. From start to finish, my 4-year-old son Cash helps assemble each layer. We layer the ziti pasta, the homemade ricotta, meatballs, sausage, tomato sauce and fresh herbs. Cooking with Cash really puts a smile on my face.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your one go-to ingredient and why?
Dena Marino: Wherever I go, sea salt is my ingredient. Just a touch of sea salt atop a slice of fresh pulled warm mozzarella is unbelievable.
South Florida Food and Wine: It’s your last day on earth, what would your final meal be?
Dena Marino: PIZZA! PIZZA! PIZZA! From Naples of course.
South Florida Food and Wine: Who is the one person you would love to cook with and why?
Dena Marino: Honestly…my great grandmother Lucille who passed on some years ago. She made the most amazing gnocchi I’ve ever eaten. She had the most delicate hands and rolled gnocchi by hand. Every Sunday afternoon she’d shoo us out of the kitchen so that she could single handedly cook our Sunday family dinner. I’d love the chance to stand side-by-side with her and roll gnocchi for Sunday dinner.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your one guilty pleasure food?
Dena Marino: Crusty Italian bread. Warm with fresh butter and sea salt.
South Florida Food and Wine: What was the last restaurant you ate at, and what did you order?
Dena Marino: Harry’s Pizzeria here in Miami. It was a rainy Tuesday evening and my husband suggested that we grab a pizza pie for dinner. We cuddled up at the bar, sipped on a couple of Victory Summer Love Ales and shared a few polenta fries. We decided to try the local peach and MGFD bacon pizza pie. It was amazing. We ended the night with Hedy’s Dreamy Zeppole. We couldn’t ask for a more perfect evening.
South Florida Food and Wine: Who would you most like to cook for? And why?
Dena Marino: The Pope. I would assume he’d give me his honest opinion?
South Florida Food and Wine: It’s your day off, what do you do for fun?
Dena Marino: A full day off is very rare, but when I’m able to I love to spend a relaxing day at the beach with family and friends.
Love the South Florida food scene? Check out our newly published book (Globe Pequot Press, $14.95), Food Lovers’ Guide to Miami & Fort Lauderdale