July 1, 2012

Interview with Elisa Valderrama, Chef at Mesazul, Doral Golf Resort & Spa

For those of you not familiar Mesazul it is housed at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa. Spanish for ‘blue table’ Mesazul offers a contemporary Latin-inspired spin on a classic American steakhouse. Mesazul offers unobstructed panoramic views of the iconic TPC Blue Monster at Doral golf course, home to PGA Tour events for the past 45 years and a floor-to-ceiling, glass wine vault, featuring 200 select offerings from South America, Spain and the New World. Heading up the kitchen at Mesazul is Elisa Valderrama whose culinary career began early in life in her native Lima, Peru, where she spent most of her free time in the family pantry taking inventory and watching her grandfather make ceviche with fish he’d caught that day.  She inherited her palate from her mother, who taught her to always cook with passion and “listen to the food, because it will tell you when it’s ready.” Elisa began working in South Florida restaurants as a teenager, working her way up through the ranks before running her own restaurant, Mama Lila’s Bistro, from 2003 to 2008. Elisa’s family rallied around her as she built an enthusiastic fan base in and around downtown Miami and Coral Gables. Now out at Doral Elisa is brings her same enthusiastic culinary style to Mesazul bringing her Latin-American inspired recipes to world of Doral. This week’s Chef in the Spotlight is Elisa Valderrama.

Elisa Valderrama, Mesazul Steakhouse at Miami’s Doral Golf Resort & Spa

South Florida Food and Wine: Where do you get your culinary inspiration?
Elisa Valderrama: When you ask me this question, the first thing that pops into my head is the “nurture vs. nature” argument. I think I was born with a keen curiosity for all things food related. I was also fortunate enough to be born into a family of serious cooks and eaters, into a culture in Peru where we take pride in our cuisine and always seek to reinvent it while paying homage to our roots. I’m lucky enough to have been raised in the US at a time when our culinary interest has had a peak, where more and more people enjoy and appreciate all types of food, a time when we are much more conscious about what we eat and where it comes from. So to answer your question, I get inspired by almost anything, from a savory, flaky empanada at a Latin cafeteria to a sublimely delicate sauce at a five-star restaurant. From conversations with cooks from different countries, to old traditional recipes I might try at a family get together. I’m actively on the search for inspiration.

South Florida Food and Wine: What is your favorite item on the menu at Mesazul Steakhouse?
Elisa Valderrama: On rainy days, I can really do some damage to our Truffled Macaroni and Cheese. We make it with aged Cheddar cheese, and the second it hits my tongue, I immediately feel better.  When it’s blazing hot outside, I indulge in our Lobster Causa, a chilled layered potato terrine with tender rock lobster, a spicy Aji Amarillo Aioli, and fresh avocado.

South Florida Food and Wine: What is a typical day for you as Chef at Mesazul Steakhouse?
Elisa Valderrama: A typical day for me is a day full of surprises. I have to be ready for anything, and the kitchen environment is anything but boring.

South Florida Food and Wine: What is your one go-to ingredient and why?
Elisa Valderrama: This is a hard one. Definitely something in the onion family, chives or shallots, because they impart so much flavor. They are all a gift from Mother Earth.

South Florida Food and Wine: What is the most challenging thing about your position as Chef [at Mesazul Steakhouse]?
Elisa Valderrama: Making sure everyone is relentlessly and fiercely committed to putting out the best product while completely engaged in providing the absolute best customer service. I am blessed to work with a team that is intent on doing this, but the challenge to do better is always there.  That and not eating too much after 7 p.m.

South Florida Food and Wine: It’s your last day on earth, what would your final meal be?
Elisa Valderrama: It would have to be my mom’s white rice, two eggs over medium, fried sweet plantains and half a super ripe avocado.

South Florida Food and Wine: Who is the one person you would love to cook with and why?
Elisa Valderrama: Would you laugh if I said Clive Owen, because he’s beautiful and I would love to feed him?

South Florida Food and Wine: What is your one most proud professional moment at Mesazul Steakhouse?
Elisa Valderrama: Having inspired and guided a young man from being just a cook to being a “culinarian” who always strives to give his best, one who is now constantly curious about improving procedure and quality. Putting the fire in his belly to always try harder, to bring his “A” game every day, to do things right the first time, even if it is more tedious or takes longer, and when it’s not the best, to start over.

South Florida Food and Wine: What is your one guilty pleasure food?
Elisa Valderrama: Just one?  Dense, fudgy brownies made with really good chocolate.

South Florida Food and Wine: What was the last restaurant you ate at? Other than your own and what did you order?
Elisa Valderrama: I am a regular at Patagonia Argentine Bakery. I always have a cappuccino and their ham and cheese finger sandwiches, which they call Sanguches De Miga. Nothing fancy, just thin white bread, one layer of cheese and one layer of thinly sliced ham, but what makes it for me is that both breads are coated with a schmear of real butter. The ratio of butter to bread to filling is simply perfect.

South Florida Food and Wine: Who would you most like to cook for? And why?
Elisa Valderrama: I love to cook for my parents. I rarely do it, but when I do they enjoy it so much that I can’t help but love it.

South Florida Food and Wine: It’s your day off, what do you do for fun?
Elisa Valderrama: First wake up and have COFFEE! Then, I take my dogs on a long walk. I have a six and a 16 year-old miniature pinchers, so most of the walk I will be carrying the older one. Then, when they are tired from the excursion and ready to get back to what they do best, which is nap, I will get on my bike and ride for a few hours, to Brickell or Downtown Miami, hang out by the water, people watch, enjoy a Batido de Mamey, or Mamey fruit milkshake. Come back home, walk dogs again, and then head to Happy Hour with my sisters and/or friends.

Mesazul at Doral Golf Resort & Spa 4400 N.W. 87th Avenue Miami, FL 33178

2012 Spotlight Interviews
Girl Power, Interviews with Female Chefs, Vintners and Entrepreneurs
2011 Spotlight Interviews
2010 Spotlight Interviews

Love the South Florida food scene? Check out our newly published book (Globe Pequot Press, $14.95), Food Lovers’ Guide to Miami & Fort Lauderdale



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