This week’s Chef in the Spotlight is Julie Frans the Signature Chef at The Palms Hotel & Spa. Frans is responsible for the creation and execution of the property’s restaurant, lounge and pool menus. Frans is keen on providing products that are both good for the body and the environment; it is this belief that runs parallel with The Palms “inspired by nature” philosophy, that makes Frans an ideal Signature Chef at Essensia and The Palms, and together, with this mirrored passion, Frans and The Palms strive to serve and educate a healthier and whole food living to their guests.
Originally from San Diego, California, Frans graduated from the San Diego Culinary Institute in 2006. Her culinary experience began as a private chef as she traveled the world aboard private and charter yachts. In 2005, she launched Dining Details, a personal chef service and catering company. Her culinary skills and knowledge catapulted Dining Details from a one-woman operation to a full-service catering company and chef agency servicing a variety of clients including corporate events, in-home cooking service, culinary demonstrations, educational seminars and private dinner parties. In 2009, Frans founded Chickpeas School Lunch Program where she developed and managed school assemblies, enrichment programs and presentations to educate parents and school administrators on child nutrition and special needs diets. In her Signature Chef role at The Palms, Frans continues to work with organizations dedicated to improving and developing healthy eating habits for children in South Florida. I present this week’s Chef in the Spotlight, Julie Frans
South Florida Food and Wine: Where do you get your culinary inspiration?
Julie Frans: Mostly from farmers, purveyors, and general seasonality of ingredients. Before I start even thinking about crafting a menu or special dinner, I look to the people who know the products the most intimately… they are the closest source to the ingredients and know what is the freshest, the most unique, and when items are at their peak. I visit the farms… I taste, I smell, I imagine the possibilities. This is the first step in getting inspired.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your favorite item to make on the Essensia menu?
Julie Frans: Right now it’s the watermelon gazpacho. It is easy, fresh, and fast! I go to the garden to get the right types of basil and mint, then get to work with the colorful fruits and veggies. AND, the best part is, I have to taste it all along the way to make sure it’s the right consistency, flavor balance, and color. Then, I get to treat myself with a yummy afternoon snack when I am done!
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your one go-to ingredient and why?
Julie Frans: Fennel. I find I use it in so many recipes for sauces, soups, vinaigrettes, veggie sautés- it adds a more dynamic complexity to just about any recipe. Its great raw, roasted, sautéed, grilled, candied…the fronds and pollen can be used as herbs, and it’s very good for you too!
South Florida Food and Wine: What is the most challenging thing about your position as Signature Chef at Essensia?
Julie Frans: My style of cooking is very ingredient focused and my menus/recipes are based on fresh farm ingredients. When weather changes unexpectedly, or our small family farms are out of something, we need to be able to substitute ingredients and be flexible with our recipes. I am continually trying to educate our extensive staff of cooks and servers on the challenges of true farm to table cooking/dining, and how to work with the ingredients. I always want to provide my guests with the best product, and have to switch items in and out even if it’s not on the menu… this is a pretty new concept to a lot of people and requires continuous education of both staff and guest.
South Florida Food and Wine: It’s your last day on earth, what would your final meal be?
Julie Frans: That’s Easy! Spicy Green Papaya Salad, Panang Curry, Red Rice, Coconut Kaffir Lime Soup, and for dessert… sticky Thai rice with silky mango. All using only the freshest, seasonal, organic veggies available!
South Florida Food and Wine: Who is the one person you would like to cook with and why?
Julie Frans: Jerry Traunfield- I love his use of garden ingredients and herbs. I love when chefs plan a dish around an herb or flavor- not just to use the herb as the afterthought or the final touch. His use of herbs in desserts is especially interesting. I look to him often for inspiration since herbs and garden ingredients are often my first component and I build upon that.
South Florida Food and Wine: To date, what is your one most proud professional moment at Essensia?
Julie Frans: At the Slow Foods “Snail of Approval” event, which happened only about 6 months after I started at Essensia. I went to introduce myself to Michael Schwartz, and he already knew who I was, and a little bit about me. His wife had been to a dinner at our restaurant the week before and she’d probably prepped him… but I thought that was very cool!
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your one guilty pleasure food?
Julie Frans: Fish and Chips- it’s hard to pass that up when it’s on a good waterside restaurant menu! I like mine with a good malt vinegar or spicy Asian sauce, hold the tartar. Fried Calamari is another favorite appetizer.
South Florida Food and Wine: What was the last restaurant you ate at, other than Essensia and what did you order?
Julie Frans: The last one was Ceviche 105. It was a casual catch-up-with-an-old-friend dinner, and we wanted something light and satisfying and flavorful. Shared a spicy mixed ceviche, a bottle of wine, and a dessert. Was the perfect meal for us!
South Florida Food and Wine: Who would you most like to cook for? And why?
Julie Frans: One time a woman came to my garden tour who, at first glance, looked like Michelle Obama. My heart skipped a beat. I thought for one millionth of a split second that she had heard about my Essensia Chef’s Garden and our learning opportunities for kids, and had come to join me for my weekly “Chef hour” and culinary demo in the garden. Someday maybe she will pop in to see what we are doing here at our beachside garden and what we are cooking with our homegrown ingredients!
South Florida Food and Wine: It’s your day off, what do you do for fun?
Julie Frans: I have 2 young kids so we always get out and find fun kid things to do on days off- usually focused around water. Our typical fun family day is walking to the beach in the am and spending a few hours in the water and having a picnic. Taking a break mid day, then heading to the pool. The afternoon/evening is spent lounging in the backyard drinking albarino (or whatever strikes us) with friends, then something on the bar-b-que for dinner.
Essensia at The Palms Hotel & Spa 3025 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33140
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