Kitchen Inquisition: Chef Paul Suriel

Soyka's new chef uses fresh new flavors to make comfort food even cozier

Sometimes a great idea and fine décor to match isn't enough. Soyka, just outside Miami’s Design District, was looking to revive its menu, so the comfort food spot brought in Chef Paul Suriel to the rescue. Here, the Dominican Republic-born chef talks Miami's dining scene, teamwork in the kitchen and Soyka's perfect summer meal.

You’ve been brought in to revitalize Soyka's menu, how have you done that?
Updating a menu is challenging, especially if the restaurant has been around a long time and has a core of die-hard regulars. First I eliminated the slow sellers and upgraded ingredients and cooking techniques. Finally, I had to introduce new items that incorporate fresh and local products and create dishes that reflect my own personal style.

What do you do best?
My style is simple and fresh, using a small amount of ingredients that really showcase flavors and textures. I love cooking Mediterranean, the spices and herbs that go into my sauces for fresh fish, interesting raviolis and grains are wonderful.

How do you run your kitchen?
I am a low-key guy that likes a harmonious kitchen. Although I want everyone to be in charge of their own station, we work as a team. It’s good for the restaurant to have multitaskers, and it makes the team stronger. It’s especially gratifying to bring a novice along step-by-step and watch them mature and realize their talent. That’s the way I got my start.

What food advice did you take from the fam?
My mom is from Lebanon and my dad is from the Dominican Republic, where I grew up. My mother brought her Lebanese heritage to the island and a magical fusion occurred. I watched her cook all the time and she gave me simple jobs to do. I never dreamed of being a chef but I think that’s where I developed the affinity I have for the kitchen.

What do you think of Miami’s dining scene?
The Miami scene is very exciting, very different than the scene in New York, especially when I came down here 13 years ago. It’s definitely gotten more sophisticated and more defined. The development of “neighborhoods” like the Upper East Side, Design District and Wynwood make it similar to New York. There are more big name restaurants here now and more celebrity chefs. We definitely have very discriminating customers and a very competitive market. The South Beach Food and Wine Festival is a perfect example how Miami is becoming more sophisticated.

Recommend a meal from start to finish at Sokya.
Since it's summer, let's have a light and fresh meal. Start with the endive arugula salad with lemon-shallot dressing, paper-thin prosciutto di Parma, shaved Pecorino Romano and finished with a tropical fruit chutney. For the main, I recommend the seared ahi tuna with black pepper crust drizzled with citrus-honey-ginger dressing and a cool cucumber-fennel-red onion salad. The perfect dessert is our peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream. I would recommend the Viognier from Zaca Mesa Winery in Santa Ynez Valley, California.

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