Kitchen Inquisition: Ted Mendez

His mama's cooking gives new meaning to "love what you do"

"The best dogs are mutts. That applies to food, too." That's what Chef Ted Mendez, corporate chef and director of culinary operations for Prelude by Barton G, says. So what keeps him at the head of the pack? Well, a little childhood bribery, mad grill skillz, and mom's ballsy cooking.

I'm sure all the dishes on each of your menus are like your children, but if you had to choose only one dish from the menu, which ones are you most proud of?
Well, I'm proud of all of them, it's truly a collaboration. With Executive Chefs Tony Dee and Justin Albertson (a.k.a. "sweet cheeks"), we have the chemistry to work so well together, we feed off of each other and the dishes are a complete and true collaboration.

Most popular item on the menu?
We've had our test runs [before Prelude's premiere], and our testers love the beef short rib, goat cheese tortellini, then we just have a simple pan-fried snapper, which is great in its simplicity.
How would you describe Miami's dining scene?
I've grown up here. To me right now, it's evolving to a point where the Miami scene is very regional. You know what to expect with the South Beach scene, in Coral Gables, Brickell, Downtown, etc.
The secret to cooking perfect pasta?
Cook extra, and taste it for texture. Taste when it's not ready, when you think its ready, and when you add your ingredients. My secret is to never put the cheese in the pasta, always put it when finished at the end.
At what point did you realize you were destined to be a chef?
I don't know if I should admit this, but I used to pay someone in 1981 in my computer classes at Miami-Dade so I could go home and make tostones, mariquitas, and all sorts of things for my friends, and I enjoyed it, so it sort of panned out from there.
The 5 ingredients every home kitchen should have?
Hot sauce in red, green, and ethnic. Also butter and pork product (bacon, sausage, chops, etc.)
The 5 utensils every home kitchen should have?
Combination food processor, blender, chopper, a good pot to make sauce, and a heavy cutting board.
Your fondest food-related memory?
My mother's cooking, how she would just put her love into whatever she cooked. Anything she cooked, she put her own twist into it: Meatloaf with capers, piccadillo-spiced meatloaf, piccadillo in the spaghetti sauce with noodles, Cuban lasagna...she used to literally fry the rice to make fried rice. She used to read up the recipes and put her spin on it. I just thought it was rather ballsy, and it's hereditary.
First dish you learned to make?
Fetuccini alfredo, right off the run [the recipe on the side of the box] when I was 14, and pita pizzas with Ragu and Kraft mozzarella.
Favorite dish to make at home?
One word: grill, anything on the grill. I actually bought my grill and made bigger holes in it and doubled the size of the BTUs on the grill so I could really get a fire going. I did it to char, non-stick, and just grill to my heart's content. Everything I do at home is grilled, literally, from grilled cheese to lobster, anything. That's how my neighbors know when I'm home.

How does your experience with operating Prelude differ from that of Barton G. catering?
When I do catering, I'm dealing with a large group of people. With Prelude, you're cooking individually and on a one-to-one basis. They're separate experiences but you deal with them equally. Honestly, this is the first time I've dealt with deadlines at a restaurant.

How did you come across working for Barton G.?
It was 12 or 13 years ago, Barton doesn't cook nor does he claim to cook, and was subcontracting his cooks and caterers. I had settled the restaurant in Puerto Rico [Starfish] and wasn't working at that point. To backtrack, we met when I was chef at the Omni Hotel here in Miami, and he did all the décor at that hotel, and he remembered my cooking from way back then.

What's it like working with Barton G.?
Nerve wracking, but rewarding, simply put. You realize that you can go further than you ever realized in every way, in all aspects of the business, especially creatively.

What would you say is your favorite type of food to eat?
The one I don't have to make. Haha, just kidding. Honestly, my favorite is anything that somebody puts pride and effort into, especially when its lamb chops.

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