Mr. Gervais

Food & Beverage

Sometimes What's Old is New Again

By Mathias Gervais, Executive Chef, The Setai, Miami Beach

Sometimes new is old, and old is new. In time for the 2015/2016 Miami Beach season we, together with our new Ownership, launched Jaya, a modern Asian cuisine restaurant whose concept was made to be a true departure from a traditional luxury hotel restaurant. Jaya, which means 'victory' in Sanskrit, was chosen by our team to honor The Setai Miami Beach's renowned interior designer Jaya Ibrahim and the hotel's first decade of successful Asian-inspired hospitality. My sous chef, Vijay Veena, and I collaborated to create dishes that much like the Hotel, did not focus on just one Asian country but featured cuisine from a number of Asian regions. Drawing inspiration from Thailand, Korea, India, China and Japan we were able to also guarantee authenticity by incorporating many traditional culinary techniques from wok stations to tandoor ovens and had them installed in our performance kitchen. One can see when entering the restaurant space, tools and spices from the many regions actively being used including spice jars of turmeric, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, chilies and tamarind.

This performance kitchen space not only reinforces the authenticity of the dining experience, but the commitment to creating a space which was welcoming and encouraging for our guests.

Prior to opening Jaya we spent months surveying the fine dining scene in an effort to offer our guests and locals only the finest, most innovative cuisine in a setting that has received worldwide acclaim. From a strategic standpoint, we carefully observed the competitive hospitality landscape on South Beach as it continued to take shape. We realized that we were not only eager to return to our original roots when launching Jaya; but that it also made sense from a business perspective. Additionally, since we are a Hotel that is always considering and in tune with our guests' tastes, demands and requests, we clearly noticed that after a brief interlude as a French dining concept, time and time again we were being asked for our Asian classics such as our Peking Duck and Dim Sums. Our guests asked and we delivered.

Eventually, the concept for Jaya was finalized. In keeping with the hotel's theme of Asian-inspired hospitality, food is the key thread in the fabric of Asian life and how people socialize. As such, Jaya follows this tradition by serving dishes in a style to be shared in an inviting atmosphere paired with the sophistication and hospitality for which The Setai, Miami Beach is renowned. Family-style dining creates a fun, welcoming, enjoyable and energetic atmosphere without sacrificing the exceptional quality and service that is expected of a fine dining experience.

But in several instances, Jaya is quite a departure from the Hotel's previous concepts in a number of ways. For one, dishes at Jaya are served family-style, as they are in many Asian cultures. Additionally, Jaya offers a lower price point than had previously been available at The Setai's restaurants. The menu also includes a number of vegetarian dishes. Lastly, tastings can be created and customized to diners' specific requirements and desires.

Jaya has also differentiated itself by lowering prices. By offering a lower price point than typically found at a restaurant in a hotel of The Setai's caliber we were able to show our Hotel guests that we are serious about our cuisine and our restaurant's ability to stand alone as a dining destination. The outdated thought process that fine dining needs to be expensive has been replaced with exquisite cuisine at a price that more people can afford. Guests' expectations have not been lowered but their demand for an affordable restaurant with quality product has certainly increased. By lowering the price point we were able to see an immediate increase in cover count. While in the past hotel guests only dined once during their stay, we now see guests dining multiple times over the course of their stay and leaving far more satisfied. Additionally, we see Miami Beach locals dining at Jaya on a regular basis; the lower price point and more relaxed atmosphere has made the restaurant a dining destination for tourists and locals alike.

We have also tailored our concept to our guests' request for a more diverse menu that is accommodating of a number of dietary restrictions. Vegetarian dishes are central to many styles of Asian cuisine, and Jaya honors this tradition by offering a number of vegetarian options. With our past concepts, dining was difficult for vegetarians and others with dietary restrictions, and often guests were dissuaded from dining at The Setai because of the meat-focused menu. Now, vegetarian options are widely available without having to make special accommodations. Other dishes can be made gluten free or even vegan to accommodate a wide array of dietary needs. We have discovered that because of our more diverse menu and the family-style dining, guests find Jaya to be more welcoming than previous fine dining restaurants that occupied the same space.

Because our menu is so large and diverse, and a lot of dishes may be unfamiliar to guests, we have designed tastings that our chefs can customize to individual needs and specifications. Our chefs can offer a culinary tour throughout Asia simply by creating a tasting menu to give guests the best and most diverse experience possible. This experience also creates the need and desire to return again and again as we lead our guests down a culinary path of modern Asian cuisine. Good taste never goes out of style.

We have also been very conscious of our audience and focused in our public relations strategy both in print and online media and with events. It is important for guests to not only hear about the new energy at The Setai and Jaya, but to also experience it. While we have had traditional press events, but have also been keen to host in-market events in an effort to showcase some of our best dishes or to even go off property to do so. One of the biggest and most successful of these exercises was our invitation and participation in the South Beach Wine and Food Festival (SOBEWFF), in which we were a part of the "Lucky Chopsticks: An Asian Night Market" event, one of the unofficial closing events of the Festival and hosted by Andrew Zimmern. I decided to serve our Truffle Dumplings, since it is one of my favorites and a fan favorite as well. The concept is simple enough - traditional Asian dumpling stuffed with scallops and served with elements of a Western-style pasta topped with its white truffle sauce and black truffle garnish. Once word got around that we were serving our Truffle Dumplings, we had a steady line throughout the evening. A successful night for us, indeed!

The Food Network and Cooking Channel has its roots in South Florida and has developed over the years into one of America's most prestigious gourmet gatherings, as it includes top chefs from around the world and in particular those that fans have been able to watch on the Festival's television partners' shows.

I understand this interaction with fans due to my appearance on The Food Network's series Chopped, "Viewer's Baskets" episode, in which viewers selected the mystery items the Chefs were asked to create appetizers, entrees and desserts from. Winning that episode reinforced not only my drive to create new dishes; but also the importance of the dialogue between chefs and diners.

We are fortunate enough to be invited to participate in the Festival's New York Wine and Food Festival on October 16th as one of the participating Lucky Chopsticks restaurants. It's a great opportunity to expose both The Setai Miami Beach and Jaya to the Tri-State area, and we are certainly looking forward to the experience.

For the very specific 'Foodie' crowd, we've been invited by the James Beard Foundation prepare an intimate dinner on September 17th. It is an honor to be recognized by the James Beard Foundation, and the menu unveiled at this Dinner, we will incorporate into a concept at Jaya so that we those who weren't able to join us in New York can experience our James Beard Dinner menu as well. I truly hope that the new menu is well received by those in attendance. It is important for me as a chef to participate in dinners such as this with an organization like the James Beard Foundation, because it challenges me to go beyond what is expected since I am being viewed by my culinary peers, and is a reflection of the culinary field.

These types of events help us reach a larger audience who may have not for whatever reason previously considered our venue or were able to come to a restaurant at The Setai before.

In the end we believe that Jaya has so far lived up to its interpretation of success. However, it is in our nature to continue to strive for the best and challenge ourselves to create dining experiences for our guests that are flavorful, memorable and all that one would expect to come from myself and The Setai Miami Beach.

Mathias Gervais, Executive Chef at The Setai, Miami Beach, is a prodigy in the world of fine cuisine. As one of the youngest chefs to make a splash on Miami’s burgeoning culinary scene, Chef Gervais brings an extensive history of fine dining experience to The Setai. Chef Gervais has an impressive resume that rivals the credentials of the most recognized chefs in the world with international culinary experience at five Michelin star-rated restaurants in France, Italy and Monaco. Holding Chef de Cuisine and Executive Sous Chef positions in the world’s top kitchens, Chef Gervais honed his culinary skills working alongside renowned chefs including Annie Féolde at three Michelin star rated L’Enoteca Pincchiorri in Florence, as well as Joël Robuchon, Christophe Cussac and Takeo Yamazaki at the Hôtel Metropole in Monte Carlo, Monaco, in the hotel’s one and two Michelin star rated restaurants. Mr. Gervais can be contacted at 305-520-6000 or mgervais@thesetaihotel.com Please visit http://www.thesetaihotel.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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