Chef Mathias Gervais has plenty of experience working his craft in the kitchen, and his latest venture has led him to South Beach, where he brings his French roots to The Setai Grill as its executive chef. Officially opened in October 2012, The Setai Grill sits on the first floor of the serene beachfront Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Setai. It mixes both a solid New York-style American steakhouse with traditional French gastronomy, thanks to Gervais and his culinary team, including the exceptional chef de cuisine Thomas Griese.
Inside, the dining area seats approximately 40 guests, all in view of the chef’s spectator kitchen counter. Choose from sitting along the elegant mother-of-pearl communal table or around smaller, more intimate tables sprinkled both inside the restaurant and out on the terrace. There is also an impressive wine room, fitting up to 10 diners interested in sampling various bottles from all over the world.
On a surprisingly chilly evening here in Miami, we met with Gervais and explored his menu of comfort food dishes, including tender meats, fish and a super-fresh tomato salad. As the smell of cooked tomahawk filled the room, Gervais led us on his culinary journey.
What brought you to Miami?
I’ve been in Miami for two years. It was the culinary opportunity at The Setai that brought me here.
We know that The Setai Grill sources its meat from Pat LaFrieda in New York, but where do you get your other ingredients?
A farmer from South Florida provides us with the tomatoes we use, and we get our different kinds of herbs from a small farm in North Florida. We use a local bakery in Miami, where we bake our bread in a wood oven, and it’s delivered daily to The Setai Grill. Most of our vendors are close friends of mine who do not supply to large or chain restaurants, but instead only a select circle of restaurants.
What is your inspiration for The Setai Grill’s menu?
My inspiration for The Setai Grill and all our restaurants at The Setai is to keep the ingredients in my dishes simple, not over complicating them with too many ingredients or strong ingredients that compete with each other. Also, I’m inspired to work within the seasons, using only the best products that are fresh. We change our menu items to reflect what is currently in season. My French background and training also inspire me with many of the dishes, like côte de boeuf and navarin. The way we prep our beef in The Setai Grill is also very old school — we keep it simple with salt and pepper seasoning.
Tell us about any new Setai Grill dishes or soon-to-launch dishes. Why are you adding them to the menu?
I’m excited to add a new dish called cannelloni of scallops, which features Maine scallops, seaweed butter, eggs mimosa, chive and piment d’espelette, emulsion of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano and fresh truffle shavings on top. This is one of the dishes I’ll be presenting at the James Beard House for a special dinner on June 4. With this dish, I’m taking guests back to my roots, with Mediterranean foods. It’s a dish with my style that I’m proud to introduce. For the summer, we plan to add more fish, salads and lighter dishes that speak to the season — something like poached trout with almonds, beef and/or chicken with baby gem lettuce and seasoning with the juice of the meats and fresh summery herbs. We like to launch new dishes to keep the menu fluid and never too predictable. Also, we already have a good following of regulars who like to see new items on our menu. It keeps guests coming back for more.
What made you decide to come to The Setai and launch a steakhouse?
When I was working at the Hôtel Metropole Monte-Carlo, my guests would often talk about one of the world’s most luxurious hotels: The Setai, Miami Beach. They would sing its praises. With its buzz and status in the industry as one of the most luxurious hotels in the world, I had to experience it for myself. I didn’t come to The Setai to launch a steakhouse specifically, but once I got here, we were tasked with the opportunity to keep as many guests as possible on property for dinner. We realized that so many guests were being sent off-property for steak, so we made the decision to launch a steakhouse, since the demand was here. Steakhouses are very successful, and the concept works. People in America love steak, as do international guests.
Where are your favorite places to eat?
I love visiting my friend chef Makoto Okuwa at his Japanese restaurant Makoto in Bal Harbour. He cooks what I like: fine Japanese cuisine.
What’s your favorite thing about Miami?
I love Miami because of the variety of people and their cultures found here. It’s a true melting pot of people from Europe, South America and all around the world. You can have a seat at any restaurant and hear on one side people speaking French and, on the other side, people speaking Spanish. I also love how close we are to the beach. When I’m not working, I like to spend time with my wife and hang out at the beach, taking in Miami Beach’s beautiful scenery. It’s what makes Miami such a special, popular destination.
Photos courtesy of The Setai, Miami Beach