Hailing from acclaimed NoMI Kitchen at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Park Hyatt Chicago where he trained under chef Andrew Zimmerman, chef William Crandall has made his way to Miami as the new chef de cuisine at Five-Star Mandarin Oriental, Miami’s signature eatery, Azul. Chef Crandall has created a name for himself at the Five-Star establishment with an innovative French/Asian-influenced culinary style and a usage of local ingredients that was inspired by growing up in a farming community. Now the chef is utilizing his approach to classic dishes on a new menu that includes everything from sushi rolls and ceviche de corvina, to caramelized forest mushrooms and pan-roasted Scottish salmon. He recently sat down with us to talk about his epicurean inspirations and his favorite food destinations.
Where do you find inspiration for your creations?
I have many inspirations, whether it be history, native foods and childhood memories. I always refer to classic French recipes for guidance — maybe not as an entire dish but as either a concept or component to that dish. The finishing touches primarily come from local and Asian influence due to the Mandarin’s location and culture. When you have such a vibrant culture here, it’s impossible to not let it influence you.
How has growing up on a farm influenced your culinary style?
My biggest personal inspiration is having the advantage of growing up around food, literally. My backyard was a cow pasture and my favorite place to run around when I was a kid was the cornfields. This allowed me to see food from its beginning. Now I just see it to the end of its preparations.
What do you love most about your job?
Creating an experience that comforts and nurtures people. The dinner table has always been the place where focus on one’s stresses is lost, if only for a brief moment.
Tell us about the new Azul menu?
The Azul menu features dishes rooted in French technique with Asian-inspired concepts. Our [applewood] smoked [lettuce] salad has become our new signature appetizer alongside our famous tuna poké. The buttermilk-poached guinea hen and Black Angus short rib are making a great impression, too.
What can diners expect when they visit Azul?
Clean flavors with elegant presentation and impeccable service to match. Diners can expect ingredients that are either local or sourced from ethical sellers. Preparations are done to the food to not mask any flavors but enhance them. Clean and sophisticated presentations round off each dish. It’s our goal to provide not just a meal but a memory.
How would you describe the Miami dining scene?
The local scene is best described as energetic and colorful. I love the fact that there is really no pretense in the new food scene, which I find most unique. Chefs are cooking what they want, as long as it’s tasty. Creativity is welcomed in Miami.
On your days off, what do you like to do?
I like to go fishing when possible and spend time outside. I love to eat on the water or where I can see the water. If I go out at night, then I like very casual places with a conversation-friendly atmosphere. Some places people will see me might be: The Corner, L’echon Brasserie, Garcia’s [Seafood Grille & Fish Market], Broken Shaker, Panya [Thai Restaurant] and Matsuri.
Where are some of your favorite travel and dining destinations?
Mexico City is one of my favorites, as well as Chicago. I try to not eat at the same place twice so I can try new places when I travel — unless, of course, [the first meal] was amazing.