The Amara Cay Resort is one of Islamorada’s premiere destinations. The oceanfront location offers a very relaxed style in a luxury atmosphere. Their signature restaurant ” Oltremare Ristorante” offers Italian specialties infused with fresh Florida Keys seafood that is delivered right off the boat daily.
Chef Dario Olivera runs the show at Oltremare. A deep culture and a passion for using the freshest ingredients is what gives him inspiration. Islamorada Times recently sat down with the Chef to meet him up close and personal.
Islamorada Times Where did you grow up and did your upbringing have any influences on you becoming a chef?
Chef Dario Olivera I grew up in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. My parents traveled extensively and exposed me to many different cuisines from around the world. Also, my grandmother was a fantastic cook. Coming from a Puerto Rican family, food is a large part of our culture.
IT At what age did you know you wanted to become a chef?
CDO Like most seniors in high school, I did not really know what I wanted to do with my life. My father gave me 6 months to try to find a path in life. After 6 months, I decided mechanical engineering might be something I could pursue since I was good with my hands. Supportive as always, my father advised me of the steps, time and dedication that was needed for this career. I wasn’t sure if that was what I wanted to do. My father gave me 6 more months to rethink and plan for my future. It was during that time that he steered me towards cooking. He saw how much I loved to cook and eat and realized that this may be my life’s passion.
IT Tell us about any schooling, on the job training, and the different positions you have had in your career?
CDO I attended the Johnson and Wales Culinary Institute in Miami. While at the Institute I worked at the News Café on South Beach as a sauté chef. That was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had. We put out close to 400 pasta dishes per night. It taught me how to work hard and it prepared me for future positions. I left the Institute early for a position at the Miami Airport Hilton. This was my first position that allowed me some creative control and banquet experience. I then moved to the Prezzo in Aventura as a sous chef. I learned a lot at Prezzo’s and got the most guidance under Executive Chef Mennan Tekeli. He was the type of chef that transferred his knowledge to those that worked for him. I remember there were many days I worked side by side with him while he showed me various techniques and food combinations. We also participated in the first Food and Wine Festival 17 years ago.
IT What are the things that influence your style of cooking?
CDO First and foremost, is my family and my culture. Fresh and simple are two adjectives that influence and describe my style of cooking.
IT What are some of your top ingredients, those that are must haves in your kitchen at all times?
CDO A good Balinese salt and good Spanish olive oils. I also use vinegars a lot, vincotti and apple ciders. I like to reduce them for a deeper flavor. Olive oil roasted garlic is a must and the base of many of our dishes. The caramelization and concentration of flavors really adds to the overall dish.
IT Do you have a signature dish or dishes you would like to highlight, if so, where did the inspiration come from?
CDO We have some great pasta dishes. We extensively developed our pasta recipe and have come up with a pasta that has fantastic texture and our customers love it. We do a roasted mushroom, house cured tomatoes, concentrated sliced garlic, and reggiano cheese over pasta. It’s a real customer favorite.
IT When you choose to dine out yourself, what type of cuisine do you enjoy?
CDO I like places that have authentic home-style food. I love the carnito tacos from the Mexican Morada.
IT What can we expect to see you cooking at home? Any specialties that we won’t see at your restaurant?
CDO For obvious reasons, we love to cook Puerto Rican food. But most of the time we are cooking Thai or Vietnamese soups and broths with noodles.
IT What do you consider to be comfort food?
DD My grandmother’s pigs feet with garbanzo beans and white rice. Even to this day when I visit, she has that dish waiting for me.
IT What is your wine preference? Any favorites you would like to recommend?
CDO I am more of a beer guy. I like my Porters. But when I do indulge in wine, I like the Californian wines from the Bouche region.
IT What do you like to do in your free time?
CDO I like to paddleboard and longboard. I know fishing is the thing to do in The Keys but I enjoy feeding the fish more than catching them.
IT Any final thoughts?
CDO I really love Islamorada. This place has a great feel to it. Quiet and safe and is unlike big city living. It feels like home and the natural surroundings of island life is something I hope everyone gets to experience sometime in their life.