The legendary Cheeca Lodge & Spa has always set the standard of excellence for Resorts in the Florida Keys. Casual or barefoot elegance perfectly describes the ambiance at the resort. The tropical ocean side property offers every amenity imaginable and the dining choices and experiences are second to none.
Executive Chef Phillip Lowd runs the culinary program at Cheeca that includes three distinct restaurants, a tiki bar, and wedding/catering services for special events. Chef Phillip has a unique background and a passion for excellence that ensures an amazing dining experience at the Lodge. Islamorada Times recently sat down with Chef Phillip so you can 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 Phillip Lowd–Growing up in Miami, I had an affinity for sports and played them for as long as I can remember. I had no idea I would end up in the culinary field. Back in High School in between sports seasons, I took my first job as an expediter and food runner, and then continued by giving cooking a shot my freshman year of college, that’s when I fell in love with the intensity, creativity and the organized chaos of being in the kitchen (just like with sports!).
IT–At what age did you know you wanted to become a chef?
CPL–At 19 years old I had the privilege of working alongside some very talented chefs. Their passion and love for cooking showed me another side of the industry I didn’t know existed. Through their teachings, I fell in love with cooking and developed an appetite for creating delicious dishes.
IT–Tell us about any schooling, on the job training, and the different positions you have had in your career?
CPL–I didn’t come from the typical background. I never went to culinary school, but was lucky enough to work with some great chefs; Niven Patel, Dean Max, Juan Cruz-Torres, who were all willing to teach me the skills and creativity to become a Chef. It was not easy by any means, but their passion inspired me, and I knew this is what I wanted. I worked my way up at Cheeca Lodge leaving from time to time to help out with some local restaurants such as MEAT Eatery and Tap room and a local catering company, but always returned to Cheeca. It was like a second home for me.
IT–What are the things that influence your style of cooking?
CPL–Growing up in Miami and being surrounded by South American and island flavors had a big influence on my cooking style. This paired with being from a southern family gave me a lot of inherent techniques I never realized I had until I started cooking.
IT–What are some of your top ingredients, those that are must haves in your kitchen at all times?
CPL–It’s hard to choose my top ingredients, as I am constantly trying new things and pushing boundaries by working with science (such as molecular gastronomy), but if I had to choose Garlic and Thyme are at the top of my list!
IT–Do you have a signature dish or dishes you would like to highlight, if so, where did the inspiration come from?
CPL–For a casual treat, our Lobster Grilled Cheese is a huge hit. Piled high on thick cut toasted sour dough bread is an entire buttery lobster topped with brie and flavored with key lime and cilantro. For dinner, our locally caught whole snapper is a best seller. It comes either fried or roasted and is topped with watercress, radish and dragon fruit then lightly drizzled with a lemon thyme vinaigrette. The opportunity to have access to the freshest seafood is what inspires these and most of the dishes here at Cheeca.
IT–When you choose to dine out yourself, what type of cuisine do you enjoy?
CPL—I really enjoy a good Steakhouse or a fine Italian Restaurant.
IT–What do you consider to be comfort food?
CPL–Southern cooking for sure. Biscuits with Sausage Gravy, Ham Steaks, Fried Chicken, Ribs (with a mustard based BBQ) mashed potatoes and gravy. And you can’t forget about the mac and cheese.
IT–What do you like to do in your free time?
CPL—All Sports – Baseball, basketball, and football. Water sports – Wakeboarding and spear fishing. Seasonal Hunting.