The Cheeca Lodge and Spa offers what they call “barefoot elegance”. Centered in the Village of Islamorada is 27 lush tropical acres of pure enjoyment. Not only do they offer every amenity that you can imagine, they pride themselves on providing a very unique and eclectic dining experience.
Cheeca’s New Executive Chef Kurt Steinberg overseas the culinary program at the Lodge, to include three distinct restaurants, a Tiki Bar, Weddings, and Catering Services for Special Events. He is a seasoned chef with an extensive background in resort dining. Islamorada Times recently sat down with Chef Daniel so you could meet him up close.
Islamorada Times: Where did you grow up and did your upbringing have any influences on you becoming a chef?
Chef Kurt Steinberg: I grew up north of Boston in city of Melrose. My life was surrounded with great cooking with a mother, grandmother and aunts who were Italian and cooking from scratch was only thing acceptable. Making homemade pastas, breads, desserts, sauces and eating cured Italian meats was what I was accustomed to. It helped me gain respect of knowing when you make it you have a better respect for the ingredients and the final product. Before I moved to Cheeca, I lived in Marshfield Mass for 16 years on the water next to one of the busiest lobster and fish ports in the state.
Islamorada Times: At what age did you know you wanted to become a chef?
Chef Kurt Steinberg: I worked in a deli and started to gain knowledge of food while assisting the butchers cutting meats. When I was in my senior year of high school I needed to figure out what to do and my mom recommended Johnson and Wales. Being artistic, I saw this as a way to make a profession doing something I loved.
IT: Tell us about any schooling, on the job training, and the different positions you have had in your career?
CKS: I went to Johnson and Wales and studied culinary arts. I have been in the business for 28 years with brands as Sheraton, Westin, Hyatt, Restaurant Associates, Boston University and now Cheeca Lodge & Spa. I was Executive Chef at Sheraton Boston, which is the largest hotel in New England. I also was the executive chef at Westin, also the Public House – which is a well-known Inn in west of Boston that has been around since 1792. I was also the Executive Chef of Boston University – which has one of the top dining and catering programs in higher education, and most recently as Executive Chef of Hyatt in Newport before moving to Cheeca. Over my years I have held chef positions at Sheraton Hartford along with Executive Sous Chef at the former Sheraton in Bal Harbor Florida.
IT: What are the things that influence your style of cooking?
CKS: Over the years I have developed my style based on season ability, sustainability and cooking food I enjoy. I have passion for seafood and Asian cooking. I have been privileged to have had access to some of the best and freshest ingredients and based my cooking on respecting the ingredients and employees I work with daily.
As a child I would sometimes meet my dad at work and we would go to Chinese restaurants and eat authentic Chinese food – not the typical items you see. This is when I gained an appreciation of this cuisine. While at Sheraton Boston, I was able to work with a well-known Chinese chef at the hotel’s Chinese restaurant and learned technique and recipe development.
IT: What are some of your top ingredients, those that are must haves in your kitchen at all times??
· Extra Virgin Olive Oil
· Basmati Rice
· Ginger, garlic and scallions
· Quality vinegars
· Kosher and Sea Salt
· Multiple soy sauces, variety of asian chili pastes and sauces as oyster, hoisin, and sesame oil
· San Marzano tomatoes
· Quality spices
IT: Do you have a signature dish or dishes you would like to highlight, if so, where did the inspiration come from?
CKS: One of my favorite things to cook is traditional steamed fish Cantonese style with ginger, garlic, sesame, soy with smoking oil splash served over steamed rice. Simple but a cooking style that leaves little room for error due to simplicity. Flavors and technique must be spot on.
IT: When you choose to dine out yourself, what type of cuisine do you enjoy?
CKS: I enjoy going to restaurant that provides small plates – for example tapas but now that I am here in Florida I am going to miss dining in Boston’s Chinatown. Great Asian food is my favorite. From dim sum to great Thai, I am still searching for dining like that in the Keys.
IT: What can we expect to see you cooking at home? Any specialties that we won’t see at your restaurant?
CKS: When I am home I enjoy making things my children enjoy. I love good BBQ smoked meats and making homemade pizza using fresh tomatoes from my garden. I love to cook all types of Asian foods especially Thai at home. This includes noodle dishes utilizing minimal ingredients to produce a delicious final product. You learn a lot about cooking with Asian recipes due to historically lack of fuel therefore use of the wok and their diet consists of less animal proteins and more vegetables and noodles and rice.
IT: What do you consider to be comfort food?
CKS: I would consider spaghetti and meatballs a great comfort food as well as chicken fried steak with country gravy and mashed potatoes.
IT: What do you like to do in your free time?
CKS: I like to spend time with family and cook. I also am looking forward to fishing more now that I am down the Keys.
IT: Any final thoughts?
CKS: I look forward to utilizing local ingredients, elevating Cheeca’s reputation as a destination for great food. I also want to focus on the hotel’s sustainability by rolling out a compost program and dedication to recycling.