Located in the heart of Islamorada at mile marker 81.6, the Morada Bay Beach Café is an outdoor Mediterranean bistro café set in the sand. The Café is home to the famous Full Moon Party and New Years Eve Party; both are events that locals and visitors always have on their schedule.
Executive Chef Daniel Schillinger runs the Café and his menu offers a blend of Caribbean and American cuisine, showcasing the freshest in local seafood and produce. The fare is both innovative and eclectic.
Islamorada Times recently sat down with Chef Daniel so you could 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 Daniel Schillinger–Though I was born in Freiburg, Germany, I consider myself a native Floridian having been raised here since age 7. While growing up, I would spend my summers in Germany and then soon began working with my late mentor and grandfather, Chef Edgar Schillinger.
IT–At what age did you know you wanted to become a chef?
CDS–My culinary career became very clear to me during my time at the University of Florida, where I first worked at Dragonfly Sushi and Sake Co. and later at Mildred’s. Both helped to supplement my scholarship money. The love of cooking and all things food, along with the precious experience my grandfather had provided me during my youth, helped me advance quickly to my first chef title while still at University of Florida. Kitchens were where I felt most comfortable, so the choice to leave higher education after graduation was easy. Convincing my parents that being a cook instead of a lawyer was a difficult proposition, but ultimately proved to be the right move for my future.
IT–Tell us about any schooling, on the job training, and the different positions you have had in your career?
CDS–Cooking on a professional level is all about apprenticeship and on the job training. As mentioned earlier, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have spent the time I did learning with my grandfather at his restaurant called The Birke. The summers spent with him were seminal in my becoming a chef. He taught me the introduction to proper technique, organization, and of course the German work ethic. I am eternally grateful to him and my grandmother for taking me in each summer.
As mentioned, I worked in Gainesville until graduation. After I completed my degree from the University of Florida in History, I became determined to get my Associates in Culinary Arts. I chose to attend the New England Culinary Institute because they had an advanced placement program and offered me scholarship money because I had worked for a NECI graduate at Mildred’s.
I moved frequently after culinary school; Charleston, New York, the Hamptons, Washington DC, and Miami, all were great food towns. My favorite position was definitely working for Jeffrey Buben, formerly of Le Cirque in NY, at Bistro Bis, directly off Capitol Hill in DC. We created new interpretations of French Classics for an A list customer base. This served as home for 3 years before I returned to Florida due to an illness in the family.
IT–What are the things that influence your style of cooking?
CDS–My European background has profoundly influenced my culinary style by highlighting refinement while still letting the ingredients shine. I believe in sourcing as locally as possible and creating sustainability in my supply chain. Plating plays a large part in my cooking as well, since everyone eats with their eyes first. Furthermore, I am a reactionary against molecular gastronomy, as I believe food should look natural. Growing up in the US and specifically in South Florida has provided me access to a melting pot of flavors, colors, and inspirations from an array of cuisines. No matter what cuisine you prefer to cook and eat, we all create of a fusion of international flavors which make the cuisine in the US very unique.
IT–What are some of your top ingredients, those that are must haves in your kitchen at all times??
CDS–The number one ingredient a professional cook must understand is salt. It is imperative for flavor, preservation, and transformation. A chef’s palette is his primary tool, and crazy organizational skills are also a must, but understanding salt is not to be underestimated. Other than that, there are lots of ingredients I love. I couldn’t live without fresh veggies, ripe fruit or fresh seafood.
IT–Do you have a signature dish or dishes you would like to highlight, if so, where did the inspiration come from?
CDS–Not really a specific dish, but let’s talk about technique. I like a good braise, regardless of the ingredient. There is no better way to transform a humble piece of protein than to cure it, properly brown it, slow cook it, and then reduce the braising liquids to a succulent sauce. Beef cheeks, octopus, monkfish, pork shoulder, or lamb shank, the ingredients don’t matter as long as they are fresh.
As far as inspiration, it comes from my surroundings. The turquoise waters, island vibes, friendly people, seaside sounds and especially the best locally sourced organic ingredients.
IT–When you choose to dine out yourself, what type of cuisine do you enjoy?
CDS—My fiancé and I love to cook at home, but on the rare occasion when we do dine out we like tacos or sushi. Taquiria Morelia in Florida City is a favorite.
IT–What can we expect to see you cooking at home? Any specialties that we won’t see at your restaurant?
CDS—At home we practice a lot of intact dining featuring whole ingredients. There is definitely bolognaise night every week, which I love and my fiancée Mari has learned to make it perfectly. We also eat a lot of whole roasted chicken, prepared many different ways. Let’s not forget the salad. We eat a huge bowl of salad greens and veggies/fruits in a light vinaigrette with every meal.
IT–What do you consider to be comfort food?
CDS–My mother’s German cooking or good Chinese Take Out. The former makes sense; the later is a personal love.
IT–What is your wine preference? Any favorites you would like to recommend?
CDS–There are so many varietals, it’s hard to decide. I can tell you my favorite wines come from France. A good Burgundy or Grand Cru Chablis is hard to beat, as is a good Cotes du Rhone, especially a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. I am also lover of champagne, especially Krug or PJ. If you have never had it, I definitely recommend Chateau de Jar din or some PJ Le Fleur Rose, simply peerless wines.
IT–What do you like to do in your free time?
CDS–In my free time, I enjoy the company of my amazing fiancé, Marilane Palacios. We are adventurers who love to travel and explore, whether near or far. We love to share new experience and recapture rare moments we have shared in the past. I am also an avid hunter, again practicing sustainability and conservation of our natural resources.
IT–Any final thoughts?
CDS–I’d like to thank Islamorada Times for this opportunity to introduce myself to the local community. In the few months we’ve lived in the Upper Keys we have met some amazing people, and have enjoyed a wonderful quality of life in the loveliest of surroundings.