The New Playa Largo Resort & Spa is a spectacular oasis situated on 14 secluded beachfront acres and is located in historic Key Largo. The resort has it all including a full service spa, a private marina, wedding, banquet and conference facilities, and 4 signature onsite restaurants.
Executive Chef Karl Stoehr is the man who runs all the culinary activities at Playa Largo. He has an extensive background in Resort dining and an eclectic mix of experiences that is the foundation behind all the amazing dining experiences at the Resort.
Islamorada Times recently sat down with Chef Karl 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 Karl Stoehr–I am originally from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. My great grandparents on my mother’s side came over from Germany and Italy in the early 1900’s. I spent a lot of time in both of their kitchens when I was young. They started teaching me when I was 5 or 6 years old. Everything was made from scratch back then, so from an early age I saw the care and love that went into their cooking.
IT–At what age did you know you wanted to become a chef?
CKS–I was in high school when I started cooking professionally. I was 16 at the time I started in the kitchen washing dishes, doing production work, and learning how to use a knife. I worked for free for the first few months to try it out. I never looked back.
IT–Tell us about any schooling, on the job training, and the different positions you have had in your career?
CKS–I graduated from Johnson and Wales University in 2002 with my associates in Culinary Arts. After graduation I returned home to work at a few local restaurants to broaden my experience as a cook and was offered my first supervisory role at 20. I moved onto Penn State University in 2004 to take additional courses in Hotel Restaurant Management and landed my first role as interim Executive Chef at Spats Café, a local landmark in State College, and then was quickly promoted to Executive Chef. In 2008 I decided to move to Florida to be close to family and began a career in the hotel industry at the Marco Island Marriot as a line cook. I was then relocated back to Pittsburgh as a Sous Chef for the Marriott Pittsburgh City Center and became part of a task force team with Marriott to assist in the opening of new properties. I spent time in Tuscany and Buffalo before being transferred to Playa Largo as the Executive Sous Chef. I loved the area and with family close by in Naples, I decided to settle down and was soon promoted to Executive Chef.
IT–What are the things that influence your style of cooking?
CKS— I am influenced by a mixture of upbringing, culture, family, and the availability of local and sustainable ingredients. My wife Nancy is from Cagayan De Oro in the Philippines and food is a huge part of her culture. We had the opportunity to visit this past summer and spend time with family. I can honestly say I do not ever recall a time when I ate so much for an extended period of time. It was amazing. I discovered new ingredients and flavor profiles that I am having fun with now.
IT–What are some of your top ingredients, those that are must haves in your kitchen at all times??
CKS–This is tough because there are so many. I would have to say definitely vinegars. They bring depth and balance to many dishes. My favorite is Pinakurat which is made from fermented coconut and chili. Fish sauce and soy sauce are also a must. Seasoning with them brings depth and salt to dishes. Fresh ginger, garlic, shallots, scallions and fresh herbs, are also must haves in my kitchen.
IT–Do you have a signature dish or dishes you would like to highlight, if so, where did the inspiration come from?
CKS— Our whole Fish at Sol is really fun. We serve it with a Nuoc Cham sauce and our version of Haitian pikliz. There is a lot of flavors going on in this dish. Ahi Tuna Poke is another favorite at Sol. Raw tuna with a simple ginger chili dressing with sesame oil, avocado and served with yucca chips. The flavors just keep coming with this one. The inspiration comes from the availability of fresh fish in the Florida Keys.
IT–When you choose to dine out yourself, what type of cuisine do you enjoy?
CKS–Usually when I have the opportunity to dine out I look for places that I have not been to before. My wife and I like to try new things so we typically go for the small plates and sample as much as we can. As far as the cuisine goes. I eat everything so it just depends on the mood of the day.
IT–What can we expect to see you cooking at home? Any specialties that we won’t see at your restaurant?
CKS–When I do cook at home I like to BBQ. I love BBQ meats and anything pork is preferred. I just bought a green egg recently so I have been playing a lot with that lately.
IT–What do you consider to be comfort food?
CKS–This is a tough one. There are so many things from my childhood that have this nostalgic affect. A great risotto reminds me of my nana who taught me how make the dish when I was 6. Also, gingersnaps take me back to my gross mama (German for great grandmother) making sauerbraten, which is a German style pot roast which requires the meat to be pickled for several days. She would use gingersnaps to thicken the gravy.
IT–What is your wine preference? Any favorites you would like to recommend?
CKS–I am more of a rum drinker over wine at the moment. Ron Zacapa XO is my favorite with a close second being Kirk and Sweeny 23yr. As far as wines I like reds, typically fuller bodied. During my task force in Italy the chef sent me home with a bottle of Chianti Classico Reserva from 2009. We just opened the bottle earlier this year for my anniversary.
IT–What do you like to do in your free time?
CKS–I really enjoy traveling and spending time with my family. My wife and I just had our son last July so he is our world. I have been to Curacao, Aruba, Puerto Rico, Tuscany, and now the Philippines. There is so much about a culture you can learn just by having dinner with family in another country. Greece is next on our travel list. I also enjoy sport compact tuning, racing small compact cars. Unfortunately, my project is on the back burner now due to an accident that totaled the car.
IT–Any final thoughts?
CKS— When it comes to food always keep an open mind and try everything twice. The first time is always a perceived experience; the second will allow you to really taste the food with experience. We also would like everyone to know that our 3 signature restaurants onsite are open to the public and we have many specials to invite visitors and locals to come by and enjoy an evening dining at Playa Largo.