Chances are you’ve heard of Wynwood Kitchen & Bar and its toque chef, Miguel Aguilar. If you haven’t, you will soon. Aguilar took over the restaurant, a visually striking space at the epicenter of Miami’s emerging arts district in 2011. Shy of three years later, Aguilar gears up for his third appearance in the Magic City’s hottest food event of the year, South Beach Wine and Food Festival, and tells us about the moment everything changed.
Born in Venezuela, Aguilar and his family relocated to Philadelphia when he was 10 years old. At the age of 21, he moved back to his native country with his vegetarian girlfriend. He started working as a high-mountain guide, taking people trekking through the Andes Mountains, up to 17,000 feet, and thats where he first discovered he liked cooking.
“I’d set up lunches for them. That’s where my flair started,” divulges the chef. He’d go to bodega to buy pasteles or to the farmers market to get stuff to make lunch for the families. “The vibrancy of the vegetables blew me away. It was like a painting and I think a lot of it had to do with the altitude of where we were -- 3,000 above sea level. Everything just had this freshness about it that I’ve never seen in a supermarket in the US,” Aguilar said. He passionately speaks about the super orange color of the carrots and oranges, as well as the resilient green of broccoli. Till this day, color remains to be one of his biggest inspirations in the cooking process, especially at Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, where the food has to match the ever-evolving art of the walls.
After realizing he had a passion for food, Aguilar moved back to Philly and started working the restaurant industry, but front of house. “I served tables and was a bar back for about four years before I got into cooking.” He manned every station in the kitchen, working his way up from salad to the grill and then sauté. Eventually this scored his a sous chef promotion, and at the same time he was able to go back to school because he’d finally resolved his citizenship. It was then that everything started falling into place.
“I’d heard that Stephen Starr was coming into town to open a restaurant with Douglas Rodriguez and I just knew I had to work there,” he said. A big fan of the founder of Nuevo Latino Cuisine, Aguilar has always loved his books. "Stephen asked me why he should give you a sous chef position when I didn’t have that much experience, and I said I don’t really care to be a sous chef I just want a job with Douglas and your company,” Aguilar said. That line and perseverance was enough to get him hired at Alma de Cuba, and his skills, to get him a sous chef title just eight months into his position, all the while attending culinary school.
Aguilar gets his break...