This week for the Playa Profile, we’re talking to Chef Richard Smith, Playa Largo’s Executive Chef who’s been tasked with the immense job of overseeing the entire culinary team, creating inventive, locally inspired menus and making sure Playa Largo uses only the highest-quality ingredients.
Taking notes from his Caribbean parents, this Jamaican-born chef brings an extensive culinary background with a dash of island flair to the property. He’s a natural on camera, and has appeared on FOX Orlando, The Cooking Channel’s Emeril’s Florida, and on NBC Sports’ Bass 2 Billfish.
Needless to say, we were pretty excited to talk to him about what we can expect from his culinary creations and get a sneak peek into some of the delectable dishes that will be available at Playa Largo’s four dining areas.
Q: Chef Richard, thanks for speaking with us! Let’s get started. What restaurant or dining option do you think is most unique to Playa Largo?
Chef Richard: Hmm, it’s very difficult to pick just one because each venue has its own unique cuisine and flavor. La Marea will be the first upscale steakhouse in the Upper and Middle Keys, Las Olas is the only true ceviche restaurant created for its strong influence from the early Spanish explorers, and Sol by the Sea, is our unique waterfront and dockside dining seafood restaurant. Sol has that breezy, laid-back island vibe and looks out directly onto The Florida Bay. It’s really the perfect location to enjoy the island’s fresh flavors and catch (or Instagram) those incredible sunsets that the Keys are known for. In terms of the food, everything is going to be locally caught and delivered to Playa Largo on a daily basis.
Q: We love that! What type of seafood can we expect at Sol by the Sea?
Chef Richard: Fish indigenous to The Keys. Think hogfish, wahoo, golden tilefish depending on the season, black grouper, mahi mahi – the works! Some of my favorite dishes are the octopus a-la-plancha, paella del sol, crispy lobster, guava-glazed grouper, and our version of Playa’s seafood boil!
Q: What goes into creating a menu for one of the resort’s restaurants? Tell us about your process.
Chef Richard: It’s a LOT of research! You have to consider the guests’ preferences, competition in the local area and see what other restaurants are preparing and what their theme is. Then you have to decide what you want to be known for while incorporating the staple items that the Keys are well-known for. We want to be authentic and have recipes and menus to be exactly like nothing else. For example, we decided to create the Las Olas Ceviche Bar because of Key Largo’s rich history and early Spanish influences. Key Largo has an abundant availability of fresh seafood, so featuring a traditional Peruvian ceviche was the perfect fit.
It also comes down to sourcing the ingredients. We want to ensure that we select the best vendors who will take care of their products from start to finish – from the way they catch the fish on the boats, to the way it’s stored and brought to shore.
Q: Has the staff gotten to taste some of your creations?
Chef Richard: Our kitchen equipment is still being installed, so we’re working on building our creations at one of our sister properties in Homestead where we do all of the cooking, platings and tastings. To make it more fun, we have little potluck outings every other week with our opening staff, and I sneak in a creation and get to watch their reactions. It’s a more fun and inspirational way to do a tasting.
Q: So let’s talk about La Marea, the first steakhouse in Key Largo. Because that restaurant is especially unique and there’s no real point of reference in the area, what went into creating that menu?
Chef Richard: The same philosophy applies. We selected Larry Kline, a meat provider out of Deerfield Beach, Florida. They’re well-known in the steakhouse industry and have some of the highest-quality cuts in the nation. Our steak selection will run from 12 oz. Center Cut Filet to a 28 oz. Dry-Aged, Bone-In Cowboy Rib Eye. We’re also going to be using a top-of-the-line infrared broiler to ensure the steaks are charred to mouth-watering perfection. Guests will also find some other steakhouse favorites on the menu like whole Maine lobster, seared diver scallops, and Atlantic salmon.
Q: What inspires your menu choices?
Chef Richard: I pull inspiration from my Jamaican background mixed with my culinary education. The whole atmosphere at Playa Largo – the lush landscape, being by the ocean and having access to the freshest seafood around – is a great place to start. The task to create recipes and menu items that embody traditional favorites with an upscale artistic twist is very motivating and inspirational.
Q: What is your favorite dish on the menus?
Chef Richard: We have so many exciting choices on our menus that it’s hard for me to settle on just one. Right now, I’m working on one of my favorite Jamaican comfort foods. Most people think I’d say jerk chicken or pork, but I just love Jamaican red snapper in a coconut curry. I’m also excited for guests to try our Key’s seafood boil, and the delicious octopus a-al-plancha.
Q: What’s your favorite ingredient to work with?
Chef Richard: That’s a great question. I’d have to say shrimp, but I love all seafood – scallops, mussels, octopus. They’re like a sponge and can take on many flavors. It’s often a difficult process to cook fish properly because it’s so delicate – it takes experience, it takes time, and it takes love.
Q: What do you do in Key Largo on the weekends for fun?
Chef Richard: I love hanging out at the beach with my kids. Haili is 8, and Brooke is 6. My girls love the beach, they love the water and kayaking. The Keys is obviously the perfect place to enjoy all those activities.
Q: If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing for a living?
Chef Richard: Racing motorcycles! The Keys only has one road in and one road out, but I love taking my bike out onto I-4. In fact, at the beginning of next month, a couple of buddies and I are going to the Dragon’s Tail, which is on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. There are more than 300 hairpin turns within an 11-mile radius, so it’s a great destination for people who love to ride sport bikes. It’s extremely dangerous, but at the same time, it’s really exhilarating!
Q: Can you pop wheelies?
Chef Richard: I used to in my younger days! I try not to now because I have kids so I have to behave myself!