Head Chef Greg Beno started his South Beach Bar & Grille career in November 2009 after learning his craft from Chef Gene Marra of the former Palmetto Grill. In three years, the 25-year-old Beno has grown to where SBB&G Executive Chef and co-owner Marco Meola has given him responsibility for much of the prize-wining restaurant's kitchen output.
Beno's work dominated the barbecue competition at the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commrce Fall Fest and he's preparing to take on the best of the island at the Feb. 6 Taste of Boca Grande competition for the first time.
This week, Beno shares a bit of his cooking philosophies and how he learned his business. Enjoy.
Head Chef Greg Beno of South Beach Bar & Grille
QUESTION: You're to be married Oct. 20. Are you nervous?
ANSWER: Yeah, a little bit.
Q: What are you nervous about?
Chef Greg Beno at a glance
Occupation: South Beach Bar & Grille head chef
Residence: North Port
Family: Engaged to be married in October
Education: bachelor's degree in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales in Miami
Discovered Boca Grande: When I was a little kid, my grandmother's cousin used to live out here. So I came out here as a kid. We didn't come out here very often.
What: Taste of Boca Grande
Where: Boca Bay Pass Club
When: 5:30 p.m. Feb. 6
Why: To benefit the hungry of Southwest Florida through the Harry Chapin Food Bank
On sale: At the Boca Bay Pass Club, Boca Grande Club, Boca Beacon, BRC Group, and from Thor Johnson and Brian Corcoran
A: I don't know. It's a big commitment.
Q: When did you pop the question?
A: Two years ago. So we're finally going to do it.
Q: Let's get into your culinary abilities. Is there a style of cooking that you embrace?
A: Probably, New World cuisine, I guess. It's more like American, South America cuisine using fresh seafood from this area.
Q: The award-winning South Beach Bar & Grille barbecue at the Chamber of Commerce Fall festival won the Best of Fall Fest award for the second consecutive year and you deserve the lion's share of the credit. Why has South Beach come to dominate this cookoff? What's your secret?
A: It took us awhile to perfect everything we do at our barbecue.
Q: Not answering the question, chef. What makes your barbecue so special?
A: Our smoker?
Q: OK, moving on. What would you order for your birthday meal?
A: Pretty much, growing up, I'd always ask for the same thing. I'd ask my mom and grandmother to make fried pork chops with rice and tomato gravy. It was probably my favorite meal to have on my birthday.
Q: How did you come to be hired at SBB&G?
A: I was working at Palmetto Grill and had a couple meetings with Marco and decided it would be a good fit and came here.
Q: You've now been named head chef. What does a head chef do?
A: Pretty much oversees everything in the kitchen. Everything that goes out foodwise, has my name on it. I have to make sure it is right and handle all the business in the kitchen. I cook on the line every night. I'm not a chef who stands in the corner and tells people what to do. I like to get my hands in it. That's the best way to make sure it's getting done right.
Q: What should your kitchen be known for right now?
A: Fresh seafood, the freshest you can get. Grouper you can get year-round now, and we always have different variations of snapper - yellow tail, the red snapper, Domingo snapper - and we'll get different fish along the way, including some flown in from Hawaii such as walu, ohno and swordfish.
Q: What chef is your role model?
A: Chefs I have been inspired by include Michael Symon and Gene Marra, owner of Palmetto Grill in Cape Haze. I learned a tremendous amount of knowledge from Gene and would not be where I am today without working with him. Gene displayed the amount of passion that is needed to be a good chef and that really motivated me to hone my craft.
And the other one would have to be Michael Symon. I like how he does things and I like his restaurant. He had a book out, "Tools of the Chef," I read about six years ago and was fascinated by it. He told it how it really is and now you can see him on TV.
Q: Do you watch cooking shows on TV?
A: Yeah, when I can. I watch Bobbie Flay every now and then, and maybe "Iron Chef." That's probably about it. Michael Symon is actually one of the Iron Chefs now.
Q: Do today's diners really embrace healthy cooking or do they really want the rich foods we've been taught are bad for us?
A: Here and there they want really healthy foods but not very much at all. We get requests all the time for "no butter" or "olive oil" but it's not overwhelming or something we see a lot. So I don't think it's something people eating out are too concerned with just yet.
Q: This will be the first time you've cooked by yourself at the Taste of Boca Grande. Are you intimidated?
A: No, I've cooked the past two years under Marco. This year he's pretty much handing the reins over to me. I'm pretty excited.
Q: When competing in an event like the Taste of Boca, do you go in with any goals?
A: Be prepared and attract people's interest to the restaurant.
Q: How do you spark people's interest?
A: Through creativity and overall taste of the dishes.
Q: Is there a real competition at the Taste of Boca between the chefs?
A: No, I mean everyone's trying to put their best foot forward but everyone's out there to have a good time. I guess we all feel like it's a competition but
Q: Perfect world, what happens for the South Beach Bar & Grille and you at the Taste of Boca?
A: Our line at the booth never ends and there are always people in it.