Three's Company

Monica Parpal |
Culinary Personalities

The award-winning Setai, Miami Beach hotel is a serene oceanfront destination with a luxurious Art Deco ambience and three gourmet restaurants. We sat down with Executive Chef Mathias Gervais, Executive Sous Chef Vijayudu “Vijay” Veena, and Premier Sous Chef Denevin Miranda to talk about what makes dining here so special.


What's unique, gastronomically speaking, about Miami Beach?

Mathias Gervais: Miami is such a cultural melting pot; people of all walks of life come here. Similarly, the world’s best upcoming chefs flock here to present their specialties to the “hungry” Miami market. The budding Miami culinary scene allows us to test new dishes and be colorful with our cooking.


How are your responsibilities divided with your sous chefs throughout the different restaurant kitchens?

MG: Both Chefs Vijay and Denevin have been working with me at The Setai since I began working here a few years ago. Denevin is in charge of The Pool & Beach Bar lunch as well as The Setai Grill dinner, which offers a fusion of prime meat with Asian-inspired specialties; and Vijay works with the breakfast sous chef in the morning, then transitions to lunch and dinner service in The Restaurant, preparing fine Mediterranean cuisine. All of us jump on the banquets line if we have any special events scheduled that day. I like to spend some time in each outlet every day.


What inspires you in the kitchen, day after day?

MG: I have many inspirations. My love for cooking inspires me to be the best chef I can be. I’m constantly growing as a professional, and working with my sous chefs is what I cherish.


Is there a dish on one of the menus that you feel really defines you or your style?

MG: The Restaurant’s Colorado Lamb. It's not overwhelmed with too many flavors or ingredients which bests represents my cooking style: simple and uncomplicated. A new dish that showcases my “Miami side” is the lobster citrus salad on our spring menu: a refreshing salad of grapefruit and compressed watermelon topped with poached lobster and citrus dressing.


Vijay, you got your start by studying and cooking in India. What was it like to go from cooking in India to Switzerland and then on to Miami?

Vijay Veena: When I was growing up, I would help out in my father’s restaurant in India. Cuisine in India is very traditional, and ingredients tend to be found locally. When I went to study in Switzerland, I honed my cooking techniques using ingredients from around the world. Now in Miami, I am able to apply my global culinary knowledge and experience to become more creative.

India gave me the love for cooking; Switzerland gave me the skills and knowledge; and Miami has let me put it all together into one big global culinary pot!


What local ingredient are you particularly excited about as we transition into spring?

VV: I love working with local citrus, like tangerine and grapefruit; heirloom tomatoes from a small local grower in Homestead; and local greens like kale, Swiss chard, and baby arugula.


Denevin, you attended culinary school in Miami, so you've been familiar with the cuisine and ingredients since your career began. What makes this city a gourmet hot spot?

Denevin Miranda: The fresh fish and seafood that is available year round, like grouper and snapper. We also have a great abundance of tropical and exotic fruits and vegetables.


What's your favorite part about your job?

DM: The opportunity to invent new dishes and planning new menus with Executive Chef Mathias. He empowers us to design custom menus for groups dinners, special events, and holidays.


What local ingredients are you particularly excited about working with as we transition into spring?

DM: I love the sweet onions and ramps that are available this season. Roasting or grilling brings out their flavors.