The MBVCA sat down with Justin Smillie, chef of Upland Restaurant, to discuss why he loves Miami Beach, the new Miami Beach Upland Restaurant and its unique cuisine. To learn more about the restaurant, visit: http://www.uplandmiami.com/
Tell us about yourself – What inspired you to become a chef?
Growing up in Southern California my mother always kept a garden and I just fell in love with the smell of the tomato leaves. I’ve always liked to work on my feet and to be active and kitchens are just a natural fit.
Tell us about the new Upland. What made you decide to combine California and Italian cuisines? What makes this so unique compared to other Miami Beach restaurants?
The combination comes from my personal experience. The California inspiration comes through in the treatment of the vegetables and Americana aspects — it’s really a melting pot. The pastas and Italian portions of the menu touch on my experience working in great Italian restaurants like Il Buco Alimentari — once you make fresh pasta you can’t not make fresh pasta!
Why did you choose Miami Beach for Upland’s 2nd location?
We like to say we’re bringing Upland back to its palm tree roots (laughs). My partner, Stephen Starr has a footprint here in South Florida with great restaurants including Makoto, and we both agreed that the Miami Beach guest would respond well to Upland. I love traveling back and forth between Miami Beach and New York — it’s the best of both worlds.
Are there any dishes on the menu inspired by local flavors?
Sure. The menu generally has a bit more fish and seafood to reflect the tropical environment and we’ve added a raw section that’s unique to Miami Beach.
What are some of your favorite local dishes? Are there any Miami Beach-inspired dishes?
The Drunken Snapper is a great example of the local influence — it’s like a margarita on a plate with local Florida Snapper, tequila, cilantro and key lime.
What makes Miami Beach’s culinary scene different to that of other cosmopolitan destinations like New York City or Los Angeles?
I think Miami Beach — and South Florida in general — has a lot of people who are passionate about food and new restaurants, but it’s not yet oversaturated. Overall, though, I think that the culinary climate is the same around the country: people are looking for a great meal and a great bottle of wine without having to get too buttoned up.
Lastly, please tell us – Why do you love Miami Beach!
This community has been great to me! The reception has been so welcoming and I’m happy to be a part of the neighborhood. I feel really lucky to be here and the beach just adds to the appeal.