Louis Robinson came, saw, and conquered at Chef’s Plate 13: Miami. Over the past few years, the chef from Sarasota, FL has been establishing himself as a culinary diehard through his pop-up restaurant, Spice, and his beautiful Instagram feed – @chef_louisrobinson. We hit Louis up shortly after his victory to ask him how he did it, and what’s next.
It was great to have you compete at Chefs Plate 13. How was it competing against Ryan Peters for you? It seemed like a Internet Chef dream come true.
Ryan Peters is a great chef! I have followed him for a while, and I am always impressed by his commitment to technique and his passion for the craft. What I thought was really exciting about the competition was that our menus were kind of polar opposites. His was very classical French, showcasing some very impressive techniques, while mine was a bit more outlandish, pairing a lot of bold flavors and free flowing presentations. I think this dramatic contrast in styles made for a really fun contest.
Your food is very Caribbean forward, can you tell us where that inspiration comes from? Are there any other influences you draw from in your food?
Yes, I cook modern Caribbean, and also have some Latin influence in my food as well. I really want to give a voice to this cuisine as its often overlooked in the fine dining arenas. I grew up in Northern California, and as a teenager, my first cooking job was at a Mexican restaurant, and at that age my friends and I used to almost live off taco trucks, which were phenomenal in Oakland and San Francisco. I think this is where my passion for spicy, bold flavors began.
Later I spent time traveling in Jamaica, where my wife is originally from. The bright spicy flavors of the islands really excited me! I could eat curry chicken and rice almost every day, I enjoy it that much. When I traveled to the island, I would spend time in the markets, watch the locals cook, etc. and I picked up the basic building blocks for the cuisine. Today I add a modern spin to those same building blocks try to give that cuisine a spotlight in the culinary scene. I also draw inspiration from other chefs. I have tons of chef friends all over and we constantly push each other and inspire one another. As far as the type of food I cook, Enrique Olvera and Jason Howard are two chefs that have really inspired me, they have taken their cuisines (Mexican and Caribbean) to the next level. Keep an eye out for a collaboration with me and Jason Howard. We have talked, and would really enjoy doing an event together, if schedules and locations permit.
What would you say is your mission with food? You’ve expressed many times that you enjoy executing a dish with only a few ingredients, why do you feel that is important?
My mission with food is simple: to make people happy. I think as chefs we have to always remember that even though we may get a little recognition, the person who is really important is the person sitting at the table eating our food. It helps keep things in perspective. Humility is important, to me anyways! As far as building a dish with only a few ingredients, yes I think that is important. I believe that every ingredient should shine in a dish, and the marriage between them should be clean, concise, and easily discernible. I think there is a magical harmony when there are 4-5 components on a dish.
Now, granted there may be a significant amount of work that goes into each one of those components before they ever hit the dish, but keeping a dish simple, can actually have somewhat of an opposite effect on the final outcome. I call it “complex simplicity.” Its like a beautiful juxtaposition, the dish seems simple in its composition, not overly complicated, the plate not crowded with extra ingredients, and yet the flavor is complex. Each ingredient is present, each ingredient has its own flavor, but there is almost an extra flavor that is tasted which is not listed in the description. It’s the flavor of everything eaten together, and the subsequent reaction that ensues on the pallet. How we perceive flavor and taste is actually a pretty deep subject if you stop to think about it.
“I believe in treating people with love and respect, doing everything with excellence, and staying in a place of peace and composure.”
You’ve got a great following on social media. How do young chefs with no exposure get to that level without having their own restaurant?
Don’t just be a chef, be a photographer! Social media is all about images, and you should do your work a favor by learning to take a good photo. I’m somewhat of an artistic person, and I’ve always enjoyed photography, so it kind of came naturally to me. Also, something in me just wasn’t satisfied putting a picture of my food online if it didn’t look good. If you take time and effort to make your food beautiful, it only seems fitting that the picture of it should be equally beautiful. I’m not saying you need to buy a bunch of expensive photography equipment. I just use a camera and a window with natural light. But I know of at least two very popular chefs on social media that just use their iPhones and their pictures look amazing. So just research it a little bit and put some effort into it. It will help your food get noticed. Also, be sure to use some bright colors in your presentation, and then, maybe the most important thing, be sure to tag @ChefsRoll and use #Chefsroll and #Rollwithus 😉
We all want to know, do you have any plans to open a brick and mortar? If not what holds you back from that?
I have been thinking a lot about it recently. However: God, church and family are very important to me, and have to come first. So when I do open a restaurant, it needs to be something that adds to my life and doesn’t take away. I know that may sound funny to some people reading this, but there are a lot of chefs out there that have ruined relationships and had very hard times because the restaurant consumed their whole lives. By the grace of God, I choose not to make that mistake. There has to be a proper balance, and when I come to understand how to have that balance – and still produce the top tier cuisine that I would insist on maintaining – that’s when you may see me open a brick and motor. But for now I am very happy with the pop-ups I’m doing.
Tell us a little bit more about your pop-up restaurant.
The name of my pop-up restaurant is Spice. The name reflects the type of bright flavors I like to use in my food. I run the back of house, and my beautiful wife Joan runs the front of house. We make a good team. We do a different theme for every dinner, and in two years, I have never repeated a menu, which I think adds a bit of exclusivity to my dinners; knowing that this is the only chance someone will have to try that menu. We try to keep things fun and interesting for our guests. We have done Caribbean night, a Latin night, a coffee pairing dinner, and a dinner with chili peppers on every course just to name a few of the themes.
The next menu we are doing is all seafood, combining Latin and Caribbean flavors with our amazing Florida seafood. Currently our pop-up is located in Sarasota FL, but we are looking for opportunities to take the show on the road. So if anyone is reading this, and you would like to open your door for us to come cook in your town, let us know! If anyone is interested in coming to one of my events, the next one is happening on April 17th, and tickets can always be purchased on SpiceFlorida.com/Events
Your career started in restaurants. Now that you’re a private and pop-up chef, do you ever miss working the traditional line?
Not really, I keep myself cooking all the time, and do events often with awesome chefs from the area that come and help me, so I still remain very active in the culinary world. I do think it takes a little bit of extra work getting recognition as a pop-up chef, when people can’t just walk into your restaurant any day of the week, but hey I knew that when I started this!
As someone who has worked side by side with you, your approach to cooking, how you treat the folks that work for you, and your attitude seems very composed. You like to have fun in a kitchen. How does the way you handle things affect the people that work for you and yourself?
Well, I take my convictions into the kitchen with me. I believe in treating people with love and respect, doing everything with excellence, and staying in a place of peace and composure. If I can’t do that while working in the kitchen, then I probably should find another occupation! For me personally, being stressed out, full of anxiety, anger, or frustration will only lead to mistakes. I work much better when I am at rest, so thats just how I choose to stay. I also really value the people working along side of me. I’ve had people drive for hours just to come help me in the kitchen, there is no excuse for disrespecting someone who has honored you in that way. Also, I believe in asking my fellow chefs for help. I don’t know everything. And remember, every time we do a pop-up, these dishes have never been done before. I may have the overall vision, but oftentimes one of my fellow chefs will help me really nail down a dish and have it come out perfect. I think when you treat people well, and ask for their input, you always get much more out of them. And ultimately, if we all add our talents together, we will have something beautiful as a result. And of course you gotta have fun in the kitchen, its what we like to do right?
Why wouldn’t we have fun?
You can follow Louis on Instagram to see more of his amazing dishes: @chef_louisrobinson.