First seen in New Times Broward palm Beach
Chef Michael Bennett is a native Floridian and a passionate chef who truly believes in cooking creatively and making a meal memorable for his guests.
Chef Bennett loves his work, and it shows. Since 2008, he’s manned the helm of Bimini Boatyard, one of Fort Lauderdale’s most enduring and iconic restaurants. Bennett has brought the sheer joy of cooking to the restaurant’s menu. We spoke with Bennett about cooking and family.
Clean Plate Charlie: Fort Lauderdale, while having some very good restaurants, seems like a thousand miles away in attitude from Miami restaurants. Why do you think that is?
Chef Michael Bennett: It’s a business and a down-home attitude here in Fort Lauderdale. Here, it’s let’s do business and go home and have a family life. In Miami, it’s kind of like, “I need the P.R.; I need the publicity,” and I’ve never been that way.
Bimini Boatyard is a large restaurant. How many people can you seat?
We have like 460. We added another 80 to 100 seats on the small deck we built last year. You know, they renovated this entire place last year in like 24 hours. I went on vacation for a week, and when I came back, everything was brand new — the dining room, the bathrooms, everything. They worked nonstop.
What is the tourist-to-local ratio?
A lot, but at lunchtime, we get all locals. Everybody is slowing down after season; we’re getting crazed. We broke a record last year. I don’t know what everyone else is doing, but we’re doing very well. We’re doing phenomenal. Business is so busy, I need another kitchen. We’re getting ready to really bust it loose next year. We have the cruise ships and the conventions. The concierges from the hotels or the convention center will send us their big parties of 20-plus. You stay here until about 1:30 and I’ll swap you paychecks if I don’t get a party of at least 20 people here today. We may not have a private room for them, but we’ll accommodate them.
You worked at Solo on the Bay in Miami Beach — that must have been crazy.
I used to do the nightclub after the restaurant from midnight to 5 a.m. It was crazy. There were thousands of people there every weekend. You should have seen the sheer numbers of people we had. We packed them in. Memorial Day 2005, I had 2,500 people walk through that place in one night. That was the night Beyoncé walked in.
Lil Wayne was there one night, and there were 800 people waiting outside to get in.
Where are you from?
I was born at Broward General, and so was my oldest daughter. I was the first child born in Sunrise. My dad was in the marine business. My grandfather owned the marina next door to Bimini Boatyard. My father and uncle used to race boats by the old Marine stadium in Key Biscayne. My father owned a marina in Tampa, but I moved back to Fort Lauderdale because Tampa was too slow for me.
Before I moved back to Fort Lauderdale, I opened up a few restaurants and redid a Radisson in St. Petersburg, right next door to QVC. Susan Lucci and Lauren Hutton used to be my best customers. Lauren Hutton used to come in every day and ask why I can’t make anything healthier.
Jack LaLanne also used to come in all the time.
Please tell me he was a nice guy.
The guy was a pistol. It didn’t matter how old he was. His mind was as sharp as when he was doing acrobatics in Miami. He used to come in for only broccoli and egg whites every day. He did it the right way.
So do you eat healthy?
I’m a starch-aholic. Because I’m so busy, I only eat once a day, but starch gives me energy. I eat potatoes, pasta, and bread. I can’t live without it. I don’t eat meat that much because it isn’t important to me any more. Although I cheat. I eat a hamburger once a week. That’s my guilty pleasure. And it’s not because I’m getting old, although I am, but I’ve been getting heartburn all my life, and now because I don’t eat meat, I don’t.
What do you think about chefs who look down on vegetarians?
Why would they say that to a customer? We’re here to provide a service. If I don’t have it in the kitchen, I can’t give it to you, but if I have it — you got it. This business is hospitality. If you have a problem with that, you should be writing a cookbook or teaching a class. If you’re going to be a chef, you’ve got to be a host.
That’s why this place is so popular. Nobody cooks seafood at home. People rarely even cook. Including my daughters. They don’t cook, but they love to eat at my restaurant because nobody cooks what they like the way Dad does.
Did you cook for your daughters?
When they were young, I worked 70 to 80 hours a week. I wasn’t home a lot, but they called me up every night to bring something home for dinner. And it was never one dish; it was always something different for each girl. And now that they’re out of the house, it’s like, “What am I going to do? I hate everything because Dad’s not making it.”
I spoiled them so much with the food.
Are they in school?
One’s going to University of South Florida, and one’s going to Florida State. They’re great kids.
Do they want to go into the business?
I don’t think so. They’re too smart.
By Laine Doss, M
Yesterday, we featured part 1 of our interview with Bimini Boatyard’s chef Michael Bennett. If you missed it, you can read it here. In part 2, chef Bennett talks about living in the Caribbean and what it’s like to serve a ton of seafood in one weekend.
Clean Plate Charlie: You’ve written two cookbooks. Have you ever taught cooking?
Chef Michael Bennett: Yeah, I’ve taught. I taught kids at my daughters’ school. It was a healthy-cooking class. I would show them that you can go to the store and buy a bag of chips that are healthy. We did healthy pastas. We did healthy techniques. This is before chefs were all over TV. But you could see that these kids really loved cooking. My class grew from 15 to 30 kids. Kids were sneaking into the class.
When was there a shift that made cooking cool?
I think it’s all Bravo Network’s fault. I hate Top Chef, but my wife loves it. That and that show where the guy yells a lot..
Yes. What an idiot. Nobody in this industry would treat their people that way. Nobody. But these shows did good things, because kids want to be in this industry now.
You lived in Tortola for a while. Tell us about it.
I’ll tell you why I dream about Tortola every night. (shows me a picture.) Look at the water. The water is crystal blue. I had to cross the channel to get to my restaurant every day. You could see sea turtles, whales, dolphins. The blue is an amazing blue.
What was everyday life like there?
It was the British Virgin Islands. I had a work permit, but my daughters had to go to school online through the Miami-Dade Public Schools system. It took three months to get electricity in my house. We take things for granted here — like groceries, internet service. It was eight months before we got telephone service. I had to take my daughters downtown every day to get internet service. It became a real hassle.
When you go to the Caribbean, there’s no Publix, no Kmart, no Burger King. It’s great for a week, but try to do it for a year. When I went to St. Thomas and ate a Big Mac, it was like heaven to me — because I couldn’t get one in Tortola. When you don’t have these little conveniences, you really miss it.
And my kids were so citified, the couldn’t stand it, because we lived next door to Aventura Mall before we moved, and suddenly there wasn’t a mall for hundreds of miles.
It must have been torture for two teenaged girls. Any good stories?
One time at my restaurant, we had a giant setup for the Super Bowl. We had 100 to 150 people at the bar. At 7:30, the game started [there’s an hour difference], and the entire island went black because everyone flipped on their TV at the same time. Luckily, someone had a laptop, and 150 people gathered around the laptop to watch the game.
So how did you get from Tortola to Bimini Boatyard?
My family and I decided to move back to Florida. I got back, I’m holed up in my hotel room waiting for my furniture to arrive. It takes about three weeks. I’m bored, so I walk into Bimini Boatyard. I figure Bimini Boatyard — Caribbean. Sounds good. I talk to the general manager, and I’m working there the next week. It was a natural fit.
I thought about doing dishes from the French Caribbean, the Spanish Caribbean. Like the Martinique grouper and the scallops.
You can’t get good scallops retail.
I know. I get them in specially. I have them specially dry-packed.
Bimini Boatyard is a big seafood house, obviously.
We do so much seafood. At the last Boat Show, we sold over a ton of seafood. We sold 2,600 pounds of seafood. Oysters, snapper, yellowtail, dolphin, lobster. I was buying and cooking five cases of Florida lobster tail a day. Over 100 pounds of dolphin a day. It was crazy. I didn’t cut less than 200 pounds of fish a day during that weekend.
What’s next for chef Michael Bennett?
I plan on writing more. I wrote my cookbooks on my deck in Tortola. It was a great experience. I’m also making cooking videos directly from the balcony of my home in Hollywood. It’s an amazing view. It’s a beautiful vista.
Recipe from chef Michael Bennett cookbook:
In the Land of Misfits, Pirates and Cooks.
A Recipe From Bimini Boatyard’s Chef Michael Bennett
By Laine Doss,
Chef Michael Bennett and wife serve up dishes at the Kampong in Coconut Grove
Bimini Boatyard’s Chef Michael Bennett has a joy for both cooking and life.
In our recent interview with Chef Bennett, we learned about his passion for bringing the flavors of the Caribbean home to south Florida. If you missed the interview, you can read it here and here.
Clean Plate Charlie is happy to share Chef Michael’s Caribbean-inspired take on the classic Korean kimchi.
• 12 oz. Green mango
• 1 head napa cabbage, shredded
• 4 oz. Red onion, julienne
• 2 oz. Red bell pepper, julienne
• 1 oz. Garlic, sliced thinly
• 3 oz. Carrot, julienne
• 2 oz. Pineapple, julienne
• 3 tbs. Cilantro, chopped
• 1 oz. Sriracha sauce, or more if you like
• 1 oz. Sesame oil
• 2 oz. Salt
• 1 oz. Ginger, crushed finely
• 4 oz. Scallions, sliced thinly on a bias
Place all veggies in a large bowl and toss roughly.
Shake in the salt and drizzle with the sriracha sauce and oil.
Toss Roughly again.
Place in the refrigerator for three days, Tossing the ingredients once a day.
Remove the slaw/salad and drain well.
Use on plates as garnish or as a spicy Salad accompaniment.