It takes one to know one. This old adage has been interpreted many ways throughout the span of humanity, but in this case it fits like a glove – or like Jimmy Lebron in the kitchen of new Mid-Beach favorite, 27 Restaurant.
The new neighboring addition to Broken Shaker at the Freehand is a renovated 1930s colorful Florida home, complete with a second floor sun-room and bar, multiple balconies, and many intricate ornaments paying homage to the homier, simpler days of South Beach. Perhaps this is why it has been the talk of town since it opened its doors late last year.
But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Earlier in February, both the restaurant and neighboring sister craft cocktail oasis wonderland, Bar Lab’s Broken Shaker, were forced to shut down due to some permitting issues. The news came hand-in-hand with the resignation of chef Jamie Seyba. It seemed as though the entire city resonated through a conjoined gasp as it held its breath waiting to hear the outcome of the beloved institution.
Well, every cloud has a silver lining, and for Bar Lab’s Elad Zvi and Gabriel Orta it came in the form of a dedicated and passionate Miami-born Puerto Rican who – just as they had once done – proved himself by working his way up from busser at the Shaker.
“I showed them from day one that I can bust my ass and that I was going to give them everything in me, but they’re hard workers too and they recognized that in me,” Lebron said. “They’ve also come up from nothing, and they know what it is to work hard when you want something, and I showed them that I really wanted it.”
Lebron is as Miami as it gets. The self-taught chef grew up in Cutler Ridge and made his way up through Goulds and Coral Gables before making the beach his home for the past 7 years “I’m a beach bum, when I’m not working, I’m skateboarding or paddle boarding, or watching the sunrise at the beach – I know it sounds corny, but I’m a saltwater baby.”
Lebron ran a personal business after graduating from FIU’s business school, then he embarked on a journey to find his true passion; cooking. He recounted the way he remembered his grandmother’s home cooking with admiration. Once the light bulb went on, he took to the books to learn as much as he could, practicing recipes daily. “I would cook every day,” he remembers. From there he got a job as a kitchen prep cook at health-forward Canyon Ranch, where he developed a thorough understanding of ingredients and nutrition. He soon became the chef de partis, but during low season decided to pick up a shift as a busser at the Shaker to “learn front of the house and eventually open up my own restaurant.” This was exactly a year ago, and today he runs the kitchen at one of the most popular restaurants in town.
Since Lebron had some say in the original menu, taking over the reins happened naturally. He continues to explore and expand on how 27 is redefining Miami’s cuisine. “Growing up, with all the friends I had and just going to their homes … the mix of people in Miami goes well with the food we provide here, it’s what it is,” he said. “Diversity, thats why I love it here. It was meant to be, because thats the type of cooking I do and thats Miami in a nutshell.”
And how does he accomplish this in the kitchen? ”I kind of take my background and mix it up a bit. Like with the Jewish dishes for example; the falafel is my recipe and I switched it up a bit by adding Puerto Rican sofrito in a traditional Israeli recipe. People love it, they say its the best falafel they’ve had.” Some new dishes to look forward to in the upcoming menu are a Peruvian octopus a la huancaina, a goat curry with rice and pigeon peas, and the Jamaican favorite staple, roti.
The young chef continues to learn as well, thanks in part to his new sous chef Sasha Ullman, who is apparently the queen of all things vegetables, and who has guided him with some of the rarer turnips they’ve received in their Farm-to-Kitchen locally grown bounty.
But if there’s one ingredient the chef knows well, that’s never missing from any of his dishes, is that same one that the critic tastes when he eats the Ratatouille in the foodie cartoon favorite: “The feeling of nostalgia really is the one ingredient I want to add to my food always,” he shares. “If you eat it and say ‘man that reminds me of something my mom or my grandma would make,’ then I did the job right.”
Jimmy Lebron continues to garner high accolades for 27 Restaurant at The Freehand as one of the best new dining destinations in town, and it is because of his hard work, local roots and passion that he is the perfect fit for the role.