The Coastal Breeze News is proud to present Chef’s Corner, a gastronomical column that offers readers a behind-the-scenes look at Marco Island’s favorite restaurants. Each month I visit a different local eatery to get the lowdown on signature dishes, recipes and the chefs who make it possible.
For the second stop along my culinary “tour de Marco Island” I visited Verdi’s American Bistro. There I met with 26-year-old Executive Chef Joey SanJuan.
Verdi’s, for the uninitiated, is an American cuisine restaurant that has been serving islanders since 1998. Their signature dishes include the New Zealand Rack of Lamb, Pork Prime Rib, and Chilean Sea Bass, which is pan seared with a hoisin sauce glaze, sautéed spinach, fingerling potatoes, and a tomato concasse.
Executive Chef Joey SanJuan was born and raised in Miami, Florida. If you think 26 seems young to be in his position, you’re right. Joey got his start in the culinary arts after enrolling in a vocational high school when he was just 14.
“At the time I was just a lazy kid. I was smart but I was lazy,” he said. “So I saw culinary as an easy way to eat all day and hang around girls and not really do much. But when I started the culinary academy, I had a natural talent for it.”
At the age of 17, Joey became the youngest person to be accepted to the Culinary Institute of America, one of the world’s top culinary schools. Joey has since worked at a variety of culinary and hospitality-driven establishments.
“I’ve worked with so many talented chefs,” Joey said. “I’ve been fortunate to learn their techniques or their secrets.”
Joey began his career at Verdi’s as a sous-chef. He worked here for a few years before taking some time off to travel the United States. During his cross-country trip, he worked with chefs in New York and Texas. Joey recently returned to Verdi’s, this time as the executive chef.
“Everything at Verdi’s is made from scratch. Everything. The desserts, the sauces, every component that is on that plate, I make it from scratch,” he said.
As for his own personal cooking style, Joey says that while he was trained in French cuisine, he considers fusion to be more up his alley. He says that his go-to meal is a fatty rib eye steak with a creamy risotto.
“You would be surprised how many people don’t know how to make a proper risotto. It’s one of those things that sounds easy, but it’s always difficult to execute it perfectly.”
As a home chef myself, I was curious to see what advice Joey had for people interested in learning how to cook better. He told me that it’s important to keep a sharp knife.
“I mean it sounds really redundant, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t have sharp knives,” Joey said.
Verdi’s American Bistro is located at 241 N Collier Blvd, Marco Island. For information visit www.verdisbistro.com or call 239-394-5533.
Below is Joey’s recipe for the perfect Alaskan King Salmon, served over risotto and baby kale and drizzled with a lemon butter sauce.
Samantha Husted is a local writer, photographer, and avid food eater. She enjoys the simple things in life, like playing with dogs and eating burritos. Samantha has worked as a staff writer for the Coastal Breeze News for over two years.