Chef Demetrio Zavala has his own collection of restaurants but this is his first time working in the corporate world as Shula’s Restaurant Group’s Corporate Culinary Director. He’s used to chef-driven restaurants so working with Shula’s Restaurant Group is a completely different world.
We met up last month when he was in town visiting the Shula’s Steak House in the Westshore District. He’s a busy man so I’m so happy I was able to get the scoop. Y’all won’t believe me when I say he told me he wrote out an entire menu in 30 minutes!
“It’s time to bring the steak house to relevant market. we wanted to improve the food and bring it up to date. The last time they rebranded was maybe 20 years ago so it’s time. The company has been around for 30 years.”
“What we’re doing is changing all the menus. We’re updating everything to a modern take on a steak house. It’s going to be more relevant, more upscale, more positive, and more flavor-forward instead of just serving meat and potatoes. We’re figuring out what we can do to elevate it or which flavor profiles work. For instance, we reworked the Iceberg wedge salad on the menu. We turned the tomato element into a spicy jam and switched the smaller pieces of bacon for lardon with honey, molasses, salt, and Espelette pepper. We drizzle that across the top so you get that sweetness, spiciness, and strangeness from the cheese that balances everything out.”
“We’re changing the scallops by adding Black Tuscan kale with olive oil, fresh red pepper, garlic, lemon, olive oil, a little shaved parmigiana, and candied almonds. You get that sweet, salty, and acidic all mixed together for a healthier element. We’re going to have lighter dishes for our vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free customers. Everything we make from the hash browns to creamed corn is gluten-free. We’re also doing a 1-pound Wagyu meatball stuffed with 8 oz. of mozzarella so when you cut the meat, the cheese oozes out. The Wagyu is braised really low so it’s tender then it’s filled with basil smoke.”
“When I first started, Mr. Freeman asked me “What does a steak house look like in your eyes? What would you like to eat?” Once I thought about it, I reworked the menu in 30 minutes. He tasted it and went from there. When we rewrote it, we thought about going back to everything made from scratch and using classic techniques. Honestly, we’re bringing really robust flavors to the food so instead of just eating, we want to make it more memorable. We want people to ask what’s in their meal and not leaving saying they want more. I know what the foods are but adding the nuances makes the plates more thoughtful.”
“The Shula’s Steak House in Miami Lakes will because the Cuban culture is so dominant. We’re making hash browns with platanos, tostones, and we going to do black beans and rice. We’ll have yucca frita with a mojo aioli; same thing with the fish. We use everything; nothing is thrown in the garbage.”
“I prioritize. My restaurants already have chefs in them so I make calls and I assist them but my focus has been mostly on Shula’s for now. I’m more of an off-hand partner because I started the company with the guys but 99.9% of my time has been with Shula’s. ”
“It’s the perfect time. The restaurant industry is evolving and it’s evolved a lot more than it has in the past 20 years; it’s grown exponentially. Food is always changing from new techniques to new takes on food and if you don’t stay with it, you’ll be left behind. It’s time to change it and come in with some new ideas. People are more open to eating different and trying new things now. People are really looking to health so if you’re able to go to a steak house and still get something healthy, that’s great. ”