Chef Jeff McInnis

Jeff McInnis


Jeffrey McInnis was born to either fish or cook, and to this day, he would gladly do either. Born in Niceville, Florida (and yes, that is a real city in the Florida panhandle) in 1978, where waterfront property was not yet reserved for simply the elite, he was surrounded by the magic of the ocean. He grew up on fishing boats, bringing in only the freshest catch and by 16, he was peeling shrimp, cleaning squid, cutting fish and cooking on the line at The Marina Cafe.

His passion for fresh local food was further inspired by his frequent trips and long southern summers spent with both sets of grandparents on their working Alabama farms. The newly coined restaurant term “farm to table” was more than an expression, but a reality for McInnis as a child. His grandparents only ate what they raised, from milking their own dairy cows and churning butter, to making their own blackberry jelly preserves from fresh picks of the day.

After high school, McInnis left the Florida panhandle behind to pursue his dream of perfecting his passion and attended culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, South Carolina. But after a lifetime of southern food and determined to avoid being “type-cast” for only a single style cuisine, McInnis set off to travel the rest of the country and world after graduating from culinary school. His goal was to not only to learn about preparing a new food, but to experience the culture that provides the very heart and soul and the freshness of that cuisine.

He began his travels as Sous Chef at Asolare, a Caribbean-Asian restaurant in St. John,Virgin Islands. Next, in San Fransisco, McInnis worked at a fine dining Asian-French restaurant, Azie. While there, he learned Japanese cuisine from the sushi chefs, while at the same time polishing his french techniques. From San Francisco, McInnis moved to rural Virginia, where he worked at Keswick Hall, an exclusive 5-star hotel owned by the Orient Express.

In 2004, McInnis moved back to Florida and worked with famed Chef Norman Van Aken at Norman’s in Miami. In 2006, he became Chef de Cuisine of The DiLido Beach Club at the Ritz Carlton. While there, McInnis traveled to North Africa and Europe where he studied other cultures’ history, techniques and food and incorporated these experiences into creating a Southern Mediterranean and North African-inspired menu.

Shortly thereafter, McInnis cooked his way into the finals of the popular television show, Top Chef, putting McInnis and his talent front and center on a national stage. In 2010, McInnis became the Executive Chef for the Miami based restaurant, gigi. Utilizing his signature culinary style, McInnis developed a highly acclaimed menu, catapulting gigi into the limelight as one of Miami’s most popular new restaurants. Among other awards and honors Jeff was nominated Peoples Choice Best New Chef, Food and Wine Magazine 2011.

With the tremendous success of gigi and more than twenty years of embracing and absorbing cuisines as a student of food, McInnis is returning to his true culinary roots and bringing a little taste of the south to Miami Beach. In March of 2011, McInnis left Gigi to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a chef/ partner for a new Miami concept. Jeff now orchestrates flavors of southern cuisine with modern techniques Yardbird Southern Table and Bar, bringing the “South” back to South Florida.

Easy Fried Chicken

16 pieces of chicken (2 whole chickens cut into 8 pieces)

1¼ quarts water
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup coarse salt
1¼ quarts ice water

Spice Rub for Brine:
5 tablespoons paprika
5 tablespoons cayenne
1 tablespoons black pepper
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
2 tablespoons granulated onion

Flour for Breading:
1¼ cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
5 teaspoons granulated onion
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne
1½ teaspoons black pepper
shortening for frying

Put water, sugar, salt and spices in a pot and bring to simmer over medium heat for 5-6 minutes. Whisk to ensure all are dissolved. Remove from heat and combine with ice water to chill. Rinse the chicken pieces and add to the bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 12-36 hours.

Combine paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne and flour to create seasoned flour mixture. Mix well.

Remove the chicken from the brine and drain.

Dredge chicken through the seasoned flour mixture.

In a cast iron skillet, melt shortening over low heat. When oil reaches 325°F, arrange chicken pieces in a pan, skin side down and cover. After 8 minutes, remove the cover. Adjust the heat level if needed, so oil bubbles at a consistent pace, not too fast and not too slow. After six more minutes, turn the pieces over. The chicken is ready to be turned if it moves easily. Only turn the chicken once and cook uncovered for 6-8 more minutes. Larger breasts and thighs will take the full time to cook while smaller drumsticks and wings can be turned after 5 minutes and then fried another 5. Always check internal temperatures with a meat thermometer for a temperature of 165°F to insure safe cooking.

Remove the fried chicken to a wire rack and set over a cookie sheet. Let sit for 5 minutes and serve.

Yields 4 Very Hungry Big Guys or 8 Little Ladies

Recipe compliments of Jeff McInnis.

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