Sugarcane Raw Bar and Grill and Bocce Bar: “Chef Talks” with Chef Timon Balloo

“ I remember when” seems to be a refrain many a Miamian shares when asked about changes to Miami.  Be it the building boom in the early 2000’s when the “crane “, (and I don’t mean the bird), was considered the state bird, to the emerging of hipster neighborhoods like Wynwood and Sunset Harbor, where abandoned warehouses and auto body shops stood, to the explosion of unique and exciting food concepts and culinary niches.

Chef Timon Balloo is no exception, having burst upon the culinary scene in the mid-2000's with the opening of Sugarcane Raw Bar and Grill, a three-kitchen concept catering to the popular and very social Miami trend of sharing tastes and dishes.  

Opened in late 2009 in Midtown, a virtual oasis of high rise condos and rentals, a super center anchored by Target and a bunch of empty retail storefronts.  

The real estate bubble burst around that year, leaving the condos mostly empty, save a few rental tenants, and the shiny new storefronts unoccupied.   Even the shopping center was affected losing both major retailers, Linens N Things and Circuit City to bankruptcy.

Sugarcane not only survived, but flourished…bringing scores of young and not so young crowds to savor Chef Timon’s mixture of Asian, Caribbean and South American cuisines.  

Sugarcane was honored by being named a nominee and semifinalist for the coveted James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant in 2011. 

Much has been written about Sugarcane’s wonderful variety of dishes labeled on the menu under headings Hot, Raw and Robata Grill. On my recent visit, it was a bit nippy to dine outside, so I sat in the high ceilinged indoor dining area under the wide paddle bamboo fans and in full view of the open kitchens…another earmark of Chef Timon.   His Bacon Wrapped Dates, Duck and Waffles, Bone Marrow, Sushi rolls, and Flat Iron Steak seemed to find their way onto almost every order that passed me.

Chef Balloo, who has been a solid supporter of Miami and of it's food scene, and can be seen many a day or night participating in a variety of local charitable events ( he is currently Restaurant Chair for the Share Our Strength No Kid Hungry benefit on July 17th),  grew up with parents of Chinese and Trinidadian descent, studied culinary at Johnson & Wales University and remembers the Miami food scene in the early 1990’s. When he says the first Food Renaissance began with the likes of Douglas Rodriquez, Norm Van Aken, and Michelle Bernstein…also nicknamed the “Mango Gang”.  Unique uses of Latino spices and cuisine was embraced by both locals and visitors and so began the progression away from the “expense account” restaurants.

As we like to do on MIAbites, I spent a little time with Chef Timon to talk about stuff other than his popular menu items:

MIAbites : If you weren’t a Chef, what would you be?

Chef Timon:  Probably a Stockbroker or something to do with the stock market.

MIAbites:  What ingredient could you not live without when you cook?

Chef:  White soy sauce…milder than regular soy and a lighter flavor, oh and Saba, a sweet, syrupy sauce made from reduction of grapes.

MIAbites:  Reality Food Shows?  Love’ em or Hate ‘em? 

Chef:  Hmmmm….some feel like crazy soap operas, but others are educational and pioneering, like Anthony Bourdain’s, “Parts Unknown”.  Overall good…anything that makes the food world accessible to everyone is important.

MIAbites: What is the last dish you cooked for yourself…for family or friends?

Chef:  My wife got a crockpot for Christmas, so I prepared a slow cooked roasted pork shoulder with a Mexican mole sauce.   

MIAbites: Last question…. Food trends for 2014? 

Chef:  In Miami, trends can be very seasonal and cultural….we have seen a lot of the “nose to tail” in past years…using as much of the animal as possible to avoid waste.

I see a trend for 2014 towards, “ root to leaf”, using the entire vegetable or fruit.  Continuation of greens like kale, and Brussels sprouts on menus or added.

MIAbites:  Any general thoughts about the food industry?

Chef:  Food has become the new form of entertainment…people are looking not only for good meal but also for an entertaining and unique concept and experience.  Both Miami residents and visitors love to is a very Miami thing to offer small plates and lots of sharing options.  

MIAbites:  Is that why you opened Bocce Bar almost right next door?

Chef: Yes!  Italians are very social and love sharing, so I felt their food should be shared, so I took the Sugarcane concept of sharing to Bocce offering plates like lamb and goat cheese meatballs, fried artichokes, creamy polenta with mushrooms and truffles and pastas that all can be shared.   And to add to the entertainment factor, I added a regulation bocce court right at the entrance.  Our staff loves to explain how the game is played.

We also offer 11@11 on Saturday nights….11 specialty pizzas at 11 pm…once they are gone, we are done.  Been a lot of fun…using fresh and local ingredients and creating unique combinations.

MIAbites:  I don’t know how to play bocce…will you consider offering organized lessons a couple nights  a week?  Maybe an organized a Bowling League?

Chef:  Great idea!  Stay tuned….

Sugarcane Raw Bar and Grill                                         

3252 NE First Ave.                                                            

Miami, FL 33137                                                                  

(786) 369-0353                                                

Bocce Bar

3252 NE First Ave #107

Miami, FL 33137

786) 245-6211   

And just in case you are STILL undecided about where to go for Mother's Day, both Sugarcane and Bocce are open for brunch and dinner and Bocce Bar even has a special $34 pp buffet brunch menu with unlimited Prosecco for another $15.  Show Mom some love! 

( Editors Note: Chef Timon is currently Restaurant Chair for Share Our Strength No Kid Hungry benefit on July 17th as featured on MIAbites. )