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Spotlight On: Chef Timon Balloo

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Spotlight On: Chef Timon Balloo

While other kids were watching cartoons, Executive Chef Timon Balloo was watching PBS’ Yan Can Cook. Coupled with growing up on culture-infused cuisine — a typical household dish included stir-fried Caribbean vegetables with Asian spices — it’s no surprise that Balloo would pursue a career behind the stoves.

After a brief stint working for a credit card processing company, Balloo decided business wasn’t for him. “I needed to follow my passion,” Balloo says, one that found him as a line and prep cook at a local cafe in Weston, Florida. Soon after, he applied and got a job at the Wyndham Resort and Spa in Fort Lauderdale, where he simultaneously enrolled at Johnson & Wales University in the culinary arts program. After working in the $6 million banquets operation, Balloo realized that fine dining was the next step in developing his craft.

It was at Chef Allen’s, the four-diamond/four-star Miami Beach restaurant owned by Allen Susser, that Balloo received his first lesson in restaurant humility. “You were broken down, then built back up,” Balloo explains, “And I gained a new respect for food.” A pioneer in “Floribbean” New World cuisine, Susser’s fast- paced kitchen was the perfect training ground for Balloo, who moved from an Entremetier to Garde Manger, learning creative plate presentations and overseeing the cold food menu.

Through the Johnson & Wales International program, Balloo worked at the Hotel Metropole in Belgium under French Master Chef Dominic Michou. From Entremetier Comis (hot line) to Patisserie Comis, Balloo honed his classical culinary training skills. “The vegetables and animals would often come straight from the farm,” Balloo says. It wasn’t unusual for him and other cooks to have to skin and pluck their next dish.

Returning to the U.S., Balloo met his greatest mentor, Michelle Bernstein, of whom he would become a protégé. Balloo credits Bernstein, a James Beard nominee for Best Female Chef, for perfecting his palate and teaching him the subtle nuances of flavor. “She also taught me to cook from my heart,” Balloo admits and, as a Junior Sous Chef at the five-star AZUL in Miami at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, he tapped into his Asian- Caribbean roots as never before.

Balloo then rode the wave of the Spanish culinary revolution at La Broche in Miami. Here, the trend departed from the traditional French focus on texture and flavors to incorporate cutting-edge chemistry and combine ingredients in new and unusual ways. The Romaine Lettuce Sorbet Salad, for example, mixed ice and gelatin with fresh produce. Foams and spuma were becoming mainstream in restaurants and, under Chef Angel Palacios (a 2003 Food and Wine Best New Chef winner), La Broche’s team, including Balloo, pushed culinary boundaries.

In 2007, Balloo joined Amir Ben-Zion’s Domo Japones in Miami’s Design District for another challenge in Japanese cuisine. Awarded three stars by The Miami Herald and voted Best Japanese 2008 by The Miami New Times, Balloo and Nobu Atlantis’ Naohiro Higuchi contributed to the restaurant’s buzzing success through the creation of progressive dishes and the use of rare ingredients. It was a final reinforcement of his technical skills and creative culinary spirit before he found himself a home at SUGARCANE raw bar grill, the latest brainchild of the creators of SUSHISAMBA.

As the Executive Chef of SUGARCANE Raw Bar & Grill, Timon Balloo brings a rich & colorful past to new concepts along with a zeal and vivacity that manifest themselves in the energy of his team and in the flavors of his dishes. With Balloo’s direction, SUGARCANE collected a three-star review from The Miami Herald and a favorable review in The Miami New Times, in addition to 'Best New Restaurant' accolades from Miami New Times; 'Best Restaurant' in Miami New Times’ vote-driven Short Order Awards; Restaurant of the Year, Miami from the 2010 Eater Awards; and was a semifinalist in the James Beard Foundation’s 2011 Best New Restaurant category.

Balloo has even been recognized as 'Best Up-and-Coming Chef' in The Miami New Times’ Short Order Awards and 'Chef of the Year, Miami' from the Eater Awards 2010, as well as being named a nominee in Food & Wine’s 'The People’s Best New Chef' competition of 2011. On his inspired menu of robata, hot bar and raw bar items at SUGARCANE, guests will find conceptual dishes such as Bacon Wrapped Dates with linguiça and manchego; Thin Crust Flatbread with cured tuna, tobiko and sour cream; and Kobe Beef Sliders with tonkatsu and quail egg.

“What I love about SUGARCANE raw bar grill is that it really succeeds in capturing Miami’s laid-back nature and South America’s spirit — while playing into the world’s culinary creativity,” explains Balloo. “Dishes are made to be shared and enjoyed ‘in the moment,’ but they put forward a mix of color and flavor that will leave a lasting memory.”