Before overseeing COYA's Pisco Bar, Maria was living in Maui, Hawaii. Unable to ignore her growing culinary curiosity, Maria decided the only way to discover her place in the food industry was to work in a restaurant. She headed to her favorite restaurant, Mala Ocean Tavern, and asked if she could work for free. “I wanted to see if I would like to work in the kitchen and just everything I could."
The restaurant offered Maria a paid, entry-level position and soon she was learning basic prep. Executive Chef Ben Klein also quickly recognized her passion. “Chef took me under his wing and he taught me how to do everything from sausage, meat, whole fish and even invoices.” About a year later, Chef Klein left to open a new restaurant in San Francisco. Although Maria was invited to join the new team, she questioned whether the kitchen was the place for her and decided to move to New York where she would pursue her Masters in Food Studies at New York University.
As a student, Maria tended bar at night in renowned restaurants such as Buddakhan, La Mar and Má Pêche. “Working at Má Pêche was a great experience because they are really craft driven and use so many ingredients.” At the same time, she interned with Saveur Magazine to hone her food writing and photography skills. “ldquo;Because of my history in Hawaii, they sent me to write a story about Maui.” It was also during this time that Maria met a Food Network Historian which led her to a position as a research assistant for shows like Iron Chef.
After completing one season as an intern, Food Network decided to hire Maria for three more seasons. A dream job for someone like Maria who wanted to learn as much about food as is humanly possible. The position required her to research Iron Chef’s secret ingredients and write a detailed report, sometimes 6 or more pages. The reports were provided to the show’s featured chefs so they would be educated on every detail from the origins to how it should be paired.
Coincidentally, a friend had just returned from London and informed Maria that COYA was planning to open in Miami. “My friend lived in Miami and spoke about the growing restaurant scene there. It was a natural fit.
After moving to Miami last year, Maria now describes COYA as home. “What really makes me happy is engaging with the guests here and learning what they like. We put a lot of effort into every single detail , but in the end it is about the experience and connecting with the guest in a genuine way… and I think our guests believe that and that is why we have so many regulars here at COYA. They are like family.”
COYA Restaurant and Pisco Bar is located at 999 Brickell Avenue and opens daily at 12PM.