SOBEWFF® 2017 — The Very Best Burger Award Participants Preview

February 16, 2017 | Joe Gorgone

The Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival Heineken Light Burger Bash presented by Schweid & Sons hosted by Rachael Ray is almost here. Earlier this week we introduced you to our esteemed panel of judges for The Very Best Burger Award. Today, let’s take a look at the participants who will be vying for the distinct honor of being named The Very Best Burger!

Let’s Meet Our Participants…

27 Restaurants, Jimmy LeBron

Jimmy LeBron is the Head Chef at 27 Restaurant in Miami. A Miami native, he began his career in cooking at home, practicing technique and recipe testing in his home kitchen. After attending FIU’s business school, LeBron accepting a position as a prep cook at the health-forward Canyon Ranch, where he developed a thorough understanding of fresh ingredients and nutrition. He rose to become the Chef de Partie, and picked up a shift as a busser at the Broken Shaker to familiarize himself with the Front Of House. After ascending the ranks at the Shaker, LeBron went out to become a Sous Chef at the Freehand’s first full service restaurant, 27 Restaurant & Bar. With a focus on a welcoming communal atmosphere and the creative spirit of a modern-day salon, 27 utilizes the freshest local ingredients and highest-quality produce available, including fresh fish, shellfish, choice meats, and local produce – much of it grown in the property’s onsite garden. Responsible for crafting the original menu, as Head Chef he continues to develop dishes that explore the flavor profile of Miami cuisine while incorporating Carribean, South American, and Middle Eastern influences. Jimmy LeBron continues to garner high accolades for 27 Restaurant, including The Miami Times’ “Best Of Miami” award, and hopes to one day open his own restaurant.

American Cut, Marc Forgione

Chef Marc Forgione is the chef/owner of Restaurant Marc Forgione, American Cut and Lobster Press and is the co-owner/partner of Khe-Yo. Chef Forgione began his career at the age of 16, joining his father, Larry Forgione (a culinary legend who revolutionized American-style cooking in the ’70s and ’80s), in the kitchen at An American Place. Forgione opted for a traditional four-year education at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he graduated from the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management. He spent his summers working the line at restaurants such as Above in New York, with acclaimed chef Kazuto Matsusaka. These stints would lay the groundwork for Forgione’s post-collegiate toils, again alongside his father at An American Place and later under Patricia Yeo at AZ. When Yeo and celebrated chef Pino Maffeo opened Pazo, they took Forgione along to serve as sous chef at the short-lived eatery. When Laurent Tourondel set out to develop his flagship, BLT Steak, he recruited Forgione as his sous chef. In an effort to diversify his experience, Forgione left for France, where he secured a series of humble posts under Michel Guerard in Eugenie les Bains and worked at three of the region’s finest restaurants, Le Pres D’Eugenie, Ferme aux Grives and Le Cuisine Minceur. Upon his return to New York, Forgione promptly reunited with Tourondel, who invited the now seasoned chef to serve as chef de cuisine at BLT Prime. Forgione was later named corporate chef for the BLT Restaurant Group, a position that enabled him to expand the BLT brand across the country.

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Bachour Bakery & Bistro, Henry Hane

At the young age of 34, Chef/Partner Henry Han? of the anticipated Bachour Bakery + Bistro posses a professional pedigree that is often unsurpassed. Having worked under internationally renowned chefs in a slew of world-class restaurants, including two Two Michelin Star properties in Europe, the young culinare is set to make waves on Miami’s culinary scene.
Born in Lima, Peru to a Colombian father and Peruvian mother, Chef Han? was brought up in a family where good food was first. With both sides of his ancestry being strong food cultures, and having family with a long history of owning restaurants in Colombia and Costa Rica, food has been deep in his blood for some time.

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Beaker & Gray, Brian Nasajon

A Miami native, Brian Nasajon was born into a family where a love of food and an appreciation of culinary arts were household values. Exposed to global flavors as a young boy, Nasajon’s favorite memories include observing his grandfather’s every move as he expertly grilled asado – a staple of any Uruguayan household. “We had chefs and serious cooks in the family,” says Nasajon of those early years. “Great food was the center of our lives so it became almost instinctual for me as a kid. Later, it seemed obvious that cooking professionally would be my life.”

Be that as it may, he was pursuing a degree in Philosophy at New York University when he embraced kitchen life. Right after graduating, he decided to leave the academic world to begin his true vocation. His first stop: a one-year apprenticeship under acclaimed Joshua Capon at the chef’s wildly popular Lure Fishbar in Manhattan. One week in and Nasajon knew the kitchen was truly where he belonged.

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Black Iron Burger, Jaime Guardiola — presented by Schweid & Sons

Jaime Guardiola Rodriguez is the executive chef and Co-Owner of the popular, and Zagat rated Number 1 “Best Burger Joint” in New York City, Black Iron Burger. A seasoned veteran with over 16 years of experience, and a few culinary prices under his belt such as winning the “Best Tapa” award in the Martin Berasategui & Alcorta Gastronomic contest for “Best Tapa” and wine pairing, Jaime is responsible for coordinating and managing all aspects of ordering supplies, recipe and meal creation, staffing and cooking.

Born and raised in the South of Spain in Seville, Andalucia,  Jaime, picked up his passion for cooking, curiosity, and dreams to travel the world from watching his older brother Pedro work at restaurants everywhere from Spain to Tokyo, to London. Growing up in the 80s in the South of Spain, a career as a cook/Chef was not viewed as a reputable career path, but this didn’t stop him go for his dreams. So, after finishing his primary studies, he enrolled in the prominent Hotel and Restaurant culinary institution, Taberna del Labardero in Seville.

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Bristol’s Burgers, Michael Fiorello

Michael Fiorello is the Culinary Director for The Diplomat Restaurants and Bars. Born and raised in South Florida, Fiorello’s passion for cooking sparked at a young age in his family’s kitchen. While he began his professional life pursuing a career in medicine, Fiorello realized his true calling for the culinary arts, and enrolled the Culinary Institute of America in 2002. Fiorello has worked as the Director of Culinary Operations for the Garces Group in Philadelphia, as well as the Executive Chef of Tom Colicchio’s Crafter Hospitality Operations at 1 Hotel and Homes South Beach. Fiorello joined Howard Wein Hospitality in 2016, where he works collaboratively with Wein to execute the menus of what will be 12 new concepts at The Diplomat.

Burbowl, Angel Benitez

Angel Andres comes from a family of professional Drivers and organizers of motor sports events, racing is in his blood and he has been a Driver since he was just 14 years old. He has managed to harvest several victories and championships throughout his career, and has always represented Venezuela and his family all these years. In 2014 he set himself the goal to open a Burger Joint and that’s how Burbowl started, after a whole year in Research and development they opened the door of the first Burbowl in Usa at Downtown Miami on December 2015 and we will be opening the doors of our second store in February 2017 at Coral Gables.

El Mago de las Fritas, Ortelio Cardenas

The Magician of The Cuban Burger, at 77 years of age is still out there with spatula in hand and a smile on his face because he continues to do exactly what makes him happy. Ortelio “El Mago” after decades and decades and decades in a kitchen, still feels at his best right behind the griddle of his open kitchen restaurant chatting with friends he met today and those he has known for years. This is his secret to producing the food that hugs the heart not just filling a stomach.


EMILY, Matthew & Emily Hyland

Matthew Hyland

Matt was born in Brooklyn, where his parents read him sarcastic quips from Zagat before bed, and he adopted a lifestyle of eating pizza and dumplings that continues to this day. When his family moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, Matt quickly picked up playing lacrosse, which in retrospect was a solid ten years of training to use a pizza peel.

After college in Rhode Island, Matt moved back to New York armed with a computer science degree, a pizza-loving girl on his arm, and a love for food. He enrolled at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) and has been cooking ever since.

Emily Hyland

Aside from what you already know about eponymous Emily and her pizza, she is also a yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa, yin, and restorative yoga. She is highly interested in the therapeutic aspects of the practice and especially enjoys working with beginners, those recovering from injury, and those who seek to integrate their breath into mindful, everyday living. Emily is also a published poet whose work has appeared in the Brooklyn Review, Sixfold, and Stretching Panties. Her most recent manuscript, “The Storming Year,” is based on her experiences as a public school English teacher and instructional coach in NYC. Emily is honored to share this page with such a talented group of people and is amazed by the array of skills, interests, and ambitions of the awesome members of her staff! To learn about private instruction or to visit Emily for class, visit her website at

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Florida International University — presented by Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews

Fooq’s, Bryan Rojas

Colombian Chef, Bryan Rojas, graduated from Johnson and Wales culinary school in 2013, but it was real life experience and mentorships acquired while working amongst San Francisco’s top restaurants that paved the way for Rojas to become the Chef he is today. Working from a young age in the restaurant industry, Rojas excelled while working in notable establishments, such as, the nationally acclaimed restaurant, Farallon; Michelin rated California contemporary restaurant, Quince and Michael Tusk’s celebrated fine dining establishment, Cotogna.

After a couple years in San Franciso, Rojas moved back to Miami, were he proceeded to get his culinary degree while simultaneously working as Sous Chef at popular eatery Gigi. In 2013, Rojas joined Cypress Room, a Genuine Hospitality Group restaurant owned by Michael Schwartz, where he found a mentor and best friend in renowned Pilipino Chef, Roel Alcudia. Rojas worked as Alcudia’s second in command for three years until both joined Miami’s favorite feel-good-food restaurant, Fooq’s. Rojas crafts an eclectic menu that combines owner, David Foulquier’s, Persian and French roots with Chef Bryan Rojas’ South American and understanding of international cuisine.

Garces, Jose Garces

Renowned Latin-American chef Jose Garces translates his rich cultural traditions and culinary vision into personal dining experiences through Garces, the eponymous Philadelphia-based hospitality group. Garces operates more than 15 restaurants across the country, including Amada, Distrito, Tinto, Village Whiskey, Garces Trading Company, JG Domestic, El Jefe, Volv?r, Rural Society, The Olde Bar, Buena Onda and Mercat a la Planxa (in partnership with Sage Hospitality). Garces also operates Garces Events, a full-service catering and event division; the Garces Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to Philadelphia’s underserved immigrant community; and Luna Farm, Chef Garces’ 40-acre farm in Bucks County, PA. For more information about Garces Restaurants, Garces Events, the Garces Foundation, Luna Farm or founder Jose Garces, please visit and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn.

Jr’s Gourmet Burgers, Jesus De la torre, Jr.

Jesus has been a Chef for over 20 years. He graduated with an Associates Degree in 2004 from Johnson & Wales University. Cookies are his life and his passion. It is an art and he is an artist.





Little Jack’s Tavern, John Amato

John Amato is the chef at Little Jack’s Tavern.







Morimoto, Masaharu Morimoto

Chef Masaharu Morimoto has created a bridge between the culinary traditions of his native Japan and the American palate, bringing intense excitement, exquisite technique, and perfectly balanced flavors to thousands of diners throughout the world. He has garnered critical and popular acclaim for his seamless integration of Western and Japanese ingredients and has effectively created a signature style that positions him as one of today’s foremost chefs.

After a shoulder injury ended a promising career as a baseball catcher in Japan, Morimoto began studying sushi in his hometown of Hiroshima. He quickly grasped the technique of this exacting food art and, at age 24, opened his first restaurant. Five years later, he moved to America to expand his culinary repertoire and explore the opportunities and possibilities he saw for a cuisine that would combine the best of both cultures.

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Pincho Factory, Nedal Ahmad

Having spent his childhood in the kitchen with the women in his family, Nedal Ahmad (32) grew up with not only a passion to cook, but also to create. Chicago-born and Hialeah-raised, Ahmad worked in the grocery store business most of his young adult life and honed his talents for cooking from a very young age in the family’s kitchen.

At a family barbecue in 2010, while making his family-famous burgers and taking turns with his cousin Otto Othman – who was grilling up some of his mother’s equally-famous meat and vegetable skewers, the duo cooked up more than just delicious food. Looking to make changes in their careers, Ahmad and Othman decided that these simple elements – burgers and kebabs – would make the perfect springboard for a successful fast casual chain. The dream was hatched: to open their own restaurant, serving delicious burgers and skewers of undeniable quality, made with the freshest ingredients.

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Pizza & Burger by Michael Mina, Timothy Elmore

Newly appointed Chef de Cuisine of Pizza & Burger by Michael Mina at Fontainebleau Miami Beach, Timothy Elmore, is known for his passion and creativity in the kitchen. A 2005 graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Miami, Elmore has more than 10 years of restaurant experience and strives for perfection in every dish he prepares.

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Prime One Twelve, Todd Zimmer

One of Todd Zimmer’s earliest memories is of watching his father enthusiastically and passionately prepare meals for his family on the weekends. The South Florida native grew up in Fort Lauderdale and always aspired to learn to cook like his father. In high school, Zimmer got his start at a local catering company called Hugh’s Catering, where he learned the ins and outs of prepping, cooking and serving food. Though he entered college in North Carolina as an aspiring law student, Zimmer quickly realized that his passion lay in the culinary arts and went on to earn a degree from the culinary school at Johnson & Wales University.

After graduating, Zimmer returned to Fort Lauderdale and landed a job at Darrel and Oliver’s East City Grill, where he quickly ascended the ranks to sous chef. The owners recognized his aptitude in the kitchen and offered him a job at their sister restaurant, Caf? Maxx, where he worked for several years before being recruited to Mark Militello’s Mark in the Park. This serendipitous encounter put Zimmer in contact with Chef Mike Sabin, who eventually left the restaurant in Zimmer’s command.

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Quality Meats, Craig Koketsu

Craig Koketsu fostered his passion for precision, knowledge, and flavor by working with acclaimed chefs from diverse backgrounds. Koketsu began his culinary career at Stars in Palo Alto, California working with renowned chefs Jeremiah Tower and Joyce Goldstein. He received the distinction of being named banquet chef for all private events at Stars, which allowed him to create intricate and innovative dishes. Koketsu realized that a move to New York City was crucial to work with the chefs he admired. Once in New York, Koketsu landed the position of chef de partie with Gray Kunz at the famed restaurant Lespinasse. The young chef was afforded the opportunity to work with another remarkable talent, Christian Delouvrier, who replaced Kunz after his departure from Lespinasse. Koketsu stayed on Delouvrier’s new team and became poissonnier, which was the post he held when Lespinasse earned a fourstar review from the New York Times. Koketsu was then honored with the highest position in Delouvrier’s kitchen, chef de cuisine. Koketsu was selected to create the culinary concept and menus of Quality Meats, which he executed with a great respect for classic dishes which were transformed by his creativity. Koketsu created the culinary direction of Quality Branded’s award-winning Park Avenue Summer (Autumn, Winter, Spring), Quality Italian (NYC and Denver), Quality Eats and Quality Meats (NYC and Miami Beach). New York Magazine and Esquire Magazine have named Koketsu among New York’s top up-and-coming chefs.

Saxon + Parole, Brad Farmerie

Brad Farmerie took a year hiatus from college to move to London and witness firsthand the culinary revolution taking place in the UK. He embarked on a quest for culture and global cuisine, which led to a Grande Diplome from Le Cordon Bleu and seven years of worldwide travel. Kitchen experience in one, two, and three Michelin star restaurants developed his technique, but it was the renowned chef Peter Gordon’s free-spirited fusion that resonated with Farmerie at The Sugar Club in 1996, and later in 2002 when he helped Gordon and fellow New Zealand chef Anna Hansen open The Providores. Farmerie returned to the States to open the ever eclectic PUBLIC with AvroKO Hospitality Group in 2003, garnering 2 James Beard awards and a Michelin Star. Farmerie and AvroKO followed this success with Asian gin den, Madam Geneva (2008), the meat-centric Saxon + Parole (2011), neighborhood cocktail bar The Daily (2012), and their first venture outside of NYC with The Thomas (Napa, California) later that same year. Most recently, Brad and AHG have expanded the Saxon + Parole brand with an outpost in Moscow, Russia (2013) and created the inflight menu for JetBlue’s recently launched Mint experience (2014). In April 2015, Brad and AHG introduced their newest concept, Genuine Superette: a fast-fine eatery featuring California roadside eats with a gourmet twist, inventive juice cocktails and photo-worthy ice cream sandwiches. In September 2015, Genuine Liquorette opened, a funky watering hole under Superette. Farmerie has been named a “Rising Star” by Star Chefs (2005), an “Emerging Tastemaker” by Food Arts magazine (2007), “winner” on TV show Iron Chef America (2009), “prince of porc” from whole hog connoisseurs Cochon 555 (2011), and “dad” by his children Bruno and Scarlet (ongoing).

Sliderz Restaurant

Sliderz Restaurants was founded by Miami restaurateur Buzzy Sklar of Burger & Beer Joint fame and hospitality veteran Richard Booth in 2015. Sliderz Restaurants is a fast-casual dining concept that offers a “slider-sized” menu featuring beef, fish, chicken, vegetarian and pork sliders made from naturally-sourced ingredients. Sliderz main goal is to bring big flavor into mini-sized portions that can be enjoyed in just a few bites allowing for a cost effective way to taste everything on the menu. With a flagship location in North Miami that opened in September 2015, Sliderz has opened additional locations in Boca Town Center and has plans open 80 corporate locations as well as franchise locations nationwide. For more information please visit:

Society Fort Myers, Todd Erickson

Todd Erickson, Executive Chef/Partner of Society Ft. Myers and Huahua’s Taqueria South Beach, is a critically acclaimed culinary professional with more than 10 years of experience garnered at esteemed restaurants around the United States. Erickson’s approach reflects his passion for travel and regional cuisines, and has earned him a following with respected critics and food novices alike. His unique perspective and creative flair displayed in each dish make him the natural choice to spearhead Haven, the most cutting- edge gastro-lounge in South Beach.

Hailing from Scottsdale, Arizona, Erickson’s passion for the culinary arts developed as a young child while cooking with his mother in their home kitchen. His fascination with the senses that are utilized in the preparation of each meal led Erickson to pursue a career in culinary arts. In 1997, Erickson enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.

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STK Miami Beach, Eli Jackson

Born and raised in Tampa, Florida, Eli Jackson is a young, driven and passionate chef with notable experience. Jackson started his culinary journey at age 16 and eventually moved to Miami, FL where he attended Johnson and Wales University. Upon graduation, Chef Jackson’s career began to flourish, ultimately leading him to The ONE Group, where he joined as Chef de Cuisine.

Recently appointed in 2016, Chef Jackson holds the title of Executive Chef at STK Miami Beach.

The Meatball Shop, Daniel Holzman

Daniel started his cooking career at the age of 15 at Le Bernardin in New York City and remained there for 4 years until, at the suggestion of chef Eric Ripert, he attended the Culinary Institute of America with a full scholarship from the James Beard Foundation. Daniel’s culinary journey has led him through some of the country’s finest restaurants including Palladin, Napa, The Campton Place, Aqua, Jardini?re and Axe. In 2010, Daniel returned to his hometown of New York City to team up with his childhood friend Michael Chernow and debut The Meatball Shop on New York City’s Lower East Side. The mix-and-match menu of meatballs, served in a warm and convivial environment, was an instant hit. Five more locations of The Meatball Shop–in Williamsburg, the West Village, Chelsea, the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side–opened in quick succession. Daniel also co-authored The Meatball Shop Cookbook, which was published to much acclaim in 2011. Daniel has appeared in countless broadcast segments including ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s TODAY Show and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno as well as in an array of widely reaching local and national publications such as The New York Times, Food & Wine, Saveur, People, Food Network Magazine and GQ.

Tucker Duke’s, Brian Cartenuto

Florida native, Chef Brian Cartenuto is the owner and creator of Tucker Duke’s (Niceville, Deerfeild Beach, Boca Raton, FL and a food truck) Executive Chef & Owner of Joey’s Italian Grill and has recently opened his newest venture, Brass Rooster Public House, a Florida Gastro-Pub. His philosophy on food is one of refined simplicity. Use local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients as often as possible to create unexpected twists on comfort foods. Chef Brian believes that food has the power to create and invoke memories and that is precisely what he has set out to do.

Along with the arsenal of successful restaurants Chef Brian currently operates, he also has a rather impressive culinary resume ranging from his schooling at Johnson & Wales University to a number of top tier Executive Chef Positions at restaurants such as Anthony Bourdain’s Brasserie Les Halles, NYC & Miami, FL and Dean & Deluca in Washington D.C.

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Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar, David Maini

David was born and raised in Providence, RI. He attended The Rhode Island School of Design, with a focus in Culinary Arts, and has been working in professional kitchens since the age of 12. He has worked all over the country and Europe, is happily married and living in Connecticut.




Still To Come This Month…

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