dining

Chef and his ‘Sauce Queen’ have turned their Hollywood Taco Spot into a hot spot

 

If you go

Taco Spot is at 1500 N. Broadwalk, Hollywood Beach; 954-921-7711


Special to The Miami Herald

Once upon a time there was a handsome chef and a lovely woman. One day they were both at the Aventura Publix. They met, fell in love, and soon after came the little tacos. Authentic Mexican tacos with a gourmet touch. Then burritos, quesadillas, even Mexican pizza. They couldn’t stop.

“It’s her sauces,” says chef Stuart Snowhite. “I can’t resist her sauces. She is the Sauce Queen.”

“She” is Jenny Bianca, the produce aisle enchantress whose sauces (seven and counting) electrify Snowhite’s new restaurant, Taco Spot. He is a Westin-trained gourmet chef who counts athletes, billionaires and even a president among his well-fed clients.

Muscular and trim, Snowhite is the picture of health. He’s also about half the man he used to be — literally. In 2004, Snowhite, 43, shed 125 pounds on a menu plan he personally designed for the task. He now incorporates elements of that plan into his gourmet Mexican fare. Snowhite’s menu reflects his choices for a healthy diet, and those choices speak from experience.

The Philadelphia native knew by age 10 that he wanted to be a chef. “I started cooking when I was 6. My dad cooked, my mom cooked. I just loved to cook.” When the Snowhite family moved to Houston, the passion went with him. As a high school junior, the young self-starter picked up the phone and called the Westin Hotel.

“I said, Hey! I want to know about your apprenticeship program! They pick five people every year. Boom boom boom, they accepted me. It’s a four-year program. You go through every part of the hotel. Butcher shop, pastry, banquets, fine dining, desk. You learn every aspect.”

After completing the Westin program, Snowhite returned to Philadelphia to become executive chef of a catering company. “We did the Democratic National Committee dinner with President Clinton. It was $25,000 a plate.” What did they get for that kind of scratch? “Rack of lamb with snow pea shoot leaves, moelle osseuse gelée (bone marrow jelly), scallops. For dessert we served roasted espresso gelato with tiramisu bread pudding. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it,” he laughs.

Weight gain

Back in Philadelphia, now as a successful executive chef, Snowhite — who had been thin all his life — started putting on weight. “I was married, and miserable, just ate all the time. I gained 125 pounds. One day I made an audition tape for the Food Network, to be their next celebrity chef. I saw myself on that tape, and said, Oh my God, you’re disgusting! Make a change!” The video image stirred Snowhite into action. “I left the bad marriage, and started losing weight by watching everything I ate and working out. Low carbs and high protein, so your body goes into ketosis and burns stored fat.” The changes paid off; the weight disappeared.

“I believe in protein, vegetables, low carbohydrate fruits, and really watching what you eat,” he says. “It makes your body run. I believe in some grains. Like quinoa. Beautiful grain! It has so much protein.”

Physical activity completes the picture. “I don’t like to call it a diet,” he says. “I think of it as a lifestyle, and it really paid off for me. I exercise every day. I really want to be in peak performance. And that’s what worked for me.”

South Beach move

Invigorated by the weight loss and tired of winters, Snowhite arrived in South Florida in 2008 on a mission. Shedding those 125 pounds had motivated him to start a personal chef business specializing in healthy eating. His weight loss had come from a menu plan that combined elements of the South Beach and the Atkins diets.

“I came down here, and met a woman named Linda Richmond, who got the book deal for Dr. Agatston, author of South Beach Diet. So she introduced me to him. I said, ‘Listen, I lost 125 pounds on your diet.’” After some discussion, he convinced them to create the position of South Beach Diet chef. “Anybody calls, and I’d go to their house, and cook South Beach Diet style.”

This led to a stint as personal chef for the Fernandez family (of Navarro Pharmacies). “They’re very wealthy, billionaires,” he says. “I cooked for them for a year, and then I got more clients. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks in-between. I cooked, dropped off to their house... a ‘diets delivered’ thing.”

His client list grew to include professional athletes, including Joe Johnson, Quentin Richardson and Dwyane Wade of the NBA, and baseball players like Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez. “I’d get an idea of what they like, then work around it. For example, Joe Johnson would get me for a five-month stretch. I’d do the meals, get the liquor, take care of everything. It’s all about them partying. They’d rent a $12 million mansion, and it’d be just a free for all, fun.”

‘The Mexican’

Enter Bianca, who he has affectionately dubbed “The Mexican” (she’s a Cancun native). Snowhite had been thinking of opening a restaurant featuring healthy gourmet Mexican fare. So he and Bianca spent a month traveling across Mexico. The two sampled hundreds of tacos, paying close attention to unique local kick. “We tried every sauce, every texture. Then I took those recipes and put them on steroids. I took the gourmet route. I took what we learned down there and made it our own.”

The research paid off. His first restaurant, the Taco Beach Shack partnership (with hotelier Alan Lieberman and son Nathan), quickly became the No. 1-voted Hollywood restaurant on TripAdviser.com. But Snowhite preferred a beach location. He also wanted only top-quality ingredients. So he left his first creation behind, perfected his menu and created Taco Spot on the Hollywood Broadwalk (in the old Vedu’s space). The T-Spot has quickly become the go-to Mexican restaurant in Hollywood.

“Everything we have, I make from scratch. The guacamole, sangria, infused fruits, the shells. We make our hard shells. It’s crunchy, it’s fresh, a totally different experience than if I bought it from a distributor. I’m doing it to control the ingredients, to put a better product out there.”

“The Mexican” proved especially fluent in the language of zest, creating playful sauces using herbs, fruits, peppers and citrus in ways that hadn’t been tried before. She proudly lets on that the sauces are rotated on a regular basis to keep things lively. “The Hollywood Broadwalk is such a melange”, says Bianca, “people of all different tastes. So we mix it up, try to keep it interesting for everyone. And that’s what makes it fun.” Past favorites include cilantro cream, habañero mayo, chipotle cream, red chili hot, celery, jalapeño, garlic sriracha and garlic cilantro vinaigrette.

Snowhite’s Mexican fare includes a surprise choice: Korean short ribs with kimchi. “That took me about six months to create the perfect recipe. Short ribs are very popular, everybody likes them, so I wanted to do something with that. I make my own kimchi, too. That takes a month to make.” When it’s pointed out that most people don’t associate kimchi with tacos, Snowhite laughs. “I wanted something different. Korean and kimchi, the two flavors just marry. Like peanut butter and jelly, you know what I mean?”

Another house specialty is corn on the cob. “We do a cilantro pesto that we fire roast. We boil it, we put the cilantro pesto on there, fire roast it on an open flame, then roll it in parmesan cheese.” The corn is a big favorite at Taco Spot.

Before leaving, the gourmet chef puts to rest a question he is dogged by. “Snowhite, yeah,” he says with a laugh. “No interesting story there, sorry. It’s German, the translation of schnee and weiß (weiss), snow and white. That’s all, no Eskimo ancestry or anything like that.”

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