If there’s one food memory that stands out to Raheem Sealey, it’s the lazy afternoons on the beach as a kid.
He grew up in St. Croix, where he and his buddies would catch fish from the shore. They’d grill the fish over charcoal in the sand. They’d climb trees for coconuts, thwacking them open to drink their sweet water.
Those beachfront barbecues taught Sealey the value of fresh ingredients. Now, as head chef at KYU in Wynwood, Sealey says it’s his mantra.
“For me, cooking is just tasty food on the plate, like what my grandmother cooked in St. Croix,” he said. “I’m not into the tweezers and all that. Make something that people enjoy — that’s my philosophy.”
Raheem Sealey’s Rise from Dishwasher to Chef
Sealey got his first kitchen job at 16 as a dishwasher at one of the island’s beach resorts. He worked his way up to the salad station, and the act of making food that people enjoyed clicked for him.
‘I’m not into the tweezers and all that. Make something that people enjoy — that’s my philosophy.’
He enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu in Miami in 2009, and Sealey said he found himself having to relearn culinary basics. “I thought I knew everything, like how to use a knife,” Sealey said. “Then I got to cooking school, and it was like starting over.”
He worked at Michael’s Genuine during school, then at Sugarcane, where live-fire cooking became his calling. Standing over the grill and smelling the coals reminded him of home. “I fell in love with cooking over that grill,” he said. “Everything you put over the fire comes out so good.”
‘Like a kid again’
In 2012, while still at Sugarcane, Sealey took a second job, at Zuma. He worked there for chef Michael Lewis, who would become his mentor. Lewis asked Sealey what he wanted in a career.
“Honestly?” Sealey said. “I want your job.”
Not long after, Lewis made Sealey his No. 2 at Zuma, and he vowed to bring Sealey with him once he had his own restaurant. Lewis made good on that promise when KYU opened in 2016 and he hired Sealey as his sous chef. The next year, the James Beard Foundation named KYU a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant, and Lewis promoted Sealey to head chef.
The new title didn’t change Sealey’s cooking philosophy. It’s evidenced in the restaurant’s Tuna Tataki appetizer, which gets only a kiss of heat, allowing top-quality fish to be the star.
“It’s a dish that reminds me of home,” Sealey said. “I taste this and it’s like I’m a kid again, cooking fish on the beach.”
KYU, 251 Northwest 25th Street, Miami; 786-577-0150; kyurestaurants.com.
Recipe: Tuna Tataki with Roasted Peppers from KYU in Wynwood
Makes 4 servings
1 each red, orange and yellow bell pepper
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 shallot, diced
1 garlic clove, diced
1 tablespoon fish sauce, divided
1 pound sushi-grade tuna loin
1 serrano pepper, seeded and sliced thin
1 scallion, sliced thin
3 tablespoons ponzu sauce
1. Char bell peppers on all sides over a flame or under a broiler. Cover with plastic wrap in a bowl and allow to cool before peeling off blackened skin. Remove seeds and ribs; slice and reserve the flesh.
2. Sauté ginger, shallot and garlic in a small amount of oil until lightly golden. Deglaze with half of the fish sauce and add the reserved peppers. Add the remaining fish sauce, remove from heat and let cool.
3. Coat tuna with grapeseed or other neutral oil, season with salt and pepper, and sear for just a few seconds per side in a screaming-hot skillet. Cool in fridge before slicing with a sharp knife into quarter-inch slices.
4. To plate, place roasted peppers in the center of four cold bowls. Top with rolled tuna slices, serrano pepper and scallion. Pour ponzu sauce equally into the bowls. Season with sea salt.