But naturally it’s an environment where a chef would feel right at home — and this is where Chef Julia Doyne starts her day.
After departing from iPaddle at Pelican Harbor, she kayaks through Biscayne Bay where the city and nature meet in acute juxtaposition. With a schedule that frequently requires six or seven days a week of work, the calming sound of the paddle slicing through the water helps keep her centered.
A pod of dolphins surfaces in the distance; the pelicans inch just above the water, unhindered by the ongoing construction on both the eastern and western shores of the bay. Chef Doyne, a Pittsburgh native, has found her place in this sweltering city, one that can often be such a mystery to visitors and Americanos. Admittedly, our city’s tradition of a kiss-on-the-cheek greeting was a “strange Miami thing” that took her some getting used to, but when asked how she feels about Miami, there’s no question.
Miami feels like home,” she says, without pause. “For sure.”
Anyone who has lived in Miami for a significant period of time can tell you: there is very little that is sacred. Seemingly, there isn’t much in the way of hallowed ground. Landmarks, beloved institutions, and your favorite hole-in-the-wall have likely crumbled to the bulldozer or disappeared with the pen-stroke of the highest bidder.
Where many have succumbed to the growing pains of our-eager-to-be-world-class-metropolis, only a few have been able to survive in the long-term. Yet some have not only survived, but also re-imagined and re-invigorated themselves. The Forge — Miami Beach’s grand dame of quintessential opulence for well-heeled bon vivants — has managed to grow and thrive under the boiler-room conditions that are the city’s restaurant scene.
Behind their kitchen door works a modest, dedicated, and talented chef who is quietly leading The Forge with her own distinct approach.
With a sensibility completely unlike the thunderous TV personalities we associate with the celebrity era of chefs and cooking (or, going further: the irate, self-absorbed culinary mad men) — and also in stark contrast to The Forge’s own ostentatious style — Julia Doyne, the restaurant’s first female head chef, is ushering the 41st Street establishment into a new era.
Well-aware of the high expectations that come with leading a restaurant that has served The Rat Pack, Robert DeNiro, Francis Ford Coppola (their wine cellar holds a Forge-logo-engraved bottle that was a personal gift from the director), and numerous other celebrities and high-rollers, it is key that she finds her zen during the day before being catapulted into serving 300 to 400 people on a Friday night.
Following the appeasement of the kayak trip, we took a bike ride west down 79th Street, landing at Guarapo juice bar to cool off and pick up some nutrients. She reveals that her diet is “mostly raw and fresh. I avoid carbs and heavy food. The heat makes you want to eat light.” From there, it’s a stop at her home in El Portal before heading to the Beach for the day’s and night’s work.
Walking into The Forge, its gravity quickly absorbs you.
This isn’t the whitewashed wood aesthetic trend that can be found in cafés and restaurants on Pinterest moodboards around the world. Rather, you’ve entered a world of ornate and unabashed glamour — a step into a different time.
Inside, you’ll find a 19th century chandelier (John Adams-era White House) and a writing desk that once belonged to Napoleon. These priceless pieces blend seamlessly with modern touches that were a part of a multi-million dollar renovation several years ago, including a glass bubble wall, Murano chandeliers, massive mirrors that loom over the dining room, and oversized white dining chairs that feel like they escaped from Alice’s Wonderland.
While The Forge is synonymous with fine, elaborate dining to nearly everyone raised in Miami, Chef Doyne mentions that she wasn’t exactly aware of the ranks she was about to lead when she took the position. “I didn’t grow up here, so I didn’t understand at first what it meant. But now I bring my parents,” she says, with a glowing pride.
The kitchen door begins to swing back and forth more rapidly as the afternoon progresses. Sous-chefs are already beginning to pick up the pace, servers and bartenders meeting to discuss the evening’s strategy. What was a silent space only hours ago now hums with confidence and purpose. “You have to know your staff — who’s sensitive, who takes longer for certain things,” Julia says, keenly aware of the importance of emotional intelligence in the kitchen.
This awareness is a crucial component to maintaining order in such a high-stress environment. As we walk through the kitchen together, staff members greet her with smiles and take great joy in seeing this self-described “private person” posing for pictures — the center of so much attention.
We sit and discuss the current state of cooking and more precisely what it looks like for young women. It’s observed that despite feminist strides and progress, women are still expected to cook, but there’s a sharp discord when discussing whether they’re expected to be chefs. When asked whether she felt being a chef was presented to young girls as a viable career option, her “no” comes so quickly it nearly clips the punctuation off the question.
Her path to head chef was galvanized purely by passion and is not a by-product of the desire for fame.
Having started out as a dishwasher in a local hometown pizza joint as a teenager, she quickly fell in love with the restaurant atmosphere and process, which later led her to take her talents to New York City, where she would end up working under the tutelage of the internationally acclaimed Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster in Harlem. The time spent in his kitchen and its influence can be seen on the plates at The Forge.
“There’s something pickled in every dish,” she says, reflecting Samuelsson’s Swedish upbringing; a marked difference from the steaks, lobsters, and sides of creamed spinach of The Forge’s past. While those items can certainly still be found, they now sit on a menu alongside her inventive twist on a charred octopus appetizer (playfully dubbed “General Tso’s Octopus”) and an heirloom tomato salad with luscious burrata and basil-inflected churros (a truly delightful, yet savory take on a local favorite). Oh, and don’t miss out on the decadently perfect Jamaican jerk bacon (with tropical salsa, to boot).
Night falls, and 41st Street comes to life. Outside, women dressed in slinky dinnerwear pass the local Hasidic Jewish community on their Friday evening Shabbat walk. Inside, tables quickly begin to fill. Shareef Malnik, The Forge’s owner, has just arrived through the front door of the restaurant. He greets our party warmly before we’re seated. The cocktails and spirits start to flow, and the plates start to emerge.
Just as everyone at our table appears to be fully engaged in our food and drink, the lights dim and the music unexpectedly begins. A young man circles the room, rapping his rendition of Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” and a sultry woman in an intimately cut dress handles Alicia Keys’ part. This is one of The Forge’s lasting qualities: the ability to take their formula, update it, and mold it to fit an ever-changing clientele.
It’s no-holds-barred entertainment and sumptuous food, now given a bit of délicatesse by Chef Julia’s hand.
As our meal closes, she comes out to check on us. Our full bellies and faces drawn with sated grins leave little that needs to be said. Soft and gracious, she leaves us with a smile — and, yes, a kiss on the cheek.
Clearly, she has found her way.
Featured image up-top: Chef Julia Doyne inside the impressive library at The Forge. The song included in the video above is © Anna Lunoe & Flume, “I Met You.” And that dish, you might ask? The aforementioned “General Tso’s Octopus,” heightened with accompanying derivations of broccoli, cashews, and blood oranges, the tentacles served above a bed of black rice. Yes, indeed.