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À la Mode : Villa Azur

It’s no secret that Miami is a melting pot of cultural diversity; the city has flourished into something of a central hub for international jetsetters. So naturally, when it came time for partners Michael Martin, Jean Philippe Bernard and Olivier Martinez to blend their expertise, the trio took to South Beach to open Villa Azur. Here, expect to be transported to the Côte d’Azur; the restaurant engages the senses from sight to taste through posh décor and tantalizing eats.

When did you decide to enter the culinary field?

Executive Chef Mickaël Bensa: I grew up living with an Italian grandmother and a French grandfather who was a brilliant chef. They always prepared delicious dishes influenced by their mixed Mediterranean origins. Cooking comes naturally to me and going to culinary school was my destiny.

What prompted you to become a restaurateur?

Co-Owner Michael Martin: I have always wanted to open a restaurant. I like the fact that restaurants attract people from all walks of life with one thing in common: they truly enjoy eating delicious food and appreciate the quality of fresh ingredients. At Villa Azur we offer our guests nothing but the best in a chic, comfortable setting. This is exactly what I look for when dining out.

Co-Owner Jean-Philippe Bernard: My Corsican mother always made me great dishes. She is a caterer and a private chef cooking for people in their homes. Thanks to my mother, I have been familiar with Mediterranean flavors and the scents since I was a young boy. I definitely love to eat and started to work in the restaurant business 15 years ago, and since then I have been hooked. I like to share the pleasure and happiness that good food brings to people. Eating is sharing!

What are the most important ingredients in creating a successful restaurant?

Executive Chef Mickaël Bensa: Most importantly for me is the passion and knowledge that goes into preparing each dish and of course the freshest and highest quality ingredients are a must. Consistency is also very important.

Which appetizers, entrees and desserts do you recommend?

Executive Chef Mickaël Bensa: The Seared Fresh Tuna with Avocado and Baby Spinach is a delicious appetizer with bursts of flavor. The mix of ingredients is an amazing combination; and the Veal Tenderloin stuffed with Artichokes, Tomato Confit and Smoked Mozzarella uses ingredients that are typically Mediterranean, which I love. The Nutella Mousse is my unique recipe and quite frankly, it’s the best. The Assorted Macarons are also delicious and very popular at Villa Azur.

What is your favorite drink?

Co-owner Olivier Martinez: ‘The Jack-e,’ a cocktail in honor of my good friend Jack E, a famous DJ of Les Caves du Roy in St Tropez and all around the world. It has Jack Daniel’s, Agave Syrup, Watermelon Cubes and a splash of Lemon Juice.

Co-Owner Jean-Philippe Bernard: I am a simple man. I love a good red or white wine and our Wine Cellar, La Cave d’Azur, has some of my favorite bottles.

Executive Chef Mickaël Bensa: Ferdinand The Bull is one of my favorites: Herradura Silver tequila, Fresh Lime Juice and Hibiscus Syrup. A great, fresh Cocktail that gets you energized for a good night.

What is your favorite pastime?

Co-Owner Jean-Philippe Bernard: My wife would tell you that it is work. I want Villa Azur to remain one of the best restaurants and lounges in Miami. Somewhere people can come to enjoy the atmosphere, decor and food. I work diligently for this everyday, but spending time with my daughter is the happiest pastime I could ever have!

Villa Azur brings a taste of St. Tropez to South Beach. How are you able to create that balance?

Co-Owner Olivier Martinez: Not only does Villa Azur offer a taste of the St. Tropez in South Beach, we also offer a touch of the South of France lifestyle. Much like St. Tropez, Villa Azur has great energy from the quality of the food and great service to the chic, comfortable ambiance that surrounds our guests.

Tell us about the décor. How, in your opinion, was Francois Frossard able to “get it right?”

Co-Owner Michael Martin: Francois has extensive experience and an outstanding reputation. We have been friends for many years now and I fully trusted him to take our vision and turn it into a reality. He has successfully created a cozy, romantic French Rivera atmosphere with an appealing contrast of traditional accessories and modern furniture. I am more than satisfied with the results and would not change a thing.

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New York February / March 2014
New York February / March 2014