Of Filipino descent, Richard Hales (43) has always been drawn to Asian culture and cuisine. Upon traveling to Asia as a teenager, Hales' culinary passion was ignited and as he developed as a chef, his cooking style reflected those early Eastern influences. Nearly 30 years later, Hales can be credited with inspiring a wave of refined Asian-fusion cuisine in Miami with the openings of Sakaya Kitchen and Dim Ssäm à gogo. Born in Louisiana and raised in Tampa, Hales applies his formal culinary training with his experiences abroad to his family of restaurants, using local organic ingredients to create traditional Asian flavors. In his early 20's, Hales owned and operated a small bakery delivery business in Tampa. At the age of 26, with a desire to immerse himself in the culinary world, Hales sold the bakery and packed a bag for New York City. Shortly after, he enrolled in the French Culinary Institute, now the Intertiol Culiry Center. Upon graduating with a culinary arts degree in 1998, Hales took his first cooking job at City Wine & Cigar in New York. Before long, he was drawn to Jean-Georges Vongerichten and the Thai-inspired French cuisine at Vong. Hales longed to work with the world-renowned chef and applied for a position. Initially turned away for his lack of experience, Hales wouldn't take no for an answer, following Vongerichten around the kitchen until he was given the position of garde manager. Hales moved through the ranks at Vong – from garde manger to entrementier chef, poissionnier and saucier – before becoming sous chef. Hoping to learn more and refine his classic training, Hales left Vong in 2000 to take the position of rotisseur, later promoted to saucier, at La Grenoiulle, one of New York's finest and most historic French restaurants. During his years working in the Big Apple, Hales widened his scope of Asian culture and cuisine taking annual trips to Asia, traveling to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Korea, Hong Kong, Chi and Japan, staging at kitchens to pick up techniques that he would later incorporate in his restaurants. After a year at La Grenoiulle, Hales was asked to be the Asian Chef of Café Sambal in the new Mandarin Oriental, Miami. Later that year, Hales became the assistant mager at Azul, the hotel's critically-acclaimed fine dining restaurant. When the sommelier of Azul left in 2001, Hales took over the wine program, seizing the opportunity to further his wine education and visit wineries all over the world – France (Burgundy, Champagne, Loire and Alsace); Germany (Mosel, Rheingau); Italy (Piemonte, Tuscany, Maremma, Fruili, Chianti); Chile (Casa Blanca Valley, Maipo Valley, Colchagua Valley); Argenti (Mendoza); and California (pa Valley, Sonoma Valley). After four years as sommelier, Hales left South Florida and returned north as Wine Director of the Mandarin Oriental, New York. With the desire to operate his own restaurant, Hales left New York in 2008 and returned to the sun and sand of Miami. He also returned to his first love – Asian flavors – and developed the fast-casual, Korean-style street food concept that would become Sakaya Kitchen. Sakaya Kitchen opened in 2009 with a quality and chef-driven menu introducing Hales' take on Korean street food cuisine to Miami diners who flocked to the small Midtown storefront location. As other similar concepts started to develop in the area, Hales took the idea one step further by launching the city's first Asian food truck Dim Ssäm à gogo in 2010, combining his no frills fare with the convenience of a food truck. Following the success of the Midtown location, Hales opened Sakaya Kitchen in Downtown Miami in 2011. Always the pioneer, Hales is preparing for a new mission; giving authentic Chinese dishes new flair with his latest concept, Blackbrick – a sit down, casual yet elegant, eatery opening in Midtown Miami late 2013.
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