A Gift from Brazil
by Jody Steele, Member Since 2005
Arriving in Miami in 2001 for just a visit, Chef Betania Salles took over the kitchen at an Indian restaurant one evening. The chef was ill and the customers were at the door. The evening was a hit and the owner convinced Betania to stay for five years. So began “the gift from Brazil”.
This young woman already had an illustrious career, beginning her culinary studies at 16, traveling extensively to explore cooking styles, and suddenly she owned and managed four restaurants in Brazil. Beginning a new life in Florida was not what she planned, but Betania is convinced it was meant to be.
As the years skipped by, Chef Betania became a Chef de Cuisine of an authentic Italian restaurant at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. Her reputation was definitely known throughout the “foodie” world of South Florida. This is where our own Giovanni Melis discovered her. It took over a year, but who can say no to Giovanni? Betania arrived at Ocean Reef Club and became the Chef de Cuisine of the Islander.
A Restaurant is Born
The dream was for an upscale and modern styled Italian restaurant to be built on the site of the former “Galley” and Chef Betania became part of the planning committee. Along with Giovanni, Chef Philippe, a restaurant consultant company, an architect, and Ocean Reef management, the project became a reality. Gianni opened on December 4th, 2014.
Chef Betania and team worked to design the menu for months, researching recipes from a variety of regions in Italy, exploring other Italian restaurants, and creating and tasting along the way. Many of the original recipes are still on the menu after five years including the Eggplant Parmesan, the delectable meatballs, the Zuppa di Pesce, and the Vitella Milanese. Betania’s mentor and inspiration is Giovanni. She is grateful for him challenging her to do her best, his constant attention to detail, and his support.
The Gianni team meets daily. They review all surveys from Members and add and delete dishes according to the feedback they collect. A weekly list of specials, Chef Betania’s Table, was recently added and includes a cheese and meat plate, a flatbread, pasta, a fish dish, and other delicious surprises. Chef Betania is obviously a dedicated chef who expects the best from her team. They are a creative group of professionals who understand the history of Gianni and take immense pride in their work. Consistency is central to their success and yet they are always ready to pioneer a new dish. Chef Betania has been at Ocean Reef Club for seven years and considers this her home. She is constantly looking ahead to the next menu and the next season with high expectations for herself and her staff. We are so lucky this chef from Brazil came our way.