Tropical Transfer

Once This Chef With A Stellar Resume Relocated From London, He Went To Work Figuring Out What’s Cooking In Miami
Thomas Buckley, executive chef of Nobu Hotel Miami Beach
Thomas Buckley
Executive Chef, Nobu Hotel Miami Beach

When Nobu Hotel Miami Beach’s executive chef, Thomas Buckley, wonders how he can be authoritative about his adopted city, he’s characteristically modest: “You sure you want a British guy to do that?” But actually the head chef—who also fulfills the lofty role of corporate executive chef for the Nobu restaurant empire—has lived in Miami since 2001, scads of time to discern the best of the area’s food and social scene. The backstory: After helping to launch Nobu venues in London and Milan, Thomas was presented with a choice: move next to Paris or Miami Beach. He’d grown attached to the U.S. during an earlier chapter of this life, while working at one of New York’s iconic restaurants. The decision, he says, wasn’t difficult. The lifestyle is just easier compared to that of other big cities, he says: “I have a sense of freedom here.”

Nobu Hotel Miami Beach's Zen Suite features sweeping ocean views.
A Burgeoning Brand

Thomas was already in Miami—having run the kitchen at the city’s prior incarnation of Nobu—when it came time to open the nascent Nobu hotel brand’s third property. The hotel’s Nobu restaurant opened in 2016, shortly before the first guest rooms came online. Nobu’s evolution from gastronomy to wide-ranging hospitality represented a major shift: “It’s a different mentality,” Thomas says. “You can equate it to inviting someone for dinner or having someone stay at your house. We have a much bigger role to play, especially in a resort destination like Miami Beach, where people tend to stay on property most of the day, between the beach, the pool, and breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

The main dining room at Nobu Hotel Miami Beach.
Nobu Hotel Miami Beach

With 206 rooms and suites, the hotel is boutique-sized and reflects understated Japanese hospitality, designed with ample wood and soothing lighting that makes evocative use of lantern motifs. The property, naturally, is anchored by Nobu restaurant, the latest U.S. outpost named for venerated chef Nobu Matsuhisa. Soon after launching his first restaurant more than 30 years ago in Los Angeles, the celebrity chef became synonymous with superlative Japanese fusion cuisine from New York to Australia—and everywhere in between. But the hotel also offers culinary diversity: in early 2018, chef Helene Henderson, beloved for her California cuisine, debuted Malibu Farms on the property.

Local Recommendations

Explore The Miami Metro Area With Thomas Buckley, Executive Chef Of Nobu Hotel Miami Beach

Chef Thomas has a taste for a range of Miami’s sensory pleasures, but his antenna are always attuned to the city’s best food and beverage.

Global Miami

Culinary Traditions From East To West

Chef Thomas gravitates to the up-and-coming neighborhoods of Miami proper. “I like a lot of restaurants around Wynwood, the Design District and Midtown now,” he says. His top pick is Ghee (3620 NE 2nd Ave.; +1-786-636-6122). “I love Indian food and Ghee does a nice, modern take on it,” he says. “The chef grows a lot of his own vegetables.” Thomas’s favorite dishes include the smoked lamb shank curry with chickpeas and herbs. “And the breads are great—the paratha and the naan both have really good flavor.”

The recently unveiled 1-800-Lucky (143 NW 23rd St.; +1-305-768-9826), a 10,000-square-foot Asian food hall in Wynwood, lures Thomas in with delectable Peking Duck. And he doesn’t refuse dessert. The Miami outpost of New York-based Taiyaki has become instantly famous for its green tea and black sesame ice cream served up in Japanese fish-shaped waffle cones. Thomas has taken friends here, and says the food hall experience is enlivened by the venue’s onsite vinyl record store: “It’s very retro,” he says.

For a change of pace from East Asian cuisine, Thomas’s Mediterranean go-to is Riviera Focacceria Italiana (3252 Buena Vista Blvd., #110; +1-786-220-6251) for its authentic Ligurian specialties—like the kind of ravioli with walnut sauce that you might find in a Portofino trattoria, and the focaccia con formaggio, filled with stracchino cheese.

Inside 1-800-LUCKY, a 10,000-square-foot Asian food hall in Wynwood. Photo courtesy of 1-800-LUCKY.

Art Effects

Miami’s Eclectic Art Museums

Of course, a visit to the Pérez Art Museum Miami or PAMM is required, and once there, you’ll notice that the architecturally stunning institution has been joined in Museum Park by the heralded Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science (1101 Biscayne Blvd.; +1-305-434-9600), which has expansive interactive offerings for kids of all ages—you can even pet the stingrays. Designed by Grimshaw Architects, the 250,000-square-foot facility houses a 250-seat planetarium, a science museum and an aquarium that sprawls vertically, with each floor offering a unique aqueous experience. The 31-foot-wide oculus lens that foreshortens the view of the watery habitat is a showstopper. Sometimes the chef finds himself farther afield for a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami (70 NE 125th St., North Miami; +1-305-893-6211), especially for the Jazz at MOCA nights. Art lovers flock to the museum for its eight to ten annual exhibitions, which in the past have included mountings of works by Frank Stella, Helen Frankenthaler and Roy Lichtenstein.

Inside the planetarium at the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science. Photo courtesy of Robin Hill.

Hot Tickets

Where To Catch A Broadway Show, And Beyond

Downtown Miami is the epicenter of stadium-style events, and Thomas has been quick to sample the frequent Broadway touring companies at the Adrienne Arsht Center For The Performing Arts (1300 Biscayne Blvd.; +1-305-949-6722), the state’s largest performing arts venue. He took his twin boys to see Wicked, and caught The Book of Mormon with his wife. Upcoming plays include Tony Award winner The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time—and The New York Times Critics’ Pick Off-Broadway hit, Hundred Days. Thomas gets giddy remembering a night at The Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Center (1700 Washington Ave.; +1-305-673-7300) when he scored tickets to the German electronica band, Kraftwerk. The Fillmore has rich performing arts history, and has continued to offer diverse performances—from Rent to Riverdance, and from Lenny Kravitz and Anderson Cooper & Andy Cohen’s roadshow gabfest.

The Adrienne Arsht Center at dusk. Photo courtesy of the Adrienne Arsht Center For The Performing Arts.

Bottoms Up

A Cup Of Joe, A Swill Of Beer

“As an area to stroll around, Wynwood is just great now,” Thomas says, “and it’s so much more pleasurable than it was just three or four years ago.” The arty neighborhood, known for its vivid wall art that covers the façades of half of its buildings, reminds him of Brooklyn—and Shoreditch in London, back home. “It’s nice seeing how busy it is, with its breweries and coffee shops. When Panther (2390 NW 2nd Ave.; +1-305-677-3952) opened, I said, ‘Now we’re a real city.’ And when Helene Henderson from Malibu Farms came down, we took her to Concrete Beach Brewery (325 NW 24th St.; +1-305-796-2727). They set up a whole beer presentation for us, and talked us through their whole process.”

Inside Concrete Beach Brewery. Photo courtesy of Concrete Beach Brewery.

Worthwhile Wandering

Strolling On The Beach And In Town

When Thomas wants some downtime, he packs up his fox red lab and his pug and the family heads to the dog park at Haulover Beach (10800 Collins Ave., +1-305-947-3525), just north of Bal Harbour. “The fox red lab is named Waffles and the pug is Pancake—that was the kids’ choice,” he says, laughing. “We get there early in the morning when we can.” The beach is open to dogs until 3 p.m. and it’s a fine place to catch rays even without a dog. For a more urban linger, Thomas finds himself drawn back to Lincoln Road in South Beach—the famed pedestrian mall was his stomping ground when he first moved to Miami—because a friend of his opened Chotto Matte (1664 Lenox Ave.; +1-305-690-0743), which features Nikkei cuisine, a fusion of Peruvian and Japanese styles. For this chef, it always comes back to the kitchen.

Playing in the surf at Haulover Beach.