While other kids were watching cartoons, Executive Chef Timon Balloo was watching PBS’ Yan Can Cook. Coupled with growing up on culture-infused cuisine — a typical household dish included stir-fried Caribbean vegetables with Asian spices — it’s no surprise that Balloo would pursue a career behind the stoves.
After a brief stint working for a credit card processing company, Balloo decided business wasn’t for him. “I needed to follow my passion,” Balloo says, one that found him as a line and prep cook at a local cafe in Weston, Florida. Soon after, he applied and got a job at the Wyndham Resort and Spa in Fort Lauderdale, where he simultaneously enrolled at Johnson & Wales University in the culinary arts program. After working in the $6 million banquets operation, Balloo realized that fine dining was the next step in developing his craft.
It was at Chef Allen’s, the four-diamond/four-star Miami Beach restaurant owned by Allen Susser, that Balloo received his first lesson in restaurant humility. “You were broken down, then built back up,” Balloo explains, “And I gained a new respect for food.” A pioneer in “Floribbean” New World cuisine, Susser’s fast-paced kitchen was the perfect training ground for Balloo, who moved from an Entremetier to Garde Manger, learning creative plate presentations and overseeing the cold food menu.
Through the Johnson & Wales International program, Balloo worked at the Hotel Metropole in Belgium under French Master Chef Dominic Michou. From Entremetier Comis (hot line) to Patisserie Comis, Balloo honed his classical culinary training skills. “The vegetables and animals would often come straight from the farm,” Balloo says. It wasn’t unusual for him and other cooks to have to skin and pluck their next dish.
Returning to the U.S., Balloo met his greatest mentor, Michelle Bernstein, of whom he would become a protégé. Balloo credits Bernstein, a James Beard nominee for Best Female Chef, for perfecting his palate and teaching him the subtle nuances of flavor. “She also taught me to cook from my heart,” Balloo admits and, as a Junior Sous Chef at the five-star AZUL in Miami at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, he tapped into his Asian-Caribbean roots as never before.
Balloo then rode the wave of the Spanish culinary revolution at La Broche in Miami. Here, the trend departed from the traditional French focus on texture and flavors to incorporate cutting-edge chemistry and combine ingredients in new and unusual ways. The Romaine Lettuce Sorbet Salad, for example, mixed ice and gelatin with fresh produce. Foams and spuma were becoming mainstream in restaurants and, under Chef Angel Palacios (a 2003 Food and Wine Best New Chef winner), La Broche’s team, including Balloo, pushed culinary boundaries.
Building from a diverse array of top-level training, Balloo arrived at New York City’s SUSHISAMBA park with a hunger for innovation and the title of Executive Chef. “I want to explore each of the countries that SUSHISAMBA represents and bring out each culture’s individual flavors,” he explained. Of his favorite dish, the Moqueca Mista, Balloo said, “To me, it touches the depth of the flavors and culture of Brazil. It is simple to prepare and void of ‘fancy’ techniques. I love the life and excitement it generates as it enters the dining room bubbling and smoking.” During his time at SUSHISAMBA, Balloo experimented with the juxtaposition of bold flavors on small plates and discovered the significance of the “shared experience” for his guests. It’s this discovery that would later draw him back to the restaurant group.
In 2007, Balloo joined Amir Ben-Zion’s Domo Japones in Miami’s Design District for another challenge in Japanese cuisine. Awarded three stars by The Miami Herald and voted Best Japanese 2008 by The Miami New Times, Balloo and Nobu Atlantis’ Naohiro Higuchi contributed to the restaurant’s buzzing success through the creation of progressive dishes and the use of rare ingredients. It was a final reinforcement of his technical skills and creative culinary spirit before he found himself a home at SUGARCANE raw bar grill, the latest brainchild of the creators of SUSHISAMBA.
SUSHISAMBA group is proud to present Timon Balloo as Executive Chef of SUGARCANE raw bar grill. Balloo brings a rich an colorful past to the new concept, and a zeal and vivacity that manifest themselves in the energy of his team and in the flavors of his dishes. Under Balloo’s leadership, SUGARCANE scored a three-star review in The Miami Herald and earned a favorable review from The Miami New Times. Miami New Times also awarded it Best New Restaurant and it won Best Restaurant in the publication’s vote-driven Short Order Awards. The Eater Awards 2010 also crowned SUGARCANE Restaurant of the Year, Miami; Miami magazine declared SUGARCANE to be the city’s Most Exciting New Restaurant; and SUGARCANE was a semifinalist in the prestigious James Beard Foundation awards Best New Restaurant category for 2011. Balloo even received his own accolades, including Best Up-And-Coming Chef in The Miami New Times’ Short Order Awards; Best Chef, Miami from the Eater Awards in 2010; and was named a nominee in Food & Wine’s The People’s Best New Chef Competition of 2011. On his inspired menu of robata, hot bar and raw bar items at SUGARCANE, guests will find conceptual dishes such as Bacon Wrapped Dates with linguiça and endive; Thin Crust Flatbread with cured tuna, tobiko and sour cream; and Kobe Beef Sliders with tonkatsu and quail egg.
“What I love about SUGARCANE raw bar grill is that it really succeeds in capturing Miami’s laid-back nature and South America’s spirit — while playing into the world’s culinary creativity,” explains Balloo. “Dishes are made to be shared and enjoyed ‘in the moment,’ but they put forward a mix of color and flavor that will leave a lasting memory.”