Chef’s fare: simplicity

By Theresa Java

There’s a new head chef at Pilot House, Luigi Maestri. Compared to most stereotypical restaurant chefs, he’s a little different —soft-spoken, unassuming and seemingly relaxed. Maestri joined Mark Charles at the Pilot House two months ago bringing his 15 years experience and skill to the kitchen.

Originally from Colombia, Maestri is Latino and Italian. (His Italian accent intensifies when speaking of that food.) As for recreating the menu, he said … not yet. He’s implemented small changes for now and wants to hone in on consistency and presentation, and integrate more local flavors and foods.

“It is stone crab season, and we have the freshest seafood available here in the Keys,” he said. Fresh herbs and spices keep the flavors simple, while kicking up the quality.

Maestri, who will be turning 46 years old next week, believes in healthy foods. He said the hogfish snapper available at Pilot House is extremely fresh and good for you. He said a great option on the menu is the macadamia crusted hogfish, prepared by first pan sautéing, finishing in the broiler with citrus macadamia panko crust then topped with mango pineapple salsa. The fish is served with coconut rice and fresh vegetables and has gained notoriety — it was featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” on the Food Network.

In the future, he may add snapper livornese to the menu. It’s a simple recipe, baking the fish in garlic, tomatoes, capers, black olives and lots of fresh parsley then finished with a fresh beurre blanc sauce. Maestri also spoke of adding a house-made pesto sauce to the menu and how much he loves tiramisu.

“I pay very much attention to the details. I like colorful dishes,” said Maestri.

Maestri has been a professional chef since 2001. He also trained as a commercial pilot. When Maestri isn’t in the kitchen, he voraciously reads new recipes, and cookbooks. He likes watching the TV shows “Chopped” and “Hell’s Kitchen.” He said he leads a “boring life” with his wife, who he’s been with for 25 years, but admits he once sampled snake on a camping trip.  

“Luigi is a great fit for our operations here. He’s got the proven talent to take us to the next level. We are still offering our great menu and fresh seafood, but he’s going to do what he does and make it better,” said general manager Mark Charles.

The Pilot House is open everyday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays and open until 11 p.m. weekend nights. It’s located at 13 Seagate Boulevard in Key Largo. Call 305-451-3142 for more information.

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