Earlier this year, executive chef Joe Zanelli arrived in Delray Beach to oversee operations at The Ray Hotel’s two restaurants, Ember Grill and Rosewater Rooftop. The hotel, part of the Hilton Curio Collection, opened in September in the Pineapple Grove district. Zanelli, an 18-year veteran of some of Las Vegas’ top kitchens, recently sat down with PBI to discuss his latest project.
PBI: What inspired you to become a chef?
Zanelli: Starting at age 8, I helped my grandmother in the kitchen—she was Sicilian, cultivated her own garden, and made everything from scratch…. Two chefs I worked with had a huge impact on me: Andrew Carmellini of Café Boulud in Manhattan, who challenged us to do research on cuisine, and Mark LoRusso of the Mina Group in Las Vegas, who had a great work ethic and respect for ingredients.
Describe the differences between Ember Grill and Rosewater Rooftop.
Ember is our main restaurant; it’s a full-service, upscale-casual room where you would sit down for a three-course meal. Rosewater is geared toward craft cocktails and small plates, with influences from the Mediterranean and Japan.
Tell us about the Josper oven at Ember.
It burns hardwood charcoal imported from Spain, and it can reach temperatures of 1,000 degrees, with the heat controlled by airflow. The sear and the char that it puts on meat is absolutely beautiful.
What are some of your more interesting dishes?
At Ember we do a Peking duck for two in the Josper oven. Another unique item is our flaming crab dip, which we ignite in the dining room with some brandy and serve with oven-roasted naan bread. Some of the Rosewater highlights include Wagyu carpaccio, an hamachi tostada, a chicken shawarma roll, and assorted sushi.
What’s it like cooking in Florida as opposed to Las Vegas?
The quality of seafood stands out as the biggest difference. It’s not that I can get fish here that I can’t get elsewhere, but it’s much fresher. We use suppliers with connections to fishermen who pull the catch out of the water and deliver it the same day.