Interview with Chef Kathleen Sefcik of Key West’s Mangoes
The Daily Meal: How did you get into cooking? What were your early influences?
Chef Kathleen Sefcik: I started cooking when I was fairly young out of necessity, because my mother was not the best cook, but I quickly began to love it and took over family dinner. Martin Yan was my first influence on food. I would come home from school and watch his show Yan Can Cook, and I started replicating his dishes for family dinner. My grandmother was also a big influence and supporter of my early cooking aspirations.
What kind of atmosphere do you like in the kitchen, and how do you achieve and maintain it?
I’m a big believer in creating a positive, educational, and uplifting atmosphere in my kitchen. I am stern about kitchen practices and quality, but I want my cooks to have a certain amount of creative freedom too, so they learn and grow under my wing. That keeps them excited and engaged in the overall concept we are trying to achieve at Mangoes.
Teamwork and communication are also important to our atmosphere as a kitchen family. We have a monthly “family cuisine” night, when everyone cooks a dish from his or her country or region of origin. We sit down to enjoy a meal together and learn about each other's culture and food. It is a good team-building experience, and everyone gets a lot out of it.
Do you have a specific specialty dish?
Honestly, I get asked this question a lot and my response is always that my specialty is not having a specialty. I don’t want to be pegged to a certain type of cuisine or technique. I like to have fun with food and combine classic dishes from all over the world with new and different techniques and ingredients. Currently at Mangoes we are combining Island flavors and ingredients from Cuba, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Jamaica, and more to create our version of Island cuisine. Our lamb dish is inspired by curried goat and classic Caribbean dishes. Our version is with a bone in lamb chop, Djon Djon rice (black rice which gets its color and flavor from a Haitian mushroom), coconut curry sauce, and sautéed broccoli greens.
What are your hopes and plans for the future?
I hope to be able to educate people with the food that I am creating and get people excited about the local ingredients that we have access to here in the Florida Keys. We have plans in the near future to put a garden on site at the restaurant where we will be growing indigenous plants like bird peppers, moringa, and Cuban oregano. Our ultimate goal is to host events in the garden area and to highlight the uses of the produce we are growing.