Cuban bread torrejas

Cuban bread torrejas (Eating House / Courtesy / April 23, 2013)

Name: Giorgio Rapicavoli

Title: Chef/co-owner

Location: Eating House, 804 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables; 305-448-6524, EatingHouseMiami.com

Age: 27


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Time at this location: 1 year

Style of food: Contemporary American

Background: Rapicavoli's goal of being crowned a James Beard best chef isn't a stretch: He was a semifinalist for James Beard's 2013 rising star chef of the year, was the first South Floridian to win TV's "Chopped," and made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list.

"Growing up I would watch as many cooking shows as I would watch 'Sesame Street,'" says Rapicavoli, who was raised by an Italian mother and Argentine father in the Miami suburbs. He honors his mother and grandmother as his mentors. "They put me in the kitchen when I was very young, so I learned to appreciate flavors I wasn't used to."

Rapicavoli is not shy about dropping out of Johnson & Wales University. "School was never the right environment for me. It was all about the real world," he says.

After a stint at Chispa and helming 660 at The Angler's Boutique Resort, Rapicavoli opened the 51-seat Eating House, first as a pop-up until he and his partners acquired the space full time. Reservations can be challenging, and folks pile up at the bar just inside the door with near-desperate looks as eye-popping plates of food pass them to the seated lucky ones.

"We have a mantra ... if cooking is an art, we are making graffiti," says Rapicavoli, who changes the menu weekly.

Q: What was the most difficult part of transitioning from a pop-up?

A: The overhead — a lot more expenses and costs, but absolutely worth every cent when we can say it's ours.

Q: What are your two favorite dishes on the menu and why?

A: The texture of the Cuban bread torrejas with guava and cream cheese for brunch ($12) is unreal. The pasta carbonara ($23) is special to me because I've been making it my way for a few years now. (This dish was handed down from his mother who used bacon instead of pancetta, and he adds truffle for richness.)

Q: What's the hardest part of being a chef?

A: Missing key moments with your family and friends. That's why you should open your own restaurant, so they can celebrate everything there!

Q: What are you passionate about outside the restaurant?

A: Sneakers! I love them. I have pairs I've never even worn but just love having them.

Q: If you weren't a chef, what would you be doing?

A: Probably designing streetwear or menswear.

Q: What's your most memorable meal?

A: An 18-course meal at McCrady's in Charleston, S.C., to celebrate winning "Chopped."