Episode #39: Nidal Barake
The founder of the Miami based food and beverage marketing agency Gluttonomy.
Nidal Barake is the founder of Gluttonomy, a food and beverage focused branding and marketing firm based in Miami. It’s a small company, but he has clients all over the world, many of them global figures. They work with Nidal because he is passionate about food. Like obsessed with it. I have personally witnessed him in New York going to ten plus restaurants in a day. It’s not because he is that hungry, but he wants to see what every restaurant is doing differently. In world where the marketing of restaurants is often shallow, he’s managed to create an agency with a voice. He’s not just marketing restaurants but bettering them. He’s trying to make them fairer and more inclusive. And to have those within the industry speak to one another.
We talk about all of these things in the interview, plus his upcoming conference in Miami called Lengua, growing up in Venezuela, Miami’s dining scene, the 50 Best Restaurants list, all of the major Latin American restaurants coming to Miami through the project Julia & Henry’s and more.
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On launching a food conference in Miami:
Nidal: “So we've been attending to food conferences for about 10-15 years. All the huge ones like Mistura in Peru, Dialogos de Cocina or Madrid Fusion in Spain, Mesaamerica in Mexico, and, you know, you go there as an attendee, as a speaker, as an organizer, and you see how massive they are. How much is the impact that they have in their communities with local chefs attending, students, media. So I felt like Miami has been growing a lot, culinary speaking, what's going on in the city and a lot of local chefs opening independent restaurants. But I think the thing that was missing was having a conversation of what's going on in the industry.
We're having a place to share and teach and learn. So even though food conferences are nothing new, of course, doing something for the city, taking into consideration where the city's at in terms of developing as a culinary destination, I think now is the right time to do it. Maybe before it was too early. But I think now is that is the right time. And there's this feeling or sentiment from the local industry that Miami's perceived as this party town. Chefs come here for the festivals for a weekend to party and the biggest restaurants are probably like restaurants in Miami Beach in five star hotels that do not necessarily propose a concept that's attached to the city. So that transformation is starting to happen. You see the better restaurants in areas like Little River, Little Haiti, and Downtown. Or, way north or way south, outside of Wynwood or Miami Beach. So, I felt we needed the space to connect.”
Nick: “I totally agree. I think every time I go to Miami, which isn't that often, but every time I'm there, the new independent restaurants are just so good. There are so many cool things happening, like Itamae or Cake Thai, and all of these great places, but then all you see in the media is just like, look at the New York import. And it's like, there's tons of those and you know, they're fine or whatever. And I'm sure they serve a purpose. And they're better than the TGI Fridays, or whatever they're taking over. But there's just so much more and just doesn't really get talked about. I think Miami is really coming into its own. It is the right time to have the industry talk about things.”
Nidal: “And I think it's also part of what the city needs to accomplish. There's more investment coming into Miami some of it with good proposals. Some of it I think it's throwing money into an empty hole or something. But again, it serves its purpose. But then there are people developing new concepts or looking for what's South Florida or Miami cuisine, or truly mixing Cuban heritage or Latin heritage with what's produced locally. So, you still have those party restaurants. I mean, that's fine. Many tourists come to Miami just for that. And that's fine. Probably as a local, it's not where I will choose to go for a night out. But again, I'm not against it. It's just, as a Miami resident, as part of the culinary industry here, I want different things. And that's why, as you mentioned, we go to the Itamaes. To La Mar even though it's in the Mandarin Oriental, Diego Oka has established himself as a moving force in the local community.”
Nick: “I think that's kind of what's fascinating about Miami. You have these really good places in the infrastructure of Miami. Like Itamae is in a glitzy mall. But it's unreal food in the middle of this mall. And Diego, at La Mar in the Mandarin Oriental. It's not a hotel restaurant, as you would think it is. It's absolutely awesome restaurant.”
Nidal: “Absolutely, absolutely. So yeah, at Gluttonomy, we are a marketing agency. We of course, work on projects, like digital projects, branding and everything. But we feel ourselves as part of the industry and not as a provider of services to the industry. And I believe it's our, almost our duty or our mission to do these types of things. Especially again, Miami is so young, in terms of what's going on in the culinary scene and being able or being lucky to have attended all these conferences in around the world. And you say, Okay, Why not Miami? Why can’t Miami be one of those hubs when these thoughtful conversations happen?”
Nick: “I agree. And I think people get confused about what a conference is and what a food festival is. You have food festivals in Miami. And they are what they are. They're kind of a party, but there's no real serious conversation.”
Nidal: “I tested the waters like three, four years ago. And again, I'm not against the South Beach Food Festival. I think it serves its purpose. It is not for me, but they drive a lot of awareness. They drive big brands, big names to the city, which I think is a positive thing. But when I was speaking with them, and their motto is “Drink. Eat. Educate” or something and I’m like, Okay, I appreciate that. You have Educate as one of the three pillars. And we said, Okay, let's do something on the Educate part. We did a panel about future food trends. And we had Enrique Olvera. We had somebody from Google. It was great. Ryan King was there. It was a great experience, a great panel. Of course, not many people attended, but at least it was a first attempt to do something meaningful within that context.”
Nick: “I should mention, it's called Lengua. And it's Saturday, April 30. At Julia and Henry's in Downtown Miami.” [Purchase tickets here]
Nidal: “And it's happening in Downtown for a reason. Downtown is this up and coming area where some of these new restaurants are opening. Niu Kitchen is there. Jaguar Sun. And Julia and Henry’s, even though it's not open yet. It's a beautiful building where we're putting this together and part of that project as an agency we're working with someone who's the developer. We're putting together our space where many restaurants are going to be there and some entertainment, so this place is opening in the summer, but they were super kind to us to let us use the space as the venue. It's very representative for what's going on. So we're doing this conference in Downtown in a food hall that's still in the process of opening. It's not ready yet and that is maybe a metaphor in the city. It's like the Miami culinary scene is under construction. Sorry for those who think that it is fully built and ready, but it's under construction. And I think that's a nice metaphor.”
Nick: “Yeah, absolutely. And you have a lot of interesting people coming. You have Mauro Colagreco, from Mirazur. Lara Gilmore from Osteria Francescana. Our friend Ryan King from Fine Dining Lovers. Diego Oka. And what's going to happen at this conference? So different panels?”
Nidal: “We have keynote speakers. We have panels. We're trying to figure out the logistics, but Mauro might be joining on video and not in in person. But Lara is coming. Vaughn Tan is coming. He's a consultant, based in Paris. He worked with Rene on Mad and Noma. So we structured this around four topics. There's going to be a keynote speaker and then a panel. So, the keynote speaker is going to talk about one topic. We have sustainability, marketing, restaurants beyond stars, rankings and lists, that's perfect for Mauro, for example. We're talking about food marketing, and restaurant marketing, and innovation. And one thing that we're also bringing to the table is there's all this talk about the metaverse, NFTs. I mean, everybody's talking about it, but nobody seems to understand how it works for the food industry. So we're not going to try to give answers on what's going to happen with that, but at least talk about what does it mean for the food industry that there's all this hype going on? So the idea is, we'll have one keynote speaker for each topic, and then a panel discussing that topic into a local perspective or local point of view.”
Nick: “It's funny the NFT thing. I've been into it for a while. But I've been thinking about how to bring it into food. And first of all, nobody gets it. Nobody understands it yet. It's going to be important. But right now, it's like, there's a lot of people doing kind of dumb shit with it.”
Nidal: “And actually, we wanted, I know, you will be in Costa Rica, we wanted you to join us, because I know you had some recent experience with that, to hear what you have to say about it.”
Nick: “I would have loved to and I definitely want to be a part of these discussions as they move forward. Because I do think there is some like real potential there to do things with food, and NFT's and blockchain in a powerful, kind of transformative way. But it's going to take a while and we're going to try a bunch of things. It's going to be weird. And it's going to be messy for a little bit.”
Nidal: “It's more important the technology behind it than the actual thing. Maybe the technology behind blockchain and NFTs and crypto and everything is going to open the way for many things to happen. I think again, we don't know what that is going to be, but definitely this module will play a key role in that.
Going back to what's going to happen, as I mentioned, we have the keynotes, the panels, we have, of course, the networking get together after the event, so it's going to be all Saturday afternoon until 8pm. This is the first one. I don't know what's going to happen, but I know it's going to be a milestone. However, big or small the event ends up being, I know it's going to be a milestone or a first step to what's going to happen next. We already want to make this an annual thing. And of course, the first one is the hardest one, but we're very optimistic on the impact that's going to have.”
Nick: “You can never go wrong just by having a conversation. Just by starting conversation, even if just a few people hear it. Just to get a conversation going is so hard and takes so much work. And I think Miami is ready to have that conversation.”
On Venezuela starting to come back to life:
Nick: “Do you go back to Venezuela much?”
Nidal: “I haven't, you know, and I don't feel good about it. I haven't been there in six years.”
Nick: “Oh, it's been that long. Since you left?”
Nidal: “I’m planning to spend Christmas there. It's hard. I mean there's so many bad things going on in Venezuela. But for good or bad, since last year, all the economy has been dollarized. I think it's a bubble, but they're opening restaurants and hotels, and some people are going back there. So, I want to see. I want to go see what's going on there. I'm very curious to see.”
Nick: “I mean, that's at least some positive news, I guess. Because nothing has been positive for so long.”
Nidal: “Absolutely. And for example, there's something happening now. You know, we've traveled all over the world, made all these amazing chefs and I always wanted to take them to Venezuela. To show them what's going on…produce and restaurants. And until last year, it was a big no, I mean there wasn't much to show or even in terms of safety. The security wasn't right. But now, I don't know if it's real or know how sustainable it is, but now it seems like you can actually go there and see some producers and people doing interesting things. So, I hope it's not a bubble. And it's something with strong pillars that sets the tone for growth and openness.”
Nick: “I mean, at some point, something has to happen. It can't just go on like it has been.”
Nidal: “Over 20 years.”
Nick: “Most of my world is cuisine in the in Latin America. And then Venezuela is just the one big hole. I've spent one day in Caracas after a missed flight once, and I've met Venezuelan cooks everywhere. And I love Venezuelan restaurants in the US. And that's kind of been my way of understanding the cuisine.”
Nidal: “Hopefully, you're one of those guys who goes there first, and covers what's going on and spreads the word.”
Nick: “I'm eager to go there. I would have within the last five years. It just seemed impossible, you know? Just flights getting there and safety and all these things.”
Nidal: “So we'll see. I hope it changes for the best. We'll see.”
Nick: “There was a time when Caracas was kind of the capital of cuisine in the Americas. I guess when you were living there. What years were you there?”
Nidal: “I lived there from 1998 to 2015. During that time, I went to Peru, sometimes. I came back. Went to Argentina and came back. But talking about conferences. In Latin America, we know about Masticar in Argentina, or Mistura in Peru or MesaAmerica in Mexico. Before all these conferences, there was this. It was called Salon Internacional de Gastronomia. An international culinary salon. And I mean, Ferran Adria was there. Gastón was there. Massimo Bottura was there was. Heston Blumenthal was there. I'm talking 12 to 15 years ago that was already happening in Venezuela. So Caracas has always been ahead of its time, maybe, or ahead of the curve in terms of openness. And of course, the 70s and 80s were that time where there were so much money flowing in the city, and they would open these amazing French restaurants and bring amazing chefs from France. People tell stories how they would fly, I don't know, fly truffles every day from Europe to the restaurants. But then, of course, a new generation came with Victor Moreno, Carlos Garcia. So all these amazing chefs, who are fortunately as you mentioned, most of them are outside of Venezuela, opening restaurants everywhere. There was also one Venezuelan chef, Ricardo Chaneton. He just got a Michelin star in his restaurant in Hong Kong.”
Nick: “I think he got two stars.”
Nidal: “I think you're right. I think it was two. So, I hope sometime we all go back and bring back what we learned around the world and start building up our culinary scene in Venezuela again.”
Nick: “That would be exciting. And I think Venezuela deserves that. It's good to see it kind of mutating and surviving in the US, but it was once is such a powerful idea of gastronomy in Latin America, that hopefully it's just like hibernating. It's just ready to come back.”
Nidal: “One of the things that I heard is going on now is that the people who didn't leave and stayed are investing in Venezuela, for good or bad reasons, because there are a lot of sanctions and people who cannot invest outside of Venezuela. So, they just leave their money there, but they open restaurants and hire people.
But also, there's a lot of entrepreneurship. A lot of people producing things, opening food operations. Some of them are huge, and some of them are just delivering from home. You see people wanting to do things.”
On the 50 Best Restaurants list:
Nick: “One of the things I like, that you guys do well at Gluttonomy, are the graphics. You put them on social media a lot. You make these cool graphics. It's relatively straightforward, but it's just nobody else puts it so simply. Like graphics about female representation in professional kitchens. And I saw that one on your Instagram, kind of recently. Let me pull it up, because I thought it was fascinating.
Okay, I got it. So this was talking about 50 best. So just for the restaurants on the 50 Best list, 4 are run by a woman. So that's 8% of chefs were female. And then it mentions Michelin stars. Out of over 3000 restaurants or whatever with Michelin stars, only 85 had been led by women and 85 is really blown up. So it's very clear. And it's just like a simple fact. But you don't see a lot of marketing agencies doing that. You should expect a media company should be doing these things and pointing it out like this, but I don't really see me the media companies doing that. So it says a lot about what you guys are and what you represent.”
Nidal: “Thank you. Thanks. I mean we are a marketing agency. Of course, we live from projects related to branding, and digital and packaging, and so on. But that's the same reason why we doing a conference. If we put all the money that we're spending on the conference on, I don't know, Instagram ads, I'm sure we will get more business and more followers. But it's part of the responsibility we have as part of the industry and our voices to bring those conversations. So yeah, we talk about 50 Best, and we put those, I think, beautiful infographics and everything, but guess what, only four female chips are part of the list. The same with the conference that we're putting together. I think it's our responsibility as part of the industry to do those things, and that's part of who we are. If you look at our logo is our brain with a fork. So we want to be that. Thinking, for us in the food industry, who bring those conversations to life.”
Nick: “One of the panels at Lengua is about thinking beyond lists and rankings. How do you do that? All these fine dining restaurants, especially in Latin America, I can't tell you how many chefs and restaurants, all over Latin America…getting on the 50 Best list is so important to them. It's like to a point to where it destroys their lives.”
Nidal: “That's exactly the reason why we brought this topic into the conversation. And of course, we have, I think, Mauro Colagreco, who is probably one of the most entitled chefs to talk about that because he's been number one in the world, three Michelin stars, one of the best named chefs in France, being an Argentine. And what he's doing now is more focused on sustainability and growing his own local produce. No matter all these accolades, or awards, it's all about purpose. And purpose is the one thing that stays there forever. And we wanted to do this topic, this conversation exactly, at this point in Miami, because Michelin announced that they're doing Miami. I mean, they're putting Tampa and Orlando in there. I don't understand it, but I guess they have their reasons. But let's talk about Miami. So many chefs here in Miami are like, ‘Oh my god, we're gonna get stars, and we're gonna do this and that, and that's gonna boost business and everything.’ And yeah, there's a positive point that you're going to get more awareness, some recognitions. For the staff I'm sure it's very motivating to work at a restaurant that gets a star. So, there are so many positive things about it. But also, I don't want chefs to be blind about it. That it's all about the stars. I'm going to change the way we do things so we are eligible for a star. So, the star is a consequence of doing the right things, just like being in the list. The world's 50 Best list. It's only 50. Now of course, 51 to 100. But that's best-case scenarios. 100. So does that mean that there's only 100 great restaurants in world now? There are 1000s. So, being on the list? If you're in the list, Congratulations, you made it. But if you're not in the list, does it mean that you haven't made it? When that becomes your main objective or your goal, then you leave things aside.”
Nick: “I think once you start changing things, changing, you know, the original purpose of your restaurant to be on the list, then…then…you’re fucked.”
Nidal: “That's where basically what we want to share. What has been his experience. Again, after being number one and all the stars, but where he is now and there's life after all these accolades.”
Nick: “But it's easy for him. He's already been number one. Has Michelin stars. So somebody needs to ask him a tough question. Was it worth it? Was all that effort to you know, get those things worth it? Or would he have done something differently?”
Nidal: “I'll I will get that message to Ryan [King]. He's going to be moderating.”
Nick: “I'll text. You can't let that like…I know, Mauro’s a decent guy.”
Nidal: “We also have a panel with like, again, local chefs and entrepreneurs who say ‘I don't have three Michelin stars. I'm not on the on the top of the 50 Best list. So how, how do I do it?’”
Nick: “Or do I want it to go down that downward spiral? That never ending spiral?”
Nidal: “Absolutely. Absolutely.”
Nick: “Like for me, it's those restaurants that are kind of on the border that are in a tough decision. Not at the border in terms of is the restaurant good or not. There are a million of great restaurants that should be on that list. It's whether the time and investment is worth it. Just take the Latin America's 50 Best list. Maybe you're in a country that's doesn't have really any Latin American voters or something like that, whatever. I don't know how it's set up. But there hasn't been a restaurant from your country before…is it worth it for you to take that on your shoulders? To get on the list to invest all this time to hire PR companies and invite press and other chefs? And do all these crazy things to get on that list? Or do you just focus on being a good restaurant? And if it happens, it happens.”
Nidal: “Definitely for us and for you, I think it's easier to think of the second route. And of course, doing the first one without… some countries they have their tourist tourism offices or departments also inviting media and say, Okay, try this restaurant. Go visit this, I don't know, coffee farm, whatever. But some restaurants in smaller countries, they don't have that support. And it's up to them, as you mentioned, to ask, how much money do I put aside to fly media or not? Some voters are more open about it, like, Oh, I'll bring three voters to my restaurant, then try to load them into how amazing this is. I think there is a right way to do it. But also, you'll hear stories like Rodolfo Guzmán, who was struggling with getting no local support. And when the international media started talking about him, he got into the list, then locals started supporting him.”
Nick: “Yeah, he's struggled for years. And when international media started paying attention, it saved his restaurant. What's funny is, I was just there, like a week ago, and for the first time, it was amazing. Of course, you know, you've been to Boragó. It’s incredible. And for the first time, because of the pandemic and Chile’s borders have been mostly closed, and it's been kind of a struggle to get in there. But it was full of Chilean people. The first time I've ever seen it like that. Normally, it was, full of tourists. But this time it was full of Chilean people. It was something pretty exciting to see.”
Nidal: “I mean, he's a great guy, he deserves all the success.”
Nick: “I agree. But, you know, it's just that border area, where is it worth it? Or is it not worth it? How important should this be? And, you know, for me, it's always a business decision. Like, is it going to help or not? Because if these lists were real…it isn’t possible to make one for real. They’re popularity contests.”
Nidal: “Ultimately, it’s how much money you invest or your country invests. So, that's why you have 10 restaurants from Peru, from Argentina, from Brazil and then none from Guatemala.”
Nick: “That's the thing. Why shouldn't there be restaurants from Guatemala? Or Costa Rica. Or Paraguay. But the infrastructure doesn't totally support it. But yeah, 50 Best, it’s fun to talk about.”
Quotes from this interview have been gently edited for context and clarity.