A kitchen is not only where we go for nourishment, but it is also where we form some of our strongest memories and relationships. For two of Palm Beach County’s most celebrated chefs, the kitchen is where friendship began—one that is built on a shared appreciation for fresh seasonal ingredients, innovative cooking techniques, and really good food.
“We are both ingredient-focused chefs,” says Chef Pushkar Marathe of himself and Chef Jeremy Ford. “Both of us like sweet, acidic, salty, and spicy. We have an approach to a dish where there are multiple layers of flavors involved.”
The two first met in 2007 while working at 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale. Marathe was a line cook; Ford was sous-chef. They immediately clicked. “Before we knew it, we were friends,” says Marathe.
Their tight friendship was on full display at Marathe’s home in late February, where the two were having a blast cooking dinner together for a much-needed hangout night to catch up (and be photographed for this story). There were lots of inside jokes about their time as newbies in the industry, lots of Tiki Negronis and wine, and lots of laughs…. Amid all of the playfulness and revelry, though, the underlying respect between the two chefs was quite evident as they artfully moved about the kitchen preparing their feast and admiring each other’s techniques along the way.
By the time the two met at 3030 Ocean, Ford already had several years of experience working in award-winning kitchens in Florida and California. Marathe, who had just moved to the States after finishing culinary school in Switzerland, had grown up cooking with his mother and grandmother in India while his father was in the Indian Air Force and had accrued a lifetime of knowledge about spices. In the kitchen at 3030 Ocean, the chefs worked in tandem, teaching each other skills both still use in their respective restaurants today.
“[Pushkar] came in wanting to learn and wanting to share, and we just hit it off,” recalls Ford. “The day I opened my eyes to his incredible talent was the day he made a very simple chicken masala. I still remember the first taste of that chicken. That guy’s spice game is probably the best I’ve ever seen from anybody in the world.”
Today, the chefs pay homage to each other’s techniques at several prominent restaurants scattered across South Florida, bringing a dining renaissance to the area with globally inspired small plates and tasting menus. Their talents have earned both men the honor of being semifinalists for a James Beard Foundation Award for “Best Chef: South”—Ford in 2022; Marathe this past February (this year’s winner will be announced in June).
Marathe, who lives in Jupiter with his wife and son, is the chef and co-owner of Stage Kitchen & Bar (pronounced staahj) and Ela Curry Kitchen (pronounced eela), both in Palm Beach Gardens. At Stage, which opened just a month before the pandemic essentially shut down the restaurant industry, Marathe created an international menu inspired by his culinary school experience in Switzerland and restaurant experience in the Middle East, California, the Cayman Islands, Miami, and Peru.
He reimagined the menu to cater to take-out service during the pandemic, going back to his roots and adding curries since they travel well. He weathered the COVID storm, and his new curries became so popular, he opened Ela Curry Kitchen in 2022—a more traditional Indian restaurant serving ever-changing chaat, or street food.
Both restaurants feature a la carte menus focused on flavor-forward ingredients like seasonal produce from Kai-Kai Farm in Indiantown, mangoes from Erickson Farm near Lake Okeechobee, and a lot of heat. “I am obsessed with chilies; they add so much height to a dish,” Marathe says of incorporating his own blend of spices into plates like bang bang cauliflower, wood-grilled peri peri chicken, and masala lamb chops with tamarind and cashews. “I love a lot of ingredients, but honestly, if you give me salt, some sort of chili with spice, some acid like lemon, lime, or vinegar, onions, and sugar, I can make anything taste good.”
Ford, who grew up mostly on the Florida coast near Jacksonville, where he ate lots of freshly caught fish, developed a passion for cooking during the two years he spent living in California when he was a teenager. There, his Sicilian-born grandmother introduced him to Italian cuisine and taught him how to use ingredients from her garden to create a true farm-to-table experience that transcended the language barrier between them. “I remember those ingredients really speaking to me, and I think from that moment on, I kind of figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up,” he says. “I wanted to cook.”
Ford, who currently lives in Palmetto Bay near Miami, is the chef and a partner at the Michelin-starred Stubborn Seed in Miami Beach as well as Beauty & the Butcher in Coral Gables. Foodie-show fans may also recognize him as the winner of Bravo’s Top Chef 2015 and cohost of TruTV’s Fast Foodies for two seasons.
In 2021, Ford opened The Butcher’s Club at PGA National Resort as a reimagined steak house that showcases his immense talent. At The Butcher’s Club, he creates standout dishes like Wagyu filet mignon with Ossetra caviar or black winter truffles, mushrooms from Gratitude Garden Farm in Loxahatchee, and locally caught wahoo crudo—a nod to his bicoastal childhood.
“I think the best restaurants, or the best chefs in the world, are the ones who are open-minded about all of this adventurous stuff going on in our industry right now and are celebrating flavors from around the world,” says Ford, who, like Marathe, uses fresh ingredients from local establishments like Kai-Kai Farm and Cod and Capers Seafood Marketplace and often adjusts his menus depending on the season. “We’re driven by passion; we’re not in this for any other reason than to continue spreading this farm-to-table vibe and supporting the local community in more and more cities.”
Apart from the support they show farmers and small-business owners, both Marathe and Ford are well regarded as kind, dedicated chefs in a profession that isn’t always recognized for its niceties. There’s a genuine camaraderie in their kitchens that is reflected in the dishes each chef and his team produce. “The beauty of [Jeremy] as a leader is, he truly understands everyone’s potential,” says Marathe. Recalling their time working together in Fort Lauderdale, he notes: “He really pushed to get the best out of me, and a big part of where I am in my career today is because of our friendship. I’ll always be thankful for that.”
That friendship has seen them through nearly two decades, from the early days when they barely made enough money to split a sub (or, as Marathe recalls, half a sub), to jumping off the ledge at a bar in the Cayman Islands into a school of tarpon, to celebrating each other’s successes. Their personal relationship remains strong, even as both are busy navigating busy lives raising families, running their own restaurants, and planning for the future. Both chefs were invited to host dinners at Kai-Kai Farm this spring (Marathe’s takes place April 23, while Ford’s happened March 12). Ford is slated to open a new restaurant in Fort Lauderdale toward the end of this year, and Marathe will open an all-American concept at a historic site in downtown Delray Beach with restaurant partner Andy Dugard in 2024.
Still, they collaborate as often as possible (keep an eye out for Marathe’s Summer Chef Series, where he plans to host Ford and other chefs at Stage), and Ford says they wouldn’t rule out working in the same kitchen at some point again. “I have so much respect for [Pushkar]—not just as a chef, but as a human being,” he says. “I would trust him with my entire bank account, he’s that kind of guy. Before we lay our heads to rest, I’m pretty sure there will be something we do together.”
Where to Find Them
Visit the chefs at their restaurants in South Florida
Stage Kitchen & Bar, 2000 PGA Blvd., Palm Beach Gardens
Ela Curry Kitchen, 4650 Donald Ross Road, Palm Beach Gardens
The Butcher’s Club, 400 Avenue of the Champions, Palm Beach Gardens
Beauty & the Butcher, 6915 Red Road, Coral Gables
Stubborn Seed, 101 Washington Ave., Miami Beach