Chef Julien Gremaud has attracted a local following for his inventive cuisine and bright, tropical flavors. As it turns out, he’s also adept at reinvention. This month marks the first anniversary of the rebranded Avocado Cantina in Palm Beach Gardens, which originally opened in 2018 as an adjunct of his popular Avocado Grill in West Palm Beach. Intrigued by the complexity of traditional Mexican cuisine, Gremaud decided to reinvent the Gardens outpost during the pandemic.
“My wife and I visit Tulum several times each year, and I have always been struck by the complexity and diversity of flavors,” says the chef. “When we decided to make the change, I spent some time there taking cooking classes. I knew we had to have the classics on our menu, but I wanted to go above and beyond what customers might find in a
typical Mexican restaurant.”
His quest led to dishes like shrimp and octopus ceviche and the pork belly Benedict served at brunch. The pork belly is slow-roasted overnight and served on grilled sourdough bread with poached eggs, pineapple salsa, and hollandaise. Gremaud is particularly proud of his rendition of chile relleno, in which the pepper is stuffed with Oaxaca cheese, almonds, and raisins and served with a spicy tinga tomato sauce. The menu also has a special vegan section highlighted by white bean hummus, shishito peppers, and falafel tacos.
The bar program is an important complement to the food at Avocado Cantina. The extensive tequila list is filled with Gremaud’s personal favorites and hard-to-find bottles. He offers flights of mezcal and feels that the smokiness of the spirit perfectly amplifies his cuisine. “Mezcal will be overtaking tequila in popularity very soon, and we’re trying to educate our customers about it,” he says. “The flavors are complex and mind-boggling, and they are enhanced even more when mezcal is aged in barrels.”
A native of Saint-Tropez, Gremaud started working as a dishwasher in local restaurants at age 14. After coming to the United States, he did a stint at the legendary Le Français
in Wheeling, Illinois, under Chef Jean Banchet. Here in Palm Beach County, he served as executive chef at Pistache and opened PB Catch before striking out on his own in 2014 with Avocado Grill. For someone who grew up on the French Riviera, Florida is a natural fit. Says Gremaud: “I’ve always cooked in a tropical style. I firmly believe in using seasonal ingredients that match the temperature outside.”
Despite the pandemic’s challenges and the current shortage of staff, Avocado Cantina has resonated with locals. Gremaud believes that his motto—“Mexican soul, South Florida–style”—is the right adage for our times.