Chef Wade Owens ( (Photo credit: Libby Vision)
If you only thought star chefs studied at the best cooking schools, think again. Bocce Wine Bar & Tapas’ executive chef Wade Owens is an Ivy League graduate and his creative spin on modern American meets rustic Italian-style cuisine is wowing South Florida’s toughest food critics. He’s also proving smart guys can cook, too.
Here, Wade Owens talks to Luxe Vivant about playing devil’s advocate, double entedres, and how the name “Mr. Stripey” gets him worked up.
Is this your first foray as an executive chef?
It is. I passed through a few decent kitchens while in New York. (Luxe Vivant learned that he’s worked alongside some of the nation’s most creative culinaires including Scott Conant, David Bouley, and Don Pintabona).
You graduated from Columbia University with no formal culinary education. Has it affected your career?
I’m sure my lack of formal culinary training held me back from getting certain jobs in the past. I tend to over-compensate when I’m at a disadvantage and took it upon myself to learn as much about technique and ingredients as I could. If there’s one thing I’m good at it’s diligent reading.
You worked for three highly-lauded chefs. What’re the most important lessons you learned?
To not take myself or this industry too seriously. In the end, it’s only food.
Haute Food: Chef Owen’s signature Butternut Squash Burrata (top) and Cherry Smoked Scallop (Photo credit: Libby Vision)
What is Bocce’s culinary concept?
We’re a farm-to-table, modern American, Italian-inspired tapas and wine bar. The concept sounds a bit more convoluted than it really is. I serve relatively simple dishes that I try to make look pretty.
Bocce is an interesting word. We learned it has two meanings – it’s an Italian ball game or, according to Urban Dictionary, it’s a man’s nether regions. What do you think?
Outside of a small group of men standing on a dirt court, who uses the word “bocce”? Seriously, is this some Midwest colloquialism I’m completely unaware of? Of course, it’s a reference to the ball game.
How would you describe your cooking style?
Steven, my closest confidant in the kitchen, called my style “simple with a scientific slash artistic flare”.
Can you tell us something about you (that your food cannot)?
Not that food isn’t representative, it is to some degree. But my food can’t tell you how much I like to play devil’s advocate or how much I like to argue niggling points.
Chef Wade (right) and Bocce’s Bob Higginbotham in front of their garden
There’s a small herb and vegetable garden near the restaurant. Why did you choose to plant one?
There’s nothing like growing your own ingredients. Give it a try.
Anything at the restaurant you’re really excited about?
My Mr. Stripey heirloom tomatoes and a few events we’re hosting at the restaurant, including our Women + Wine wine-tasting series.
What are your favorite South Florida restaurants?
I’m still new to the area and spend most of my time in the kitchen. I haven’t really been able to explore the culinary scene in South Florida yet but when I‘m craving tacos, I’ll head over to Al Carbon and Bay Bay’s is my top choice for fried chicken.
What are you doing when you’re not in the kitchen?
Lately, I’ve been playing with stencils and spray paint. I’m also working on a picture of Pope John Paul II playing bocce.
Your kitchen utensil must-have?
I’m digging my meat grinder but I don’t like to play favorites in the kitchen.
What ingredient are you currently crazy for?
If you look at our menu, you’ll see that I’m in love with mustard. Carrots, too.
What food do you wish would just go away?
Best professional advice you’ve received?
“You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are.” I wasn’t given this advice directly, it’s from Anna Quindlen’s book, A Short Guide to a Happy Life.
What do you enjoy doing, besides cooking?
Reading and sketching absurd little stories. I also used to pedal a bike on a daily basis but my kitchen duties have curtailed this exercise somewhat.
If you weren’t a chef, what you would be doing?
I’d like to imagine I’d be a small engine mechanic, working on a lazy dock preferably near Havana.
Lead photo of Wade Owens and food images courtesy of Libby Vision
Photo of The Cypress Room courtesy of Cortney Cates
Bocce Wine Bar & Tapas
1760 N. Jog Road
West Palm Beach, FL 33411