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‘Miami! We finally won!’ Local chef wins prestigious Best Chef: South award

Valerie Chang, the Peruvian-born chef whose restaurant Maty’s in Midtown Miami has earned national praise, won a James Beard Award on Monday.

Chang won in the category of Best Chef: South.

At the ceremony in Chicago, an enthusiastic Chang thanked her parents, who emigrated to the U.S. from Peru.

“I love you, Peru!” she said.

She also gave a shoutout to Miami, which has suffered from a James Beard Award drought for its chefs and restaurants. Former Miami Herald food editor Carlos Frias earned James Beard Awards for writing in 2018 and 2022.

“I can’t believe I’m standing here,” Chang said. “Miami! We finally won! We got something for Miami.”

Only one other Miami contender made it to the finalist round. Caracas Bakery owners Manuel and Jesus Brazon, who fled Venezuela in 2008, were semifinalists in the Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker category but lost to Atsuko Fujimoto of Norimoto Bakery in Portland, Maine.

Chang got her start with her brother Nando and father Fernando in the beloved Peruvian-Japanese Itamae inside a Design District food hall in 2018. The siblings together were nominated for a James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2019 for Itamae.

The pair didn’t win but Nando always recognized his sister’s potential. Back in 2019 he told the Miami Herald that he deferred to her judgment: “Whatever Val thinks should go, should go. In terms of being a chef, she’s always been head and shoulders ahead of anyone else in the family.”

Chef Valerie Chang, here with her brother Nando and father Fernando, is the force behind Maty’s. She is a 2024 nominee in the Best Chef: South category for the 2024 James Beard Awards.Chef Valerie Chang, here with her brother Nando and father Fernando, is the force behind Maty’s. She is a 2024 nominee in the Best Chef: South category for the 2024 James Beard Awards.

Chef Valerie Chang, here with her brother Nando and father Fernando, is the force behind Maty’s. She is a 2024 nominee in the Best Chef: South category for the 2024 James Beard Awards.

She opened her own Peruvian spot, named for her grandmother, in March 2023. It was named best new restaurant in 2023 by Bon Appetit and Esquire. Food & Wine ranked it the No. 15 restaurant in the country.

“Miami chef Valerie Chang is getting personal,” Bon Appetit’s Kate Kassin wrote. “She wanted to create a space where she could highlight Peruvian cooking traditions that honor her grandmother Maty. Chang is the driving force behind this new venture, serving up dishes that are warm and soulful, like a vibrant cebiche mixto with black grouper and crisp calamari or the fluffy tortitas de maiz. A fried snapper arrives curled dramatically around cornmeal-dusted fish nuggets, and a whole roasted dorade sits pretty on an ode-worthy ají amarillo beurre blanc.”

Chang’s interest in the kitchen began at a young age. When her father moved to the United States in 1998, she became her grandmother’s kitchen helper. When she finally joined her father in the U.S., he had become an accomplished sushi chef and she spent her weekends watching him work. Eventually she ended up in Las Vegas in Thomas Keller’s restaurant Bouchon, later in Barcelona before finally reuniting with her family in Miami.

“This is my calling. This is what I was born to do,” she told the Herald in 2019.

Maty’s

Where: 3255 NE First Ave., Miami

Hours: 4-10 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday and Sunday; 4-11 Friday-Saturday

Information: matysmiami.com or 786-338-3525

Anna Harden

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