How Chef José Mendín Went From a Volleyball Court to a Miami Restaurant Empire

Puerto Rico-born José Mendín paved his way to the culinary world by bucking tradition. Although Mendín’s great-grandmother was a cooking instructor, the Culinary Director and Founding Partner of Miami-based Pubbelly Group didn’t make his way to the kitchen until he was in college, and was forced to make meals on his own.

“My mom was master of her domain and so never let us cook at home,” explains Mendin. “It was only when I lived on my own that I started to cook. The reaction I received from people enjoying my food was so gratifying that I was immediately hooked.”

Cooking for friends could very well have remained a hobby, though; at the time, Mendín was a serious college athlete. But when he lost his volleyball scholarship, Mendín made a life-changing choice – he left San Juan for Miami and enrolled in Johnson & Wales to pursue his newfound passion for food. Ten years later, after stints in the kitchen of Nobu Miami, Nobu Hyde Park, and SUSHISAMBA Miami Beach, Mendin put his expertise in fusion cuisines to the test with his very own venture: the ode to pork known as Pubbelly. For Miami, it was love at first bite.

Pubbelly owners, from left: Andreas Schreiner, Sergio Navarro, and Jose Mendin. Photo via Miami New Times
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The Asian-inflected small plates gastropub has since become the stuff of breathless food blogs and packed tables – it even sparked development in the Sunset Harbour District of South Beach, turning it from an industrial area filled with warehouses and auto repair shops to a dining hotspot.

Since then, Mendín has helped bring four Pubbelly restaurants to life in Miami and managed to snag a James Beard nomination last year, as well as a Best New Chef nomination from Food & Wine. Along with business partners Andreas Schreiner and Sergio Navarro he has built a local restaurant empire, comprised of Pubbelly, Pubbelly Sushi, PB Steak, and L’Echon Brasserie (now closed) – all concepts that showcase his expertly-crafted fusion cuisine. But his favorites are still the dishes inspired by home.

Pubbelly’s mofongo
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“My favorite dish on the menu is the Mofongo,” he told Southbeach Magazine. The dish was inspired by the memories of my mom and I going to Puerto Rican cafeterias and eating the way she likes it. Our Mofongo is made with pork belly inside and it’s served with shoyu broth as opposed to Puerto Rican style which is served with chicken stock.”

Mendín is a chef who knows how to mix cuisines without diluting flavor. He joins the ranks of many up-and-coming Latino chefs who know how to craft a culinary experience rooted in tradition, but updated for a new generation – as long as he’s cooking, we’re eating.