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HomeWest Palm Beach, FLMauro Colagreco is a Fire Starter

Mauro Colagreco is a Fire Starter

Mauro Colagreco returns to his Argentine roots with a special asado on the beach. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz
Mauro Colagreco returns to his Argentine roots with a special asado on the beach. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz

When Italo-Argentine chef Mauro Colagreco opened his restaurant, Florie’s, at the Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach five years ago, he gazed at the oceanfront and dreamed about hosting a huge asado (or Argentine-style cookout) in the sand.

“They told me, ‘No, it’s impossible,’” he says, noting the county ordinance prohibiting fires of any kind or size on the beach. “We’d have to get too many permissions.”

The seaside asado. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz
The seaside asado. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz

But Colagreco likes playing with fire. It’s why Mirazur, his restaurant in Menton, France, has three Michelin stars and a bevy of discerning diners angling for a hard-to-get reservation. It’s also part of his heritage. Growing up in Argentina, he learned to start and tend a parrilla (or wood-fire grill) from his grandfather, who gleaned the skill from one of his elders. Fond memories of being at his grandfather’s side, surrounded by family and friends amid the smells of smoke and cooking meat, are what inspired Colagreco’s longtime passion for connecting over memorable meals. He had no doubt that the beach asado he’d been conjuring in his mind would be unforgettable. He just had to make his case.

He told Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach general manager Mazen Saleh that all he’d need was a grill.

Prepared on a custom parrilla of his design, the feast included entire prime ribs, roasted quails, skirt steak, and cordero a la cruz, all staples of the traditional asado. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz
Prepared on a custom parrilla of his design, the feast included entire prime ribs, roasted quails, skirt steak, and cordero a la cruz, all staples of the traditional asado. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz

“I’ve known him for eight years now,” Saleh says, noting Colagreco’s propensity for thinking big. “I knew it wasn’t going to be any old grill.”

Saleh’s instincts were correct. But Colagreco’s were too. After all, for a first-of-its-kind dinner, you can’t think small. After securing the necessary clearances from the Town of Palm Beach, Colagreco enlisted a welder in Miami, who crafted an eight-foot aluminum frame with chains and hooks. Starting at dawn, between sips of mate from a silver bombilla, Colagreco went to work attaching slabs of ribs, quails, whole pineapples, and a cornucopia of vegetables to the structure to slow-cook over an open flame. He’d ordered four cords of chopped wood for the fire, which he started at 9 a.m. and fed until the sun gave way to a full moon.

Colagreco arranges vegetables and fruit on the parrilla. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz
Colagreco arranges vegetables and fruit on the parrilla. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz

Guests sat at rustic wooden tables with their feet in the sand and savored the couple-dozen dishes butler-passed by a French team. The menu was heavy on meat—entire prime ribs, Argentine skirt steak, Patagonian lamb splayed and roasted on a cross—but vegetables like braised cabbage and roasted corn with white miso often stole the show. It spoke to the chef’s obsessive attention to every part of the meal, from the amuse to the mignardises, and his commitment to making every bite indelible.

By all accounts, it was the kind of magic people have come to expect from Colagreco since he began making a name for himself with Mirazur in 2006. Long before he set the culinary world aflame, Colagreco believed he’d work with his father as an accountant. After a year and a half spent studying economics, Colagreco realized his heart wasn’t in it, so he went to work at a friend’s restaurant. Though he started at the bottom washing dishes, he fell in love with the energy and adrenaline of being in a kitchen. Once he started cooking there, he knew he had found his passion. After training at the Gato Dumas hotel school in Buenos Aires and then cooking at some of the top restaurants in the city, Colagreco took his talents to France in 2001, where he worked with such iconic chefs as the late Bernard Loiseau, Alain Passard, and Alain Ducasse.

Colagreco wanted his own restaurant, but it was hard to find a suitable spot in Paris, in part because of the expense. Through a friend, he learned of a seaside property in the pastel-hued French Riviera town of Menton. He had never been to the Côte d’Azur before, so in October 2005, he took a trip south to see the building he had heard so much about.

“I remember the day exactly,” Colagreco says. “In Paris it was raining and cold, and I took a flight to Nice where the sun was shining. It was the perfect day. Already I thought, ‘This is a good sign.’ Then I met with the real estate agent at the place, which was right on the ocean with a garden with jacaranda trees, which are common in my hometown in Argentina. That was another sign.”

The master at work. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz
The master at work. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz

Colagreco, who was 29 years old at the time, couldn’t ignore the feeling that this was where he was supposed to be, and that he and the property were choosing each other. After working out a deal for the idyllic spot, he opened Mirazur (which means “look at the blue”) in 2006. Within a year, he earned his first of three Michelin stars.

“When I started here, I didn’t want to do Argentinian cuisine,” he says. “I wanted to start with a blank canvas, creating something new with the products and seasons I was experiencing in the Mediterranean. And when I did, I felt like a teenager. Then I had this wish to travel to other places to continue this discovery. It’s very important for chefs to travel and be connected to nature. I think back to my grandmother’s house, where she had a huge garden full of vegetables. That’s probably where my love of nature comes from, along with traveling the world and seeing how beautiful it is and how important it is to protect it.”

Rustic long tables, South American textiles, and a floral tableau in shades of sunset and fire by Renny & Reed. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz
Rustic long tables, South American textiles, and a floral tableau in shades of sunset and fire by Renny & Reed. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz

At Mirazur, Colagreco took great pains to develop the vegetable- and fruit-laden gardens that yield the raw ingredients for his cuisine. Though he used to work the mountainous terrain with one other person, he now relies on a team of eight gardeners to care for the grounds. The sun- and sea-kissed bounty they harvest there has reinforced Colagreco’s respect for earth’s natural cycles and helped him to stress locality, seasonality, and sustainability in his cooking.

Colagreco was not content to be a chef who just made great meals. As his profile grew, he wanted to create real change in the profession, whether through finding ways to reduce waste or reuse things that would have otherwise been thrown away at Mirazur.

Colagreco enjoys a sip of mate while admiring the oceanside scene. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz
Colagreco enjoys a sip of mate while admiring the oceanside scene. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz

People around the world started taking notice. Before the Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach began its multimillion-dollar renovations in 2018, Saleh, who was then director of food and beverage, says they were eyeing an up-and-coming chef to lead a new signature restaurant on property.

“I did some homework, trying to think about what would make sense for the destination,” Saleh says. “Mauro’s name came up a few times, so I researched him and reached out. I was surprised by the connection I felt from the very first call. Three calls later, we invited him to visit the resort. [We] took him on a beautiful tour of Swank Specialty Produce [in Loxahatchee] and introduced him to the fishermen we work with.”

Sea bream tiradito was one of eight appetizers. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz
Sea bream tiradito was one of eight appetizers. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz

For Colagreco, his Palm Beach trip reminded him a lot of his first time in Menton. He was captivated by the sun, sea, and local produce. Again, these were signs, and Colagreco opened Florie’s, his first—and to date, only—American restaurant in 2019. That same year, Mirazur was ranked the top restaurant in the world.

But Colagreco is not one to rest on his laurels. Climate change is impacting the environment that provides him with such inspiration and delight. Mindful of this, Colagreco wanted Mirazur to go plastic-free, and in 2020 it became the first restaurant in the world to achieve that certification. In 2022, he became the first-ever chef to be named a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity, a testament to his passion for sustainability. He has also opened new restaurants in Asia and Europe.

Sweet endings included (from far left) tiramisu, Paris– Buenos Aires choux, vervain panna-cotta, and dulce de leche flan. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz
Sweet endings included (from far left) tiramisu, Paris– Buenos Aires choux, vervain panna-cotta, and dulce de leche flan. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz

As the head of a steadily growing restaurant empire, Colagreco is seemingly in constant motion, yet he still carves out time for nonprofessional pursuits. When not in the kitchen, he can be found hanging out with his two teenage sons or tending to his garden. “I love to garden,” he says. “For me, it’s a kind of therapy when I’m there alone, talking to my vegetables.”

Whatever he tells them, he sure knows how to make them sing. 

Mirazur chefs, who flew in from France, and Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach chefs assisted Colagreco in the asado project. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz
Mirazur chefs, who flew in from France, and Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach chefs assisted Colagreco in the asado project. Photo by Jerry Rabinowitz

Story Credits:

Design by Mauro Colagreco Productions

Floral and tablescape designs: Renny & Reed, West Palm Beach

Rentals: Unearthed Rentals, Stuart, and Posh Rentals, Fort Lauderdale

Wine selections: Seven Apart, Napa Valley

Location: Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach

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