Rufino Rengifo is shaking things up at AmericanAirlines Arena. Rengifo, who became Levy Restaurants executive chef at the home of the Miami Heat in 2014, has brought in an enviable lineup of local talent and diverse dishes that are aimed to give any visitor a true taste of the region, including a new favorite: chicken and waffles.
This isn’t just any plate of chicken and waffles, the chef is quick to explain. “We wanted to celebrate the flavors of the South and we wanted to do something that was driven toward a fan atmosphere — something you could eat and share,” he said.
The dish, which is served at the Chicken Ciao concessions stand, is the end-result of the culinary team’s tests and observation. “We did it in a cone first,” Rengifo said. “We did [chicken] in a regular waffle cone … last year, but it didn’t work for us. It was too sweet. Also, our guests are expecting something fresh.”
So the team brought in a waffle maker to make fresh waffles, right in front of guests. “There’s nothing like fresh waffles,” the chef added. And the chicken tenders are fresh — never frozen, he emphasized. House-made coleslaw sets atop the chicken tenders and waffles and, to top it all off, the chef created a Sriracha bacon maple syrup. “You get the flavor from rendering the bacon, then you have the sweetness, the smoky flavor and the spice from the Sriracha — you know it’s just a great dish.
“It’s messy and people love eating it,” he described, adding that the dish falls into his vision for the arena that transcends traditional sports venue food. “It’s not all about chicken tenders and burgers that are pre-made. Hopefully I can challenge others to start telling the story of their cities.”
Levy Restaurants Executive Chef Rufino Rengifo
AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami
Rufino Rengifo has been Levy Restaurants executive chef at AmericanAirlines Arena since 2014, but he considers himself just as much storyteller as he is culinary professional. In a landscape dominated by celebrity chefs, Renfigo is attempting to shift the spotlight.
“When anybody comes to AmericanAirlines Arena, there are all kinds of options for what we can do in house, but also what’s happening outside,” he said. “It’s about being a storyteller for what’s happening [in Miami] rather than me telling the story of my food.” For that reason, Renfigo would rather put Cuban sandwiches and Southern food in concessions than Northern Italian and Spanish cuisine, which would be more reflective of his specialties.
The Venezuela-born chef’s experience spans continents and seas — before joining AmericanAirlines Arena, he was corporate executive chef for Celebrity Cruises, and he’s honed his skills around south Florida and Italy. Now, he works to elevate the food program at the arena.