December, 2012 – Chef Michael Gilligan of The Rusty Pelican


Cultural Corner


An Interview with Chef Michael Gilligan of The Rusty Pelican


By Marla E. Schwartz


Executive Chef Michael Gilligan has taken over the helm at The Rusty Pelican in Key Biscayne after its five-month, $9 million head-to-toe renovation. Gilligan has had a rather eclectic career path that has made his current post a sure thing for the Specialty Restaurants Corporation (SRC) that owns and operates this waterfront dining establishment. You can see its sign as you drive along the Rickenbacker Causeway. It’s nestled around a boating area and when you enter you drive past a few other restaurants to the end of the pier where you’ll find this iconic hotspot with its breathtaking views of the downtown Miami skyline.

The Rusty Pelican's Executive Chef Michael Gilligan
The Rusty Pelican’s Executive Chef Michael Gilligan


Gilligan’s diverse culinary adventures began immediately upon graduation from The College of Food and Arts in Birmingham, England working as an apprentice chef at Michelin stared restaurants in France and England and more until he came to America, worked in five-star/five-diamond hotels in New York City, ventured out on his own opening Candela. The he moved to Key West and owned and operated a successful Indian restaurant, headed back to NY and soon enough he found himself back in Florida wowing critics and diners at South Beach’s Rumi, ran culinary operations at the Conrad Miami, then headed over to the W South Beach and . . . now he’s found a perfect fit at The Rusty Pelican.


Because he’s revered locally for his South Florida savvy and culinary creativity he has been able to create an innovative modern American cuisine menu with an eye for small plates that are ideal for sharing at The Rusty Pelican. The classic grill dishes that the restaurant’s reputation was founded on in 1972 still attract the locals while South Floridians and tourists continue to enjoy special events due to the restaurants revamped atmosphere


“With the highly-anticipated transformation complete, we’re thrilled to

Rusty Pelican Collage. By Marla E. Schwartz.
Rusty Pelican Collage. By Marla E. Schwartz.

 finally welcome back our loyal guests and also excited to witness a new generation of diners enjoying their first moments in a beautiful space where the food and vibe truly match the view,” said John Tallichet, SRC president and CEO.


One of the most appealing parts of the renovation is the spectacular, see-thru wine cellar you walk through on your way into the dining room. As a recipient of a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for its wine list, the showcase boasts a glass cube wine cellar with 1,500 carefully culled vintages, a variety of microbrews, and creative signature cocktails ($10-$13) including Biscayne Julep, Virginia Key Punch, Strawberry Mule, Agave Sunset, and Gold Ginger.


In honor of this exceptional dining establishment’s recent 40th anniversary celebration, its renovation and hiring of its new executive chef, this culinary expert himself, Michael Gilligan – an important from England – has agreed to answer a few questions for us. How were you approached to become The Rusty Pelican’s executive chef?

Michael Gilligan: Well part of that $9 million was for me! Only joking – actually SRC was working with the Brustman-Carrino PR Company who had represented me in the past and they put us together.


AW: What is it that you like best about being the executive chef at The Rusty Pelican? As a Key Biscayne landmark – how does its current menu honor those who’ve been regular patrons for many years?

MG: The menu is completely different so the past regulars are in for a nice surprise. The good thing about being here is that EVERYONE in Miami knows The Rusty Pelican. I’ve yet to meet someone who has said, “where’s that Rusty Pelican place then?”


AW: Do any British foods appear on the menu?

MG: I have a GLT sandwich on the menu {Grouper, Lettuce, Tomato} for lunch and a GLT slider for dinner, which is beer battered and served with a caper-lime remoulade. Fish and chips with tartare sauce really.


AW: Did you create an entirely new menu and if so, did you choose the dishes on your own – or did other people pitch in with menu suggestions?

MG: It’s an entirely new menu, most of the dishes are my own creations but I worked on the dishes with my Sous Chefs Jimmy Pastor & Natalia Garcia and we changed a few things with their input. They are very good.


AW: You’ve had such an eclectic background; did you bring any of the Spanish, Indian, British, French or Asian influences from your past experiences into your current menu?

MG: The menu is a mix of all of the above, apart from Indian but I am working on a few things for the new menu; I like to see it as a sample of Gilligan’s greatest hits! Most people ask me what my specialty is, I still don’t know!



The Rusty Pelican. Photo by Michael Psarriv.


My guest and I were served by the amazing Orlando who started us out with the Miami ‘Caprese’ salad and the Baked Crab Cake and they were sublime. If diners are looking for something extra special to begin their meal with during the appetizer portion during the holidays – would you suggest these same items or perhaps something else?



MG: They are sure winners to start out with, I would also put the ‘Eel & foie gras’ in there and the ceviche, and the pork belly skewers, oh and the croquetas…


AW: Does the menu change a little bit to reflect the holiday season?

MG: The menu has changed four times since we opened. The changes aren’t drastic as there are some dishes we just can’t get rid of otherwise we would have a riot on Virginia Key.


AW: During the holiday season – when you’re with your family – do you do the cooking?

MG: The holidays are my wife Jeanne’s thing. I’m so busy at work that she does all the cooking, apart from the gravy – that’s my thing. We do American, as she is from Brooklyn, for Thanksgiving, she makes an awesome Maple Roast Turkey, and we go traditional British for Christmas with Turkey or sometimes Roast Goose, mince pies, etc. We always go with a sage and onion stuffing.


AW: For the main course we had the Diver Sea Scallops and the Oven Roasted Patagonian Toothfish – and as someone who enjoys these particular entrees, these are the best I’ve ever had. What is your secret to creating such sublime dishes? Do you have a secret? Maybe you do – but you cannot share it.

MG: I don’t think there’s a big secret to those dishes although I feel that it’s vital to get a great sear on the outside of the fish. We’re lucky enough to have a ‘plancha’ which gets wonderful heat on it and gives the fish an awesome ‘crust’. 


AW: It was difficult to choose a desert because all the choices are mouth-watering; so Orlando suggested the Coconut Panna Cotta … excellent suggestion. Is this something you created or was it an original passed down from the previous incarnation of The Rusty Pelican?

MG: This was a recipe we took with us from the W but we played around with it a little as I didn’t want to serve it in a bowl or soufflé cup. The idea came to me one day looking out the water over Key Biscayne and I decided to try and make it look like a wave-it’s kinda fun.


AW: As a Sous Chef at the Tides Reach Hotel in Devon, England you cooked for Princess Diana. Did she have any special requests?

MG: I was a peon back in those days when we cooked for her. A couple of years later I was promoted to Sous chef at the Tides Reach. This story has taken on myth-like properties; it was a throw out quote that I once bragged about cooking for Royalty – now it’s gone so far that it’s almost like we dated for a while!


AW: Is it true that Robert DeNiro was impressed with the quality of your work as a Sous Chef at the five star/five-diamond Ritz Carlton in NYC that he asked you to work for him at both the Tribeca Grill and Montrachet? What did he like to order?

MG: Actually it was Drew Nieporent who I met first at an event at Lincoln Center that asked me to go and try out there, it wasn’t until later that I found out it was DeNiro’s joint also. Mr. DeNiro used to like penne pasta for lunch with the garlic shaved really thin with a razor blade so it melted into the olive oil just like they did in Goodfellas when they were in the slammer. I used a Japanese mandolin, easier on the fingers.


AW: I also understand that your mum gave birth to you in the room your family lived in above the pub they owned – is this true? How old were you when you ventured into the pub’s kitchen and began to cook? Did your family encourage you to cook? Do you have any siblings who have also ventured into the culinary arts?

MG: This is almost true. I was born upstairs in the flat that the brewery had rented for my family when it ran the pub,-it’s not like I was born on the bar! My brother flirted with the business for a while and at one point ventured into making gourmet cheese, but he got sensible and got out! I think I was about 4-years-old, the baby of the family, and I would sit in the kitchen with my mother – it was the warmest place in the building – as she cooked. She would give me pieces of dough to play with and I would make them in to a “gingerbread man” shapes. Soon I noticed that after she baked them, they didn’t taste sweet enough – so I sprinkled sugar on it before it went into the oven. I then started adding cherries for the eyes and some chocolate for hair.


This quintessential executive chef has shared his family’s very special holiday recipe for Maple Roast Turkey & Gravy with us. See “AW Stories of the Month.” Enjoy the holidays.


Located at 3201 Rickenbacker Causeway; lunch and dinner is served daily and offers a weekend brunch. It’s open Sunday to Thursday (11 a.m – 11 p.m; the bar – til midnight); Friday and Saturday (11 a.m. – midnight and bar til 1 a.m.). The website is and the number is 305.361.3818 and it can be found on Facebook and Twitter,@RustyPelicanMI. The website is and the number is 205.361.3818.



A Toledo, OH native, a graduate of Kent State, Marla E. Schwartz is a Senior Writer for Miami Living Magazine, afreelance writer forLighthouse Point Magazine and the a cultural arts columnist for Her photographs have appeared in these publications, in many Ohio periodicals, as well as in The Miami Herald, The Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and The Palm Beach Post. She has had numerous plays published and produced around the country. Her short play, America’s Working? was produced in Los Angeles at both the First Stage and the Lone Star Ensemble theater companies, in Florida at Lynn University and at an Off-Broadway playhouse in NYC. Her piece, The Lunch Time Café, was a finalist for the Heideman Award, Actors Theatre of Louisville. Please check out the re-prints of her interviews with authors Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson and Dexter novelist Jeff Lindsay in the October 2010 issue #2 and Chris Bohjalian in the April 2011 issue #3 of Duff Brenna’s ServingHouse: A Journal of Literary Arts at You can contact her at