Ari Taymor was living a young cook’s dream in 2014. The adventurous prix-fixe menus at his debut restaurant, Alma, an unassuming spot wedged between a marijuana dispensary and a hostess club in downtown Los Angeles, earned the Californian chef honors from Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, and the James Beard Foundation. But the breakneck speed of steering an award-winning restaurant, a subject Taymor addressed candidly in an op-ed, took a toll on his mental health. In 2015, he shuttered Alma.
Since resetting, Taymor has become a vocal advocate for protecting mental wellness in an industry that can be relentless, and serves as a mentor for others. It’s an ethos he brings to his latest project, Pez Loco, in Miami’s thriving Wynwood neighborhood. The restaurant, which opened doors in February, dishes up coastal Mexican plates with South Floridian flair and imaginative, agave-forward cocktails.
Pez Loco’s menu draws inspiration from Mexico’s small seaside towns and bustling cities, with dishes including tostadas and shellfish from Baja, and tropical ceviches and aguachiles from Guerrero and Michoacán. Taymor took cues from his prior cooking experiences in California and Europe, plus multiple trips to Mexico, including a recent stint in Zihuatanejo, on Mexico’s Pacific coast, where he spent the last two years living and surfing. Mexico also carries familial significance for Taymor—it’s where his mother was born and raised. “We grew up traveling all over Mexico, visiting family and exploring throughout my childhood,” he adds.
Some of Taymor’s favorite dishes at Pez Loco are the radiatore with octopus-mezcal ragu—a spicy, smokey, citrusy pasta that he describes as surprising but comforting—and the Sinaloan tuna crudo that he first tasted in Mazatlan.
When Southbound Hospitality Group offered Taymor the new project, he jumped at the chance to build something from scratch, using much of what he learnt about mental health and the workplace. “Saying yes was easy,” he says, explaining that an ongoing relationship with the hospitality group, including a chef’s residency he completed with them at Three (the restaurant formerly located in the Pez Loco space) in 2018, led to formally joining forces.
A Fine Balance
“I was very excited to be able to put together a team and mentor again,” Taymor says of his latest venture. “COVID was a huge shock to the restaurant industry, it showcased a lot of the inequity and challenges rooted in our food system,” he added. “For me, it was important to share my knowledge and skills, not just when it comes to food, but also management and business practices—I want to give them the tools to continue successfully in the industry.”
To wit, Taymor urges the entire Pez Loco team to pursue meaningful hobbies outside of work—and explore realms that aren’t just food-related. “We encourage [our team] to have a heads-up mentality as opposed to pressuring them to keep their heads down,” he explains. “I think this allows someone to see consistent improvement which, over time, builds self-trust and true confidence, both in and out of work.”
Taymor took pride in composing his new team and was fortunate enough to bring an employee and friend from the west coast—chef de cuisine Victor Mendez, who began his cooking career with Taymor. “The ability to give [Victor] the opportunity to step into a new and larger role…was hugely important to me,” he says.
These days, in addition to helming Pez Loco, Taymor prioritizes his mental health and avoids burnout by balancing his professional commitments with more active pursuits. “I am a lifelong surfer, it’s something I consider as much a part of my identity as anything in my career,” he says. “Having a deep relationship with an activity provides an extra boost when it feels like the odds are against you,” he adds. “It’s very meditative to me and helps me remain present in what is a very challenging industry.”
Amber Love Bond is a Miami-based food + beverage writer who can typically be found somewhere delicious with her laptop in tow and a cocktail in hand. See what she’s sipping and follow her adventures on Instagram.