This one is the opposite… people will tell you to “leave everything at that door” when you step into the kitchen. I feel this is hard since you spend the majority of your time at work. Try not to make it affect you but don’t pretend you’re ok all the time. Say something and address it and you will get through the day.
As part of our series about the lessons from influential ‘TasteMakers’, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dina Butterfield, Chef de Cuisine, Uchi Miami.
Dina Butterfield, born and raised in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and formed a passion for cooking at an early age inspired by her grandmother. Motivated to pursue her dream, she completed culinary school in 2005 in Mexico City. From there, Butterfield worked her way up from cocktail server to office manager in various restaurants in and around Mexico City before landing her first cooking job at Eccolo Restaurant in Berkeley, California.
After working at Eccolo Restaurant and Ame Restaurant in San Francisco, Butterfield left the California coast to return to her native Mexico as Chef de Cuisine at Dos Casas Boutique Hotel in San Miguel de Allende (named 2006 Best Restaurant by Travel + Leisure). There, she was responsible for creating menus, ordering, and food preparation. Butterfield then worked as Sous Chef at Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, Texas before beginning her career with Hai Hospitality. She joined the Uchi team as Sous Chef at Uchi Dallas before making the big move to Denver to serve as Executive Sous Chef in 2018. In 2020, Butterfield moved to Miami to open Uchi in the Wynwood neighborhood as Executive Sous Chef and has recently been elevated to lead the team as Chef de Cuisine.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?
First my grandmother but also my dad. He always told me to find something I was passionate about and go for it.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on?
Not specifically. I’m Mexican and I always try to incorporate that in my dishes. That is one of the reasons I love my job, because I actually have the freedom to do that at Uchi Miami.
What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that?
I was born in Mexico and my grandma was an amazing cook. Food and cooking was always a big part of our life.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef?
I don’t know if this is funny, but at my first job I had to butcher, like, thirty chickens and that was the ONE thing I did not like to do. I guess I was in a corner making a face and a chef walked by me and just said: “You’re not being tortured, it’s just chicken.”
What was the lesson or takeaway you took out of that story?
There’s so many things we might not like, or think we don’t like, to do. But at the end it’s part of our job. You end up not minding at all because you love what you do.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
The hardest part of starting this journey was being away from home. I was fortunate that I lived in San Francisco — I had an aunt there so I felt connected, but I was away from my culture.
Kitchens are so demanding, and you spend so much time at work that your team becomes your work family and that’s how I’ve always been able to adapt to new cities and new adventures.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
The most important thing is knowing what your guests like — adapting to the city and paying attention to your surroundings. Food is a very personal thing so when you create, you create what inspires you in that moment. I focus in on what inspires me about a city and its culture.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you?
A perfect meal is the one you enjoy with people you love, laughing and eating!
Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?
I’m inspired by the environment I’m in and sometimes just challenging myself to try something new.
To be honest i’m inspired by ingredients. I think about what ingredient I want to work with, and I start working around that.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
We’re working on new dishes for the future at Uchi Miami and trying to figure out and define what we want Miami to be for us. We have a very good core at Uchi and we like to bring that to other cities by identifying what people like in that area.
What advice would you give to other chefs to thrive and avoid burnout?
We work a lot of hours but it’s important to find time for ourselves to recharge. Even if it’s one hour a day.
I like to spend time with my dog and go on long walks.
Most important: think one day at a time. I keep saying this over and over lately. But sometimes you need to think about today and not about what’s going to happen a week from now. Every day is a new day and a new challenge.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
This is a hard one because I’ve had a lot of good mentors over the years.
- People: they’re the most important element of your success
- Have fun: Take the job seriously but sometimes don’t take yourself that seriously
- Nothing is a coincidence (actually somebody did say this to me and I’ve applied it so many times)
- This one is the opposite… people will tell you to “leave everything at that door” when you step into the kitchen. I feel this is hard since you spend the majority of your time at work. Try not to make it affect you but don’t pretend you’re ok all the time. Say something and address it and you will get through the day.
- Don’t take anything for granted. Not even the bad moments because it will make you a better chef.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit Uchi?
My favorite will always be the hirame uzusukuri and the hama chili. They represent Uchi. For Uchi Miami specifically: the ora king crudo.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.