Chef Kevin Cory, owner of Naoe in Miami, just became one of 28 restaurants in the world to earn the coveted Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award. His tiny Japanese restaurant on Brickell Key serves only eight guests at two seatings and it’s omakase style—meaning everything is chef’s choice. Standards are high—the sake and soy sauce offered here are all from relatives breweries in Kanazawa, Japan, also the home of Cory’s extended family and the inspiration for the restaurant.
Congratulations on the Five-Star honor. What does the distinction mean to you?
Achieving the world’s most prestigious honor in hospitality, the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award, has been a lifelong dream. I started as an assistant sushi chef in Miami in 1993. In 1995, I worked in Manhattan and dined at as many restaurants as possible. The level of professionalism in New York was exciting. I found Mobil Travel Guide [now Forbes Travel Guide] to have the most consistent hospitality rating standards. In 1999, I went to Toyama, Japan, to briefly train with my uncle Yasushi Naoe, who was a kaiseki chef for over 50 years. I also traveled to Kanazawa, Japan, to find my roots. Kanazawa is incredibly charming with a history of unparalleled sincere hospitality establishments dating back many generations for hundreds of years.
Kanazawa clearly inspired me to honor history and represent my family by naming my restaurant after my Japanese family name, Naoe, only serve my relatives’ sakes and to keep the restaurant a personable small size. Kanazawa’s superb level of hospitality blew me away and became an inspiration…. To have overcome a very long walk of circumstances, stay in business and for my inspirations to have lead Naoe to become one of only 28 restaurants in the world to achieve the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award is surreal. I could not have won this great honor by myself. Aside from orchestrating the performances required every second of the day along with my manager, Wendy Maharlika, there were inspirations, perspectives and a relentless work ethic combined that blossomed within.
Though the awards are steadily coming in, do you still feel a bit under the national radar?
Not at all. Although our tiny location is incredibly discreet, and even without paid advertisements or a public relations firm, we have earned a reputation that attracts guests from the northeastern United States, Chicago, Brazil, Venezuela and France. Word-of-mouth spreads faster than fire on the Internet, and Forbes Travel Guide has the highest objective standards for hospitality in the world.