As the Miami Beach Convention Center (MBCC) gets ready to unveil two new restaurant and event spaces, Rum Room and Venu, Sodexo Live!—the official caterer of MBCC—announces new culinary leadership. As executive chef of these concepts, both located in the 1916-built historic Clubhouse, Samantha Cruz will bring 12 years of experience in fine dining and sports entertainment hospitality to what will soon become Miami Beach’s most talked-about venues.
A third-generation Miamian, Cruz developed a passion for cooking at a young age. The eldest of nine siblings, she was raised in Allapattah by a single mother and was often tasked with cooking lunch for her brothers and sisters. To keep it interesting, Cruz experimented with different flavors and ingredients from her family’s roots: Cuba, Peru, Dominican Republic, and St. Croix.
“I would see a lot of my grandma’s cooking—she was the type to cook in a pit of fire with a pot that’s bigger than the table,” Cruz says. “She would go to the backyard and pick caña, and I would run around with that in my mouth. Even with limited resources, we had a lot of ingredients and a lot of cultures.”
When Cruz graduated from high school, she got a job as a restaurant food runner, and everything fell into place. Fast-forward to today, and she’s worked as Executive Sous Chef at hospitality powerhouses like 50 Eggs (Swine, Yardbird, and Kong River House) and Grove Bay Group (Big Easy and Glass and Vine), and was Chef de Cuisine at PLANTA in Miami Beach. Since joining Sodexo Live! four years ago, Cruz created menus and cooked for tens of thousands of guests at major events like the Super Bowl LIV, Miami Open, Art Basel Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale Orange Bowl Food & Wine Festival, Seattle Mariners’ opening day at T-Mobile Park, and more.
“Nothing feels more natural to me than being in the kitchen,” says Cruz. “I will never do anything other than cook and make people happy. It’s my love language.”
At Rum Room, a 60-seat restaurant with tropical, 1920s Florida decor, Cruz will create an upscale menu inspired by traditional Miami dishes and South Florida’s Caribbean roots. Along with infusing indigenous Florida ingredients into every dish—like local corn, Florida River Gold potatoes, and other produce or spices found in Redlands farms and its farmers’ markets—Cruz will add a touch of history. Dishes at Rum Room will incorporate typical Spanish ingredients like beans and sofritos, a byproduct of Spaniards passing through Miami Beach in the early 20th century, along with the Haitian, Latin, and Central American influences of Cruz and her kitchen team. When it opens in early 2023, guests can enjoy menu highlights like jamón Serrano croquetas, black truffle corn tamales cut, and plated table-side.
At Venu, an event space, Cruz will develop custom menus for cocktail parties, business meetings, weddings, bat or bar mitzvahs, and more. Separate waterfront outdoor seating will offer guests a sophisticated haunt to sip on a handcrafted rum cocktail, indulge in flavorful tapas, and enjoy family-style servings of whole fish, steak, chicken, and specially-created sides.
“We’re going to use Florida ingredients to make Florida food to make Florida people happy,” says Cruz. “When guests come to Rum Room or Venu, I want them to feel seen, heard, and understood. There’s so much diversity, influence, and flavor here. I want them to know that the culture of Miami is important and that Miami is a place to be and something to see and taste.”