Andy Niedenthal, the executive chef at Islamorada’s 119-room Islander Resort, A Guy Harvey Outpost, fell in love with food as a young Baltimore boy who helped his parents prepare Maryland crab feasts.
“It was always a good time with everyone sitting outside in the sun eating crabs,” Andy said. “I like to eat a lot.”
The certified executive chef cooked his way through the British Virgin Islands, the Deep South and Puerto Rico, but Islamorada always lured him back — at separate times during his 20s, 30s and 40s.
Now 48 years old, Andy is finalizing a coffee table–style cookbook titled “South of the Stretch, Seafood in the Conch Republic.”
“A lot of chefs write cookbooks that are difficult to follow unless you’re a chef,” he advised. “My idea is to showcase dishes that anyone can prepare in their own home.”
At age 15, the enterprising Andy bussed tables at a Greek restaurant. At 18, he earned a degree from Baltimore’s International Culinary Institute while working as a line cook.
He first moved to Islamorada’s 27-acre Cheeca Lodge & Spa in 1990 as executive sous chef under Dawn Sieber, also a Baltimore Culinary graduate.
“I had never been to Florida; I had never seen a palm tree,” Andy said. “When I first arrived at Cheeca Lodge, my jaw hit the floor.”
There he made his first television appearance, preparing a chocolate crème brulee sandwich on Discovery Channel’s “Great Chefs — Great Cities.”
He also cooked at Pierre’s Lounge & Restaurant at Morada Bay, and then moved to The Marshall House in Savannah, Georgia. But when his home’s pipes froze, he decided it was time to head south again.
In 2001, Andy was enticed back to Cheeca Lodge & Spa, where he created a popular annual food and wine festival. He has cooked for former President George H.W. Bush several times and for his son, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
At various tasting events across the country, he’s cooked alongside stars such as French chef Jacques Pepin, host of American Public Television’s “Heart & Soul,” and James Beard Award–winning chef Mark Militello. Icon Julia Child, known for her French cuisine, complimented Andy on his brown butter sauce as “the best she had ever had,” he reported.
In 2005 he relocated to the British Virgin Islands, where he joined the acclaimed National British Virgin Islands culinary team. He also worked in Puerto Rico.
Islamorada’s appeal subsequently lured him to the Florida Keys again — this time as Green Turtle Inn’s general manager and executive chef — but he later moved back to the British Virgin Islands to become director of culinary operations at Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina.
In 2012, however, he returned to Islamorada to become the Islander Resort’s executive chef.
“Islamorada is a destination that’s not affected by politics or the economy,” Andy said. “People come here to fish and they come back again. It’s a small town, a close-knit community with an island feel.”
Following his return, Andy relaunched the Islander Resort’s poolside Guy’s Beachside Bar & Grill, opened Bonefish Flats breakfast eatery and assisted with the development of a state-of-the-art conference facility and marine research museum.
His concoctions go beyond the Florida Keys’ traditional conch fritters, chowder and Key lime pie to include lobster truffle mac and cheese, house-smoked wahoo pate, mango shrimp tacos and “rarebit” jumbo lump crab — “a big hit.”
The celebrated chef has appeared on The Food Network’s “FoodNation” with Bobby Flay, “Epicurious” and “The Very Best of Everything” on the Travel Channel and CBS’ “The Morning Show” among others.
Outside the kitchen, Andy enjoys fishing for bonefish and tarpon. He revels in spending time with wife Ann Marie, who he met during his first job in Islamorada, and their dogs.
“I’m all about living in the Keys — I guess I’m just lucky,” Andy admitted. “I enjoy fishing, diving and a frosty libation on the beach overlooking the ocean.”