Chef Mario Carbone brought his exclusive pop-up back to the Miami GP for 2023, and Boardroom went behind the velvet ropes to get a taste of the star-studded spectacle.
An ocean breeze rolled in at the end of 18th Street in South Beach on Sunday night as luxury SUVs and rideshare vehicles discretely picked up and dropped off passengers who took part in the final evening of the second annual Carbone Beach experience, an exclusive, $3,000-per-seat pop-up curated by chef Mario Carbone, Major Food Group, and American Express.
After showing an exclusive QR code to get past a red velvet rope, a long, winding boardwalk path brough guests to the entrance. Inside the dining room, 400 guests on each iteration of the four-night event from Thursday to Sunday during Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix race weekend took in the elegant vibes while seated in black chairs at circular tables adorned with classic white tablecloths and illuminated by elaborate chandeliers hanging from a ceiling decorated with swooping red tapestries. The temporary structure was meant to evoke what Carbone called a contemporary version a grand circa-1960s supper club.
“It’s a departure from what is being done today, but I think that there’s a nostalgic chord that we’re tugging at that resonates with a lot of people that weren’t even around in that generation,” Carbone, wearing his traditional chef whites, told Boardroom after completing his fourth and final dinner service.
That nostalgic chord was reflected in all the decor, the show tunes that played as guests ate, numerous elegant performers dressed to the nines, and even a roped-off Ferrari F1 car from a bygone era.
“It’s a departure from what is being done today, but there’s a nostalgic chord that we’re tugging at that resonates with a lot of people that weren’t even around in that generation,” Carbone said.
Decision by decision, every detail needed to help tell this story and fall in line with Carbone’s philosophy. That included not just the human particpants, but aspects like the menu itself — right down to its physical size, its font and styling, the food offerings, and the way the dishes themselves are to be plated.
“It’s a play. It’s not a restaurant,” the acclaimed chef and restauranteur said. “You have to know all the characters and they have to be in costume.”
On Sunday, the star-studded cast of characters included LL Cool J, Mike Tyson, Gary Vaynerchuk, Steve Stoute, Lindsey Vonn, Larsa Pippen and Marcus Jordan, Brooklyn Beckham, Brandon Marshall, Richard Hamilton, and former White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, who all took in the vibes and — if they stayed — got a surprise performance from the legendary Lauryn Hill.
Other notable names across the weekend included Jeff Bezos, Future, Venus Williams, Stefon Diggs, social media influencer Jen Selter, Maverick Carter, BMX star Nigel Sylvester, Dak Prescott, designer June Ambrose, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Miami Heat players Jimmy Butler, Gabe Vincent, and Max Strus, entrepreneur/investor Ken Griffin, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, and Grand Prix CEO Tom Garfinkel, with performances by Diana Ross, Diddy, Fabolous, Busta Rhymes, and the Gipsy Kings.
Asked how he’s attracted this level of star power to his event, Carbone said that all he can do is focus on the product and let the rest take care of itself.
“If you put out a product that enough people want, it draws in the crowd,” he said. “But I can’t make anybody come here. They’ve done it by choice. It’s all part of the product. It’s all that matters to me.”
Carbone didn’t envision what would become this final product wasn’t envisioned until the idea of putting a pop-up together around F1 Miami came together with a five-year contract with American Express to create an experience similar to the chef’s namesake 10-year-old New York City flagship restaurant, but grander. Then, Carbone and his team worked backward, plotting out how the pop-up concept would look and feel, what the narrative would be, and what the guest experience would look like.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to take even the slightest departure from the traditional restaurant model and flex some new muscles, get a little creative, and push the team in ways that we all really enjoy,” Carbone said. “It’s a really fun and exciting project. We wouldn’t do it otherwise. We believe that if we’re not doing something we want to be at, we shouldn’t do it ourselves. We shouldn’t do it for anyone else.”
Once a year for these four days, Carbone gets to depart from a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant setup and its typical cadence of reservations and turning tables over. It’s no offense to the global cultural mecca that is New York, but Carbone Beach offers one-of-a-kind opportunities that diners aren’t going to find elsewhere no matter how far ahead they manage to book a ritzy reservation.
“An ocean breeze is hitting us right now,” the chef said from outside the pop-up’s front entrance. “So, there’s a lot of things about this that are a departure for me from a traditional, normal restaurant — everyone sits in tandem. It’s more of an event, a banquet, a show, a performance. It’s even more theatrical than our regular restaurants, and that’s something that is kind of our calling card.”
That he had captured a unique energy was apparent nearly immediately before the first night of Carbone Beach last year. Carbone knew that something special was happening that went beyond a few fancy dinners.
“You put a lot of effort into the details,” Carbone said, “and when all those details equal the right answer to a problem being solved, you have a feeling, a sense of accomplishment.”
Carbone said his favorite part of the weekend took place before he left the kitchen to talk with Boardroom — he was able to shake the hands of all the staff involved with putting on this multisensory show and thank them for a job well done. He estimated that about 100 people work on this project throughout the year to help feed several thousand patrons over the four days only for the temporary Carbone Beach structure to get knocked down shortly after Sunday’s festivities ended and the stars walked back to their waiting SUVs that drove off into the calm South Beach night.
There was to be no post-Grand Prix respite, however. Carbone and his team planned to get together on Monday and compare notes regarding what worked well and what didn’t, looking for even the tiniest tweaks to improve the 2024 experience when Carbone Beach returns for year three.
“What becomes possible should get greater. Otherwise, we’re standing still,” Carbone said, noting that he has a fear of the comfortable. “And if you’re standing still, you’re going backwards, right? So you’ve got to keep pushing.”
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