1255 N. Gulfstream Avenue, Suite 101, Sarasota, FL 34236
Phone: (941) 487-1100
By Lauren Jackson
Chef Lan Bradeen at méLange.
Image: Peter Acker Photography
For 17 years, Chef Lan Bradeen has helped to shape Sarasota’s culinary landscape thanks to her inventive dishes. Some change with the seasons and others, like the rabbit tacos, that have been on the menu since day one. Since opening her restaurant, MéLange, in 2007 in downtown Sarasota, she’s watched numerous restaurants come and go. But thanks to her focus and creativity to town, MéLange has withstood passing trends.
“I like to look around the world and see what other cooks are doing and other chefs are putting on the menu. That’s interesting to me,” Bradeen says. “When you’re in the food business for so long, a lot of it becomes mundane. You seek out other people’s creativity.'”
Bradeen, 44, moved to Florida as a baby and settled in Sarasota at 8 years old. She graduated from Pine View School before heading off to Florida State University to pursue an undergraduate degree in religion. She then attended the East West College of Natural Medicine, where she picked up a master’s degree in Oriental medicine, with hopes of practicing acupuncture.
“I loved the study of acupuncture, but not the practice. It just wasn’t for me,” she says.
It was also during her time at East West College that she began working in kitchens to pay for school.
“I took cooking jobs because it was more of a nighttime gig. I am an introvert, so I wasn’t great at serving,” Bradeen recalls. “I tried for about a year and was like, ‘OK, this isn’t me. Let’s get in the kitchen.'”
She developed her culinary skills at the Summerhouse, a now-closed restaurant on Siesta Key. (That’s not to be confused with the Summer House in Siesta Key Village, which pays homage to the original.)
“I think if [the original Summerhouse] hadn’t closed in 2005, I might still be there,” she says. “But it did, and I thought maybe I could open my own restaurant because I was young and stupid.”
Not stupid at all, it turns out. Seventeen years later, Bradeen continues to wow her guests with dishes inspired by food from around the world.
“I value sharing culture and food,” she says. “An example is when I travel to Europe and find dishes classic to the region or unique to the chef who created them, then bring them back and share them with Sarasota. I just really like showing people what can be done with food.”
Bradeen’s palate is subtle yet deliberate. During a recent sherry tasting, hosted in the private tearoom adjoining MéLange, a raw oyster was paired with olive tapenade and diced apples, making for an unlikely combination that burst on the palate with intense brininess and a light sweetness. Paired with a dry Palomino Fino sherry, the marriage of flavors was sublime.
In another course, she married osso buco with a coffee jus highlighted by a vanilla and anise crema—but the crema was so light and airy it could be called a foam. The savory veal preparation was enriched by an undercurrent of vanilla, both unexpected and satisfying. When paired with a more robust aged sherry, the dish shone.
Bradeen is just as intentional with her business perspective.
“You have to be committed. Your restaurant is going to be open whether you feel like working or not. Commitment, having a good team and organization are essential,” she says.
Bradeen works in partnership with her co-proprietor and husband, Brad Coburn. The pair married earlier this year but have been together since 2006. Their duties are divided, with Bradeen running the culinary program at MéLange and Coburn managing its front-of-house operations and the beverage program at their speakeasy next door, Pangea Alchemy Lab.
“We’ve always been a little bit obsessive in general, in terms of wanting things to be great,” Bradeen says. “But we try to stay out of each other’s lanes.”
“I feel grateful that I grew up here and can still be creative in Sarasota, a town that was not very creative, culinary-wise, when I was young,” she says. “I’m grateful that my customers are here and appreciate me and my food. I’m very privileged.”
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