First, let’s get the pronunciation right. It’s staahj from the French word stagiaire (apprentice). It refers to backbreaking unpaid labor by curious cooks craving the secret sauces and kitchen alchemy of rock star chefs. But before the backstage pass, apples must be peeled by the bushel and dishes washed by the stack. In a nod to high hopes and humble beginnings, Stage, Palm Beach Gardens’ newest eatery, is buzzing with fanfare and a solid Palm Beach following that doesn’t mind driving the extra mile to spend an evening in a grand room enveloped in soothing shades of indigo and earth tones, a lively open kitchen, an art gallery wall, and a garden scented by kaffir lime and lemongrass.
Co-owners and former stages Andy Dugard and chef Pushkar Marathe have an East-meets-West story. Dugard, a Liverpool, England, native (and former general manager at Buccan and Imoto) opened restaurants in Puerto Rico, Palm Beach, London and Las Vegas. Marathe, born in India, cooked at revered spots in Switzerland, Dubai, Grand Cayman and Miami. They crossed paths three years ago at Meat Market Palm Beach, where they plotted their next act. “It was always a goal to run my own place,” says Dugard. “Pushkar and I have been in the business all of our lives, and now we want to take our joint experiences to set up a place like no other: formal, but not—a place with amazing food, hospitality and no set rules.”
Marathe says he does not feel bound to have a pasta section or keep a cut of meat on the menu. It’s printed daily and is a reflection of available ingredients and culinary whimsy. Yet, a few notable dishes can be counted on to make the daily cut. These include a deboned, local snapper flavored with a chutney of ginger, coconut, cumin, cilantro and steamed so that, upon unwrapping, there is a heady, exotic aroma. There is also a ceviche of local catch with equal parts citrus and heat, along with a vegan version made with sprouted grain, root vegetables and roasted tomatoes. And, of course, there’s the grilled peri-peri chicken. “This is a dish I made especially for Andy because it reminds him of home,” says Marathe. “It’s a popular Liverpool staple, where there are South African and Portuguese influences.”
Marathe refuses to pin down his cuisine in terms of countries or trends. “Cuisines evolve due to migrations, and we want to pay homage to the different cultures we have lived and worked with,” he says. “Growing up as an Indian Air Force brat, I was exposed to different dishes from all over my country. Today, I cook creative interpretations of global food with regional ingredients and a focus on health and the environment.”
So don’t ask for bottled water. Stage provides complimentary filtered still or sparkling water. It offers natural and boutique wines, as well as in-house beer with added turmeric, made locally. All the world may be a stage, but in the kitchen, you start as a stage, climb the line and eventually earn your bragging rights to break the rules.