By Lauren Sage Reinlie
March 21, 2021
ROSEMARY BEACH – Todd Rogers, executive chef of Havana Beach Bar & Grill, had worked in five-star resorts and restaurants all across the country when he packed up his family and moved to South Walton over six years ago.
It wasn’t hard for him to leave behind the bustle of big cities.
“I always say you should work where you love to live,” the 60-year-old Rogers said recently. “The 30A area is just such a beautiful place, it’s so unique. All the beaches and quaint little towns. I have lived in big cities like Atlanta and Houston, but really I prefer this.”
The attraction of a place with a small-town feel likely comes from Rogers’ formative years, growing up on a small farm in West Virginia, farming and gardening and above all cooking alongside his grandmother. They gathered fruits and vegetables for jams and jellies. They baked biscuits and gravy, collected eggs from the chicken coop.
“It took all day, but you didn’t have phones and televisions and everything that took all your time,” Rogers recalled. “You made food, you lived to eat.”
When he was 16 a chef at a nearby country club took him under his wing. He went to college and studied business at his dad’s request, but shortly after he was accepted to the Culinary Institute of America in New York City. He was the first of his family to move away from home — to one of the biggest cities in the country, no less.
“It was a little bit of a culture shock,” Rogers recalled.
His cooking journey has taken him all across the U.S., but the passion his grandmother helped stoke at such a young age has never waned.
He brought it to Havana Beach where they cook, as he says, the “old-fashioned” way. Everything is made by hand.
Sauces begin with roasting bones and caramelizing vegetables.
“People say, ‘Why would you spend three days making demi-glace?’ Because it’s how you should do it.”
– Todd Rogers, executive chef
“There are just so many things you can buy this day and age so people say, ‘Why would you spend three days making demi-glace?’ Because it’s how you should do it,” Rogers said. “It’s not just a TV show where you make four courses in 30 minutes. It takes a lot of care and pride and passion to create great food.”
It also takes consistency, a strive for perfection and a tight-knit staff who share the same the values.
Rogers and his staff practice and perfect all their recipes from the shrimp and grits or Delmonico filet mignon to their expertly crafted avocado BLT.
Rogers enjoys teaching new cooks, sharing classical cooking techniques and tips he’s learned along the way.
“A lot of the older chefs kind of hold their recipes and techniques close to their chests,” Rogers said. “I believe in the other way: teaching everyone around you what you know and helping the young people who want to move up and learn something new.”
The farm-to-table food Rogers grew up with is also present at Havana Beach.
Almost everything Rogers serves comes from along the Gulf Coast: oysters, shrimp, grouper, snapper and flounder from Apalachicola Bay and the Gulf of Mexico; organic chickens from Bonifay, Florida; peppery, farm-fresh arugula, micro-radishes, micro-sorrel and other micro greens from a hydroponic farm about an hour north of the restaurant.
A truck from New Orleans stops at small family-run farms in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida along the way.
“It’s kind of like a market on a truck coming right to your back door,” he said.
Havana Beach Bar & Grill features a main dining area, a veranda with outdoor seating, a roof deck patio with views of the Gulf and a large, hand-carved mahogany bar with one of the largest bottle collections in South Walton.
Rogers says he doesn’t plan to stop working anytime soon.
“I always like to say I’m self-employed. I just find someone to pay me to do what I love.”
Havana Beach Bar & Grill is located at The Pearl Hotel, 63 Main Street in Rosemary Beach. The restaurant is open daily from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for breakfast and lunch, and 5 to 9 p.m. for dinner. The bar is open from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Call 850-588-2882 for more information.