Orlando’s hottest new rooftop restaurant, illume, recently opened at the JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa, on Thursday May 27th. If you are looking for a place is full breathtaking views, an Asian-inspired menu , and handcrafted Japanese sake and aged whiskey cocktails – this is the perfect place to try. Perfect for viewing the nightly nearby Disney fireworks.
The restaurant is led by chef Myra Buerkle, a Filipina native who came to Orlando just over a decade ago, bringing her skill and flair to illume’s illustrious kitchen. We spoke with her recently via e-mail about her background and her plans –
Chef Profile: Chef Myra Buerkle at illume at JW Marriott Bonnet Creek
Tell us about your background – where did you grow up and how did you get started into food?
“I grew up in the Philippines in a town called Solano Nueva Vizcaya, but I spent the majority of my time in Manila. My mother cooked for weddings, baptisms, birthdays and other special occasions. She was self-taught and never formally educated in food services, and I grew up alongside her during my formative years. After watching her cook, I was inspired to pursue her dream of becoming a chef. Although she was not able to get the proper education, she made sure that I followed my heart. Becoming a chef is a tribute to my mother, who I recently lost.”
Tell us about your past culinary experiences. What are some lessons you have learned along the way as a chef?
“I graduated from First Gourmet Academy in Manila with a diploma in Culinary Arts as my 2nd degree while interning with Manila Marriott Hotel in Resorts World. Upon coming to the United States, I joined the Wyndham Grand Orlando as part of the opening team, where I stayed for 9 years. I was the chef de cuisine for a 3-meal casual restaurant and pool bar, then later was appointed as a banquet chef. From my past experience, I learned that being a chef is not about power, it’s about responsibility. Being a chef is an earned title, where one must be a great cook and an inspiring leader.”
What is the moment that you realized you wanted to become a chef?
“I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management as my 1st degree and worked for Intercontinental Hotel Amman Jordan as a front of the house supervisor. While I was at the Intercontinental, I learned the Arabic language and was able to speak fluently. Since the kitchen was short staffed, I always volunteered to help do some prep. In those moments, I realized that being a chef was my true calling.”
What are some childhood memories around food that sticks with you to this day?
“One of my favorite childhood memories was hearing all the great compliments my mother received about her cooking and specialties, which included the delicious Pansit (rice noodles), Chicken Adobo, Pinakbet (vegetable stew), Pinapaitan (bitter stew) and Dinuguan (pork blood stew).”
As the new head chef, what are some upcoming plans that you have for the menu and illume? What are some changes that guests might see?
“I am excited to expand our sushi bar menu and add more of my own Asian flavor and touch. In the near future, guests will be able to experience an upscale sushi bar and new Asian delicacies at illume.”
What are some goals you have for the illume’s food and drink offerings this year 2021?
“For food, I would like to take it to the next level and bring more interesting variations of Asian cuisine and wider selections of sushi.”
What are some of your favorite dishes on the menu right now and why?
“I love the Sakana Fritters, which are the reason I got the job as chef. Honestly though, I love the whole menu.”
What are the most popular dishes right now at illume?
“Guests love our beef and chicken skewers and our Bao Pei is a best seller. The Gyu no Kani roll is very popular as well. All of our Yakitori-style skewers and signature maki along with our Omakase box are must-tries.”
What are some lessons you have learned during 2020?
“During the pandemic, I was furloughed, and then my position was eliminated altogether since illume was not yet opened. With the loss of both my parents, 2020 was a sad year, but I never lost faith that I could get back into what I really love to do, cooking!”
What are some personal resolutions you have for 2021?
“I am looking forward to continuing to expound my knowledge, passion and repertoire. Every day is a learning day. I am not in a competition with anyone, but I would like to better myself every day.”