Chef Lan Bradeen may have followed a not-so-direct path to restaurant ownership, but having owned her own successful Sarasota eatery for the past dozen years, it’s safe to say she eventually figured it all out.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Bradeen has lived in Sarasota since she was 8 years old. She says she developed an affinity for cooking from her Vietnamese mother, who was first a farmer and then an engineer.
“After high school, I had jobs in restaurants, but it was mostly to get myself through college for acupuncture and Oriental medicine,” Bradeen said. “Then I discovered that I really loved cooking, so in the early 2000s, I became trained as a chef.”
In 2007, she was working at the popular Siesta Key eatery, The Summerhouse, when the restaurant was bought by developers, who turned the property into a condominium development. Bradeen decided that she would open a place of her own — something that had the same kind of feeling and atmosphere of the iconic restaurant where she had previously been employed.
She says she didn’t even think twice about how tough it might be to have her own business.
“I was 28 then and I just didn’t have any fear,” she said. “I felt like if you have the passion for the food, and the love of the business and the customers, that’s all you need to be successful.”
At Melange, which she opened in downtown Sarasota 12 years ago, she seems to have combined all of those elements very well. She serves what she refers to as “Modern American” cuisine, which means that it’s not based on any one traditional way of cooking.
Since opening, Melange has gathered accolades from both locals and part-timers, including an award for “Best Casual Restaurant in Florida” in 2011 through the Cordon D’Or International Culinary Arts Academy, and Chef Lan’s inclusion as a Best Chef America member since 2013.
She changes her menu seasonally. If she had to give her cuisine a classification of some kind, Bradeen said it would be mostly French and maybe somewhat Italian.
“On our fall menu, the rabbit tacos are pretty popular, because you have what would be considered a challenging meat in our culture, but it’s in a taco,” she said. “People also love the duck brie crepes, which has currants, almonds and a brandy cream sauce. They like that sweetness and crunch.”
Bradeen says that whenever she can, she first sources her ingredients from local farms, and then from small and environmentally-conscious proprietors, since she has found that the highest quality foods are grown by individuals who care about their craft.
Next door and connected to Melange is a cocktail lounge Bradeen owns with her business partner, Brad Coburn. Coburn is also the master drink proprietor at Pangea Alchemy Lab and he provides all of the special cocktails Bradeen serves in the restaurant. Using hand cut ice, hand squeezed fresh juices, house made infusions, syrups, tinctures and hand-picked small batch liquors, Pangea’s creations are the perfect accompaniment to Melange’s eclectic cuisine.
Bradeen said that while the restaurant doesn’t necessarily have any holiday-themed events coming up, there is always something special going on.
“In the off-season, we do crafted dinners, which are five courses with paired cocktails,” she said. “I will also do wine dinners, if a winemaker is in town. And this year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Pangea will be doing holiday seasonal cocktails.”