Recently, Ellie, a one time raw vegan for 6 months in 2008, attended a Love & Vegetables pop-up dinner hosted by Michael’s Genuine Miami line cook Keith Kalmanowicz. This is no ordinary pop-up, and not just because it happens to be vegan, nor because it is hosted in Little Haiti, the last place you’d expect the of-the-moment trend in foodie dining to crop up. “Love & Vegetables is magic and the amount of passion that the chefs have for food is mirrored by the level of consciousness put into every aspect of the dinner,” she explained. “The sweetness and pure joy that the chefs have towards each other and the sanctuary where it takes place is simply a pleasure to witness. And not in any of the time I was vegan did I have food as dynamic and delicious as was served.” Wait that’s peachy, but… a sanctuary? I had to get to the bottom of this, and start at the source, like we usually do here. And that was Keith. Keith, the line cook, who pays a visit to Omar in our back office on 39th street like clockwork each week, accounting for his visits to the market. Keith who I witness putting out the soup special the days I make it to lunch pre-shift.
Like most stories, there are those things at the surface, and then the juicy middles. This is one of those stories. I learned more from interviewing Keith about how our kitchen functions than I have in a longer time than I am willing to admit. Here’s why.
Me: When did you start working for us and how did you find us?
Keith: I first heard of Chef Michael Schwartz when I watched the Michael’s Genuine episode of “After Hours with Daniel.” After watching the episode, I knew I would work for Chef Michael someday. I liked his fresh and simple approach to food. And, I like the fact he didn’t seem like a douchebag — he seemed like a cool dude from whom I could learn a lot.
I was previously employed at BLT Steak at the Betsy Ross Hotel working under Chef Sam Gorenstein, who use to be Michael’s sous chef. After 18 months for working Chef Sam, I asked him to recommend me to Michael. I was hired in September 2011, to work at Harry’s Pizzeria, as line/pizza cook. After working at Harry’s for two months, they asked me to stage at Michael’s. I was offered my new (current) job that afternoon.
Describe your position here – you are line cook but you are also responsible for visiting the market?
I work as a line cook at Michael’s, but I’m also responsible for purchasing all the produce that isn’t available from our local farmers. I visit the produce market every morning Monday – Friday before my shift begins at 8 a.m. I’m the first one in door at 5:30 am—I turn on the lights, light the burners on the oven, and check the prep list. I’m responsible for a daily special every day, so I start cooking as soon as possible. I like to get my sauces, soups, and chutneys started first thing, since they can take several hours to cook. I usually start the fresh ricotta, because it takes a couple of hours for the curds to separate from the whey. The other chefs come in around 7 or 8 am, and will finish some of the projects I start. Once I finish, I start calling produce vendors to check prices. I buy produce for both Michael’s Genuine and Harry’s Pizzeria. I receive a purchase list from the closing chef the night before . My goal when shopping is to buy Florida First, and then the southeast when that is unavailable, and then domestic last. I’m encouraged by Chef Bradley to buy anything that is local, seasonal, and a good price. Chef Bradley likes to see new things, and he likes to challenge his staff to come up with new and exciting menu items. I’ve come to personally know all my vendors, and I’m allowed to walk around the warehouses and check for new items daily.
By the way… Where is this infamous market I always hear about by the way? What is the deal with it?
The produce market is collection of fruit and vegetable vendors/wholesalers/markets all grouped in the same area of Allapattah, Miami – near Jackson Memorial Hospital. I would guestimate over 50 different vendors are there. Shopping at this market is complicated, because the vendors only care about price. They do not care about where the produce is from, or how is it grown. When I ask where’s something is from, they always look at me funny, and answer with a price. I ask how does it taste, and I get another price as a response. I know where to buy, now. I know who sources locally. I know who will let me sample their produce before I buy it. I joked that during peach season, I would eat 6-7 peaches a day, just trying to find the right case to buy. I don’t want to see another peach. I’m glad stone fruits are out of season now.
Tell me about where you live. When did you first move there and what is the concept?
I live on an urban, community farm in Little Haiti called The Earth ‘N’ Us Farm. The farm was founded in 1977 by Ray Chasser as a dream to create a wholesome, living environment for his family. The farm now occupies one and half city blocks in the heart of Little Haiti, approximately an acre of land. There are close to 30 people who live there, plus visitors, WOOFERs, and Bed and Breakfast guests. The farm serves as a learning space for kids and adults, and seeks to teach people how to respect and care for Earth and each other. And hopefully, the Farm serves as a place for us to learn how to peacefully co-exist.
What kind of animals live there and who takes care of them?
The farm houses an assortment of animals: chickens, pigs, emus, goats, ducks, turkens, geese, a turtle, and turkeys. All the animals have different stories of how they ended up on the farm. The farm serves an unofficial “no kill” barnyard animal shelter. We have two potbelly pigs, who were donated because they were housepets that got too big. I rescued a chicken from the MIchael’s parking lot with the help of our dishwasher, Raoul. The staff at Michael’s named her “Nuggets” pun-intended. She’s been living on the farm for several months now, and has a special place in Ray’s heart due to her funky, upturned short feathers. She recently has been discovered to be laying eggs behind the dryer.
When did you first start bringing MGFD scraps, what do they consist of and who likes to eat what?
I started bringing scraps from the restaurant home for the animals soon after I started working at Michael’s. I’m pretty sure it was the first or second day. Goats and pigs eat a lot of food, and they love fresh greens. I bring home 50-100 pounds of scraps a day, and whatever the animals do not eat, we add to our compost piles and worm bins. I transport the scraps on my electric bike, and the animals hear me coming. The turkeys come running and start attacking the box before I even sit it down. The pigs and emus get the bread scraps first, then the ducks, turkeys, and geese. The goats get all the greens. Then the pigs get the peelings. It’s a little process that takes me 20-30 minutes, but that’s my moment of zen after a busy day at the restaurant.
Now I want to visit! Tell me a little about it.
I host a ‘pay-what-you-can’ vegan pop-up on the farm every third Saturday of the month during the growing season, called Love and Vegetables. It’s a group of my friends, and community members from the farm—we call ourselves “Farmilia”—who come together to serve everyone who wants to eat good delicious vegan food, regardless of their income. If you can’t pay, that’s okay, too, just ask how you can volunteer. We accept all forms of payments, whether it’s spending time washing dishes, or moving mulch or Panther Coffee grinds around the farm, or picking fresh herbs from the garden. Our events are open to public, and we typically seat close to a 80 guests. We offer our volunteers a family meal, yoga, and meditation class throughout the day.
For more information on Love & Vegetables, or to attend a dinner, please visit its Facebook page and follow Keith on Instagram @Loveandvegetables.