Cooking the Line: Megan Hess

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Megan working the oven station at MGFD with TGHG executive chef Bradley Herron at Brunch this past Sunday during Art Basel. Click the photo for a Hyperlapse of the action on Instagram.

It was 3:00 p.m. and another Sunday Brunch shift had blown through Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink.  As Megan and I sat in the courtyard, she was still in her “Chef Yoga” pants but off her feet for the first time since 7:00 a.m.  “Is my hair in order?” she asked, taking off her cap.  Megan had prepared and cooked countless dishes from the wood oven station, made even more numerous due to Brunch’s special small plates format.  She was the only girl on the savory line that morning, yet the classic Megan smile as big and bright as you’ll ever see was out in full force, the same after the shift as it was before.

“I love it! There are a lot of jokes! I grew up with an older brother and his friends and I am used to it.”

Being a line cook isn’t easy.  It’s a rough and tumble job, both mentally and physically, and not for the faint of heart.  Even as a strong woman, it’s not difficult to see how the prestigious title of Chef has more often been awarded to men more than women.  In this battlefield of orders, cutlery and fire, one must shed the individual – the passion that put you there – and don the team.  One must trust and be trusted otherwise it just doesn’t work.  Our Genuine team consists of talented and passionate individuals, from the host to the wood oven, and from savory to pastry, who do just that. Everyday. And Megan, well, she’s a perfect example.

“I guess it all started back in Ohio,” Megan shares.  “I first learned how to make French toast when I was 5 years old with my great grandmother. By middle school I wanted to be a pastry chef.”

In fact, her heart was so set for the culinary world, that Megan attended a technical high school where she competed in culinary competitions junior and senior year; and she wooed judges at an early age. The experience made her fall in love with the food and beverage industry. At the recommendation of her advisor at North Miami’s Johnson & Wales University where she currently studies culinary arts and food service management, Megan applied for a part-time internship at Michael’s Genuine to put her techniques into practice.  She was hired as a full-time line cook shortly after.

“Megan’s a quick learner and she doesn’t complain. She just gets the job done,” explains Daniel Ramirez who at the time of Megan’s internship was a sous chef at Michael’s Genuine. He’s now Chef de Cuisine at Harry’s Pizzeria. “I think we [Chef de Cuisine Niven Patel, Executive Pastry Chef Hedy Goldsmith, and sous-chef Jason Arroyo] were astonished that her passion and talent went hand in hand with solid execution and professionalism.  It’s a hard combination to come by especially in a young cook.”

Megan welcomed the additional responsibility. She worked hard and played hard. She was in short, genuine.  Continuing her studies full-time, she attends school from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on most weekdays, and then comes to work at 3:00 p.m. I asked, “When do you do your homework?” and she replied “Within those three hours of course.”  As a student myself juggling work, I was impressed.  “On my days off, I nap,” this 21 year old admits.

Megan is often assigned to work at the wood oven, a very challenging station, and her favorite. Why so? She shares that the challenge motivates her. She does not receive a ticket with a list of what she is to prepare. Rather, she must remember what the Chef at the expo line requested, on the fly! In addition, she can prepare the whole snapper and the whole “Poulet Rouge.” Yum!

“My favorite dish to make at MGFD is the pasta,” Megan says.  “I love the variety at the sauté station, since it changes daily, and that we make it in house, fresh.  I also enjoy working at the grill due to the tempo. Well, I can have fun at pretty much any station!”

Megan dreams of success and a family, but also to be like Niven one day. Who says you can’t have it all? In addition, she hopes  to motivate and teach students at technical schools, as she once was, to encourage them to pursue their goals. We say that girls like Megan truly make the dream team happen.

Chef at Home: Roel Alcudia’s Familia Filipino

IMG_2157“I feel like all my training and time working in professional kitchens has brought me back to where I began. It’s like I’m finally ready to be able to cook the food my great grandmother would make me.”

So if our chef de cuisine at The Cypress Room Roel Alcudia has come home at last, his is a fitting first post for our new blog series exploring the formative influences outside our restaurant kitchens that make our chefs who they are today.

Alcudia was born in 1979 in Iloilo, the heart of the Visayas region of The Philippines where milkfish from the ponds outside the city center find a place at the dinner table. Visayas forms the geographical heart of this archipelago of the South Pacific, and if it sounds Spanish you’re right on.  Settled and colonized by Spain after Ferdinand Magellan’s arrival in 1521, The Philippines today has a population of about 100 million people and is the seventh-most populated country in Asia — the 12th most populated country in the world. An additional 12 million Filipinos live overseas, comprising one of the world’s largest diasporas. So why as a cuisine does its identity so often go misunderstood – or not known period in our global dining consciousness?

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“The Filipino people are excellent chameleons,” explains Alcudia.  “It’s a culture that has existed in a firmly rooted identity crisis since colonization.  We know how to assimilate. Maybe too well.”

Alcudia grew up in a family of farmers, raising cattle, pigs and chickens and growing indigenous fruits and vegetables. The kitchen was his great grandmother Enicita Segovia’s.  She cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday for the house and the workers at the farm with whatever she could forage in the fields and whatever they might have on hand. Alcudia now credits this early experience with teaching him the importance and appreciation of the delicate balance of where our food comes from.  “We ate what we had and not what we wanted,” he reflects.

It was a lesson easily forgotten when his immediate family moved to NYC in the winter of 1992, with consumer culture at a fever pitch.  Like most middle class immigrants, achieving the American dream in the States was the end game, and it was done humbly and with hard work.  Alcudia’s dad Roque was a commercial fisherman in the Pacific Northwest and commuted to see the kids in mom Eleanor’s care as often as he could, about 4 to 6 times a year in 2 to 4 week increments.  Alcudia soon focused his attention on fine art, from rogue beginnings in graffiti.  He studied classical realism and oil painting at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. It wasn’t until age 21, late in the chef game, that he decided cooking was his calling.  He enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in 2002, which would set him on a path to become the chef he is today.

Alcudia’s pedigree is very New York and very classic, by the book.  Per se… Craft… Veritas… Barbuto… He found his way as a young chef in a rich layer cake of high-end restaurants, training with only the best chefs right out of the gate.  Colicchio… Jean Georges…  You’ll recognize the names of his peers from that journey, too; they form today’s supernova of culinary stars-in-the-making leading kitchens from New York City (Justin Smillie, Upland) to Los Angeles (Matt Molina, Mozza.). In May 2005 an intimate 65 seat restaurant called Veritas is where Alcudia found his first real home with chef/partner Scott Bryan as his mentor.

“Through him I learned the virtues of humility and integrity while practicing and honing the flawless technique that he implemented and demanded from his staff,” Alcudia reflects.  And when he was ready to leave, it was Bryan who led him to Jonathan Waxman and the simple, stripped down approach that would provide a necessary counterpoint to all that structure, a balance to his culinary point of view.  It’s where we ultimately found him, three plus years in as chef de cuisine, with a perfectly cooked 20 pound striped bass for Michael’s Lemon: NYC table to show for himself.  He didn’t bleep it up, as Chef likes to say.  An offer to chef The Cypress Room soon followed.  Timing was right, we had the Waxman seal of approval, and Alcudia packed up his life and moved to Miami.

“I’m starting to feel comfortable as a chef,” Alcudia explains.  “My approach is unique. I don’t really have a point of reference. It’s kind of how I feel on a given day. The food can kind of switch from French to Italian to Spanish in like a second.”

On my visit, it was all about home, and Alcudia chose three dishes to make reflective of his native culture and food he’d eat at as a young boy. Each dish is simple enough for the home cook to make at home without an exact recipe. We shopped on 163rd street at the Asian Market conveniently positioned on Chinatown row across from King Palace BBQ, a Cantonese style haunt he frequents for the best kind of day or night off comfort food with sous chef Mike Beltran.  You can shop there too and maybe stop in next door for some post-marketing lotus root with king mushroom (a personal favorite!)  Practice will make the dishes below perfect, or, even better, will make them your own.

Lumpia: Crispy spring rolls made with shrimp and pork, wrapped in wonton sheets, fried until golden and served with sweet chili sauce which he prefers store bought (“It’s just like making your own ketchup. It always ends up tasting like BBQ sauce…”)  You want a 2 : 1 shrimp : pork ratio.  This is aggressively minced with carrot, onion and garlic and seasoned with salt and pepper.  Working with one sheet at a time, separate a wonton wrapper from its stack and lay on a clean work surface.  Paint the two edges meeting at a right angle away from you and form a long baton of filling about two inches from you. Don’t overfill your wonton wrappers. Begin rolling and folding in the edges like a tiny burrito. Roll to seal and set aside one by one on a plate.  Heat vegetable oil for frying – you’ll know it’s ready when bubbles form around the handle of a wooden spoon – and work in batches of four until golden brown.  Drain on paper towels and serve each sliced in two pieces diagonally.  If you are entertaining, make it pretty with a garnish of cilantro and scallion cut on the bias.

Carne Frita: Marinated boneless beef chuck often served over rice (Alcudia prefers an heirloom variety of Japanese style rice called Kokuho Rose) and eaten for breakfast.  Slice the beef and 2 medium white onions as directed below and marinate for at least 2 hours with 2 cloves of roughly chopped garlic, the juice of 1 orange, 2 lemons and 1 lime, and 1/2 cup of soy sauce.  Stir fry over medium high heat with some oil in a cast iron skillet or dutch oven.

Grilled Chicken Soup: This is decadence exemplified and my favorite dish of the bunch.  But you might ask, why grill a chicken just to put it into soup? Alcudia’s dad, credited with this dish born perhaps from a drunken stupor, might respond why not?  Soup is a special dish and the grilling of the bird before stewing is a way to build flavor without hours of cooking.  All you need is one 2-3 pound chicken (Alcudia likes the young organic one from Publix’s Greenwise line,) 2 medium white onions, halved, 4 Roma (plum) tomatoes, and a small handful of serrano chilies.  Cook over properly stoked and preheated charcoal grill until done, pulling off the tomatoes and peppers first, followed by the onions and then the chicken. Not cooking the chicken through until done will result in a stringy final product in the soup.

Once the grilling is complete, take a couple of cloves of garlic, a thumb of ginger and a stalk or two of lemongrass, mince them and then grind with a mortar and pestle. In a dutch oven over medium high heat, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and the aromatics. Roughly chop your grilled ingredients and add them to the pot. Add 2 cans of coconut milk and 1 can of water.  Simmer uncovered for 1 hour, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.  I can picture the little ragamuffin now, the wild child of the family kicking up storm clouds in his path as he raced down the dirt road home from school to eat piping hot bowls of Dad’s fragrant soup. We prefer to savor with some ice cold San Miguel or even a Michelita with spicy salt rim… if you’re not the one responsible for cooking!  Think of it as the Margarita’s answer to the Michelada (Mexican beer with Clamato, lime and chili-spiced rim.)  Home at last!

Thankfully, The Show Must Go On!

DM_Menu_2014 CoverScreen shot 2014-11-22 at 2.09.38 PMIt’s been a very busy October and November for The Genuine Hospitality Group, from the announcement of Harry’s Pizzeria® Coconut Grove to the intercontinental opening of Michael’s Genuine® Pub on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas. #GSD has been uttered and Tweeted more than #TGHG and #MGFD combined.  Suffice to say we are feeling very pumped, invigorated, exhausted, motivated, lucky, warm and fuzzy, and most of all thankful heading into Thanksgiving.  On Thursday our corporate office and Design District restaurant teams will pause to soak it all in and spend much needed quality time with family and friends…  But this weekend, the show MUST go on and that presently means our MGFD Café at Design Miami/!

In its 3rd year of popping at the 10th annual global forum for design, Michael’s temporary installation at the tent on Meridian Ave and 19th Street will be back — this time sporting Michael’s Genuine® Home Brew’s vibrant color palette — from Tuesday, December 2 on Preview Day (Collectors Preview/ 12-6pm and Vernissage/ 6-8pm — By Invitation only) through Public Days December 3 – 4 (10am-8pm), December 5 (11am-8pm,) December 6 (12-8pm,) and December 7 (12-6pm.)  We still have tons of work to accomplish before then, but are today excited to share this year’s menu with obligatory subject to change disclaimer.  With load-in beginning Monday, it’s time to carb up… Basmati Rice Bowls, anyone?  Other items catching our attention include #HQ’s hummus (!), a new and perfect tuna salad sandwich, kombucha, half bottles of our favorite flag (red/white/rosé,) the one and only Blue Cane Daiquiri, and some of your favorite usual subjects to genuinely serve you.  It’s time to get the band back together. Let’s do this! DM_Menu_2014

Virtual Pub Crawl Part IV | Craft Cocktails & Beer

MGP_SSG_Menu 10.26 front MGP_SSG_Menu 10.26 back MGP_SSG_Menu_Beverage Book 10.26 RightWe are now onboard Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas training our team and taking control of the Michael’s Genuine Pub front and back of house.  After a day of intense sea trials for the ship and stress tests for most of the F&B venues, we are in-port in Bremerhaven, Germany finally with our liquor in-house and almost ready for our first “stress test” service. As we continue training our bartenders and servers, transitioning from menu tastings into POS system usage, we launch into the fourth part of our virtual menu tour… not so virtual anymore!  View Part I | Snacks here, Part II | Charcuterie & Cheese here, and all Michael’s Genuine Pub coverage here.  We’ve been posting as much as unpredictable wifi will allow us via @MGFD_MIA’s Instagram here.

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Today we turn to the back of the menu and explore the beverage line up featured at the Michaels Genuine Pub.  It’s a lot to cover in one post, but apropos given our liquor was just turned over to us from customs and packed into our walk-in cooler last night.  Here we’ll explore cocktails and beer, and save a deeper dive into spirits, incuding the Pubʼs three whiskey flights focusing on rye, bourbon and other American whiskeys, for another time.  And then there’s the wine!

The importance of craft, or any product made in a traditional manner with ingredients being sourced as locally as possible and made by the hands of an Artisan, is imperative to the genuine culture of the Pub and its expression as a neighborhood bar.  Most of the unique, American-made and small batch brands we carry are NOT available at any of the other bars or venues on the ship. Likewise, the brands you may be used to finding available everywhere are not available at the Pub.  TGHG Beverage Director Ryan Goodspeed pulled from what we know and love at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink and produced a solid line up of six handcrafted, original, “food-friendly” cocktail recipes that use fresh ingredients and quality spirits and are pleasing to the eye and palate. Let’s start there.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 3.19.53 PMCandidate: Made with Chivas 12 year scotch, Canton Ginger liqueur, lemon, and a candied ginger wheel, this cocktail is the perfect twist on the classic Rob Roy, replacing sweet vermouth with Canton Ginger liquor. Fun fact, this cocktail was created during President Obama’s run for office, hence the name “Candidate”.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 3.19.45 PMCabarete: This is Michaels Genuine’s most popular cocktail, and was named after the town in the Dominican Republic. It is a twist on the classic Aperol Spritz, made with Aperol, St. Germain, Watermelon juice, sparkling wine, and orange bitters. Garnished with a grapefruit peel, it is light, fruity, floral, and refreshing.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 3.19.31 PMBulletproof Manhattan: Made with Breckenridge Bourbon, rosemary-cherry syrup, and lemon, this twist on a classic Manhattan is one of our most iconic. It is garnished with rosemary cherries skewered on a sprig of rosemary.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 3.19.37 PMSombrita: Illegal Reposado Mezcal, fresh pineapple and cucumber, jalapeño, cardamom, and agave nectar are all mixed to create this exotic cocktail. The hint of smoke and spice are prominent, yet neither overwhelm the wonderful combination of fresh pineapple and cucumber. Also included in the drink is Mezcal, which is a spirit distilled from the piña of the Maguey.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 3.20.01 PMOld Pal: The Old Pal is a twist on the classic Negroni. With a touch of Martini & Rossi Dry & Sweet Vermouth and subbing Cyrus Noble Bourbon for gin, this cocktail enlivens the mid palate. Also in the drink is Campari and Regan’s Orange Bitters, garnished with an orange peel.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 3.20.08 PMThunderball: A different take on the classic Mai-Tai featuring Papas Pilar Dark Rum, Cardamaro cordial, and fresh orange juice along with lemon juice, house-made Grenadine, pineapple foam, Fee Bros. old fashioned bitters, garnished with a lime peel.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 3.19.25 PMPlantation: This cocktail is similar to a Greyhound but adds the addition of basil and agave for aroma and sweetness. Also included is Deaths Door gin, fresh grapefruit juice, and lime.

I personally may be most excited about the beers Ryan has lined up.  A “Craft Beer” is a beer with a distinctive flavor, produced in small quantities and distributed in a particular region. “Craft brewing” typically applies to relatively small, independently-owned commercial breweries that employ traditional brewing methods and emphasize flavor and quality. The term is usually reserved for breweries established since the 1970s, but may be used for older breweries with a similar focus. Here the word small is defined as an “annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less”, independent defined as at least 75% owned or controlled by a craft brewer, and traditional defined as at least 50% of its volume being all malt beer.  Here’s what we currently have secured in the walk-in cooler. Can’t wait to pop the cap on a cold Home Brew!

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