In the Lychee Loop: Miami’s Summer Season Grows into the Genuine Menu

MJ shows off .005% of our 600 pound haul, as culinary assistant Dillon Wolff (left) learns the ropes with chef Max Makowski (right) on inventory, forecasting and other important matters in the growth and support of The Genuine Hospitality Group and Michael Schwartz Events.

We’ve been waiting on these for a while now, so we are really excited to get them in today,” MJ Garcia explains.  MGFD’s Pastry Chef and I are having a handoff of sorts at the Genuine Commissary, our company’s prep kitchen facility off Miami’s bridge-stitched intracoastal waterway at 79th Street. The afternoon boasts clear blue skies and the occasional white puff, with evidence of the morning’s monsoon in glints and mirrors in the pavement.  Seemingly sprung from nowhere in a hurry, complete with umbrella-flailing sideways rain, last Monday, June 19 exhibited typical wet season behavior, weather that grower Roland Samimy picked and plodded through on his family’s Homestead groves before making it rain 600 pounds of lychee at the commissary. We can take a hint, anticipate the cue. Summer has arrived in South Florida in its moody torrent of active skies and colorful ingredients.  

I’m here collecting “seconds” Roland left to indulge my affinity for the alien fruit’s annual arrival, and MJ is humoring the ensuing curiosity, offering a peek into the process of how we systematically shed fuschia reptilian skins to reveal sweet-tart flesh at the table in recognizable, but not necessarily transformative, ways. So you can see and therefore know what you’re eating and discover where it comes from.  The objective of the exchange? To better understand the magic that happens when buying power and supply collide to drive creativity and create demand. Maybe change minds. Even behaviors. Because Roland knows all too well that there’s something to parse here, in the why of “seconds,” panicles with maybe a couple perfect specimens amidst a cluster of immature fruit.

“It was a very very dry, warm winter. The flower came out strong and then dried up or blew off before pollination,” he explained over the phone earlier on his way up Florida’s Turnpike.  “Lychee are special, and they’re fickle. They like tropical, and in a sub-tropical climate with more and more variability each year, crops can’t adapt on a dime. It’s become difficult for local farmers. Projections from year to year are hard.  It’s too hard for them to make the numbers, especially with competition from Mexico and Thailand undercutting prices. Put it all together and you have more trouble growing this fruit and making a living.”

Perry Samimy in the family grove at peak of harvest on June 11, 2011.

So a dry spell and wind at the wrong time can kill a season, even a crop for good.  Take the Samimy operation — a labor of love, really, not the family’s livelihood.  They now have one of largest groves in South Florida at 20 acres, and Michael’s been buying from them since before MGFD existed.  We experienced one of our best seasons in 2015, a dramatic bumper crop that yielded 100,000 pounds from the grove’s 1,100 trees.  The Samimy’s 2017 season will produce 1,000 pounds if they’re lucky, with 1/3 of trees actually fruiting, and only the heartier Brewster variety not the usual first-of-the-season plumper, smoother Mauritius.  That’s a decrease of 99% — erratic to say the least. We call it like we see it: lychee is the canary in the coal mine for climate change.

Dr. Jonathan Crane at University of Florida’s Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead explains that lychee was introduced into Florida before 1880 and by the ’50s there was a lot of interest and promotion of planting. With support from the USDA, Florida Department of Agriculture and interest groups like the 130-year old Florida State Horticultural Society comprised of fruit, vegetable and ornamental farmers, groves sprung up across the state, from Winter Haven in Polk County in the north to all the way down to Miami-Dade. The Florida Lychee Growers Association formed in 1952 even touted “You can plant lychee wherever you can plant citrus!” The thinking back then was the crop had a lot of “cold tolerance” but after four freeze events back to back in December ’57 and January ’58 killed most everything north, the crop dwindled to small plantings here and there in center of state mostly adjacent to lakes and about 100 acres or so in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties. Our neck of the woods is currently home to about 1,000 acres.

Making lychee history, a dip into the archives (courtesy Dr. Crane)

“To be politically incorrect, lychee is a great example of global warming,” says Dr. Crane.  “In order to flower reliably, dormant trees have to be exposed to temperatures below 60°F for anywhere from 300 to 600 hours, depending on how cold it gets.  What has been happening in the past 7-8 years is we are getting less and less cool temperatures in Miami-Dade. They aren’t getting sufficient what we call ‘chilling hours’ to induce them to bloom. There is a macro trend at play here.”

What can we do?  What we do best. Feature and get excited about lychee.  And let you know when something’s up with our sources.

“We save the prettiest ones to serve from pastry, simply over ice,” MJ continues.  “What we try to do and can do now thanks to the commissary and specifically our new big walk-in freezer is extend the season by buying in bulk and time releasing the reserves.  Lychee is such a short season, especially this year, and the best way to store them is shell-on frozen.”

Pastry is already highlighting the fresh product turning out the smooth-as-can-be lychee-coconut-vodka sorbet popular from last year. It debuted at brunch last Sunday in a refreshing sundae with its delicate melt meeting hibiscus syrup and a double whammy of fresh lychee on top. MJ describes it as the perfect canvas for lychee, “subtle, fragrant and fresh.”  They loaded ella with a batch of popsicles yesterday.

Chef de Cuisine Tim Piazza has plenty cooking beginning this week. On Friday we tasted Yellowfin Tuna Crudo with lychee, serrano, pink peppercorn, basil, and lime from the MGFD raw bar and then followed along as he put together Crispy Pork Belly & Lychee with coconut milk, herbs, chile, and cashews.  Both super delicious and such different yet compelling expressions of the same ingredient!  A lightly cured shrimp and lychee dish was a hit last year at dinner, so we’re hoping it will be back or perhaps a variation.

Phoenix: Bacardi Superior, St. Germain, lychee, grenadine, lemon, cranberry

The MGFD bar always does a great job of maximizing yield, capturing luscious juice for cocktails like Phoenix with Bacardi Superior, St. Germain, grenadine, lemon and cranberry.  TGHG Beverage Manager Amanda Fraga loves lychee for its unique flavor. There’s always a Lychee Martini available, special because it’s made with fresh lychee juice, not the typical canned variety you might be used to, and the guest’s choice of vodka. The sky’s the limit from there since it plays so well with other fruit flavors, as well as a wide range of spirits.

Stay in the lychee loop on our restaurant menus throughout the summer with the hashtag #genuinelychee.  Keep your eyes peeled for other tree fruits, like nectarines, mangos and cherries cropping up everywhere.  It’s going to be a fruitful summer no matter what!

The Genuine Kitchen’s backstory on the Samimy family groves, the local lychee crop, and its embrace in our restaurants can be found here.  I also interviewed Chef for the first time for a piece on the Miami New Times food blog here, as the first lychee harvest of 2009 rolled in.

Pastrami on Pie! Pass the Katz’s Delicatessen Pizza at Harry’s Pizzeria Coconut Grove

This summer, New York City’s iconic Katz’s Delicatessen is sharing the Jewish Deli love across the country with the launch of its first-ever Pass the Pastrami series, and Michael’s been flagged to receive it!  Chef joins Jamie Bissonnette and Marc Vetri to “pass the pastrami” and highlight a signature Katz’s-inspired dish at one of their restaurants.  From July 10-16, it’s Harry’s turn to play at our Coconut Grove location as Chef breathes some fire into the classic NYC sandwich — pastrami on rye — with a Pastrami Pizza featuring rye crust, sauerkraut, mustard sauce and gruyere.  The pizza will be available each day until we run out for $18. It’s time to start salivating and choose which beer to wash it down with.

The inspiration.

“Katz’s is always my first stop in NYC.  THE pastrami is hands down both the best and worst craving to have because you just can’t replicate it,” Michael says. “We’re excited to take this classic and have some fun with it in Miami at Harry’s. Pastrami on Rye Pizza just makes sense!”

We just received our sample batch of pastrami and got straight to recipe testing.  TGHG executive chef Bradley Herron is currently working on the rye dough which should be the real kicker to tie this tasty bite together — along with a little scallion for a fresh contrast to the melty, briny toppings combination. Home cooks can try their hand at the chefs’ deli creations with easy-to-replicate recipes… Stay tuned for ours!

Behold, the test pie.

Katz’s Delicatessen is an iconic restaurant serving traditional Jewish deli fare in the Lower East Side since 1888. As one of the oldest Jewish delis in NYC, the family-run business has been a local favorite for over a century. Their pastrami and corned beef sandwiches are the gold standard for an ‘authentic’ NYC deli experience, thanks to Katz’s emphasis on traditional slow-curing processes and hand-cut slicing techniques. Today, Katz’s serves thousands of hungry customers daily and ships their deli classics nationwide. Katz’s storefront is considered a LES landmark and is a popular destination among locals, tourists, and celebrities. In June 2017, Katz’s will open its first outpost in Brooklyn at the new Dekalb Market.

“We sell 15,000 pounds of pastrami every week, making it our most popular meat at the moment. I’ve always enjoyed watching others put their own spin on the classics, so I can’t wait to see what these insanely talented chefs are going to come up with,” says Katz’s Deli owner, Jake Dell. “It’s a fun way for people in different cities to get a taste of what we do here at Katz’s, and to learn some cool new recipes that they can recreate at home through our shipping department.”

The “Pass the Pastrami “series includes:
– Chef Jamie Bissonnette, Little Donkey, Boston
o Dish: Katz’s Pastrami Tacos with habanero salsa, cotija, and pepitas
o Location: Little Donkey, 505 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139
o Offer Date: July 7 – 9, 2017
– Chef Michael Schwartz, Harry’s Pizzeria, Miami
o Dish: Pastrami Pizza, rye crust, kraut, mustard sauce, and gruyere
o Location: Harry’s Pizzeria Coconut Grove, 2996 McFarlane Road, Miami, FL 33133
o Offer Date: July 10 – July 16, 2017
– Chef Marc Vetri, Amis Trattoria, Philadelphia
o Dish: Pastrami carbonara
o Location: Amis Trattoria, 412 S 13th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147
o Offer Date: July 17-July 23, 2017

Katz’s pastrami and other legendary menu items are available for shipping nationwide, with free shipping for orders over $100.  For additional information on Katz’s Delicatessen, please visit katzsdelicatessen.com.

Upping Our Events Game for the Summer Return of OMG! Dinner & a Movie

When the timing is just right, it’s everything. With our catering and private parties business rocking out new and tasty ways to enjoy the best of what our chefs are capable of, we are reengaging with old friends at O Cinema for a summer of food and film brought to you by Michael Schwartz Events!

OMG! DINNER & A MOVIE makes a triumphant return to with a line up of summer screenings, each highlighting one of our favorite cooking stations and menus!  Join us for three special evenings celebrating terrific food and film. As always, you can expect a high quality experience in a relaxed atmosphere- all taking place on-site at O Cinema’s Wynwood theater.  Dinners are all served starting at 6 pm in old school cafeteria trays where you’ll be able to eat in your seats with the films getting underway at 7 pm. Tickets are $55 at the links below include the full experience — a meal of five different menu items served with soda or water and the film.  As always there will be beer or wine available for purchase!

JUNE EDITION – Wed, June 28
THE FILM: I AM THE BLUES
THE MENU: BBQ PIT SMOKER
Tickets

SNACKS
CLASSIC DEVILED EGGS
SMOKED FISH DIP  celery, radish, saltines

SALAD
WATERMELON  shaved red onion, radish, feta, mint, lime

ENTREES
BBQ CHICKEN
SMOKED & PULLED PORK SHOULDER

SIDES
BUTTERMILK BISCUITS
COLESLAW
POTATO SALAD

DESSERT
BANANA CREAM PIE

MOVIE SNACK
BBQ SPICED POPCORN

Take an atmospheric and immersive musical journey through the swamps of the Louisiana Bayou, the juke joints of the Mississippi Delta and the moonshine-soaked barbeques of North Mississippi Hill Country.

A favorite of the film festival circuit and making its Florida Premiere at this special event, I Am The Blues takes audiences into the world of the African American blues legends, many in their 80s, still making music and sharing stories in the Deep South.

From sunny front porches to spirited church halls, the last of the ‘blues devils’ including Bobby Rush, Barbara Lynn, Henry Gray, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, Lazy Lester and Little Freddie King share their songs and a spellbinding oral history. Capturing the distinctive landscapes and romantic spirit of the South with an expert lens, director Daniel Cross follows the Mississippi River past Graceland, past Muscle Shoals, and into the beating heart of the blues.

JULY EDITION – Thurs, July 27
THE FILM: LANDLINE
THE MENU: MOBILE WOOD OVEN
Tickets

SNACKS
POLENTA FRIES  spicy ketchup
MEATBALLS IN SAUCE  piave vecchio

SALAD
ORANGE & RADISH  greens, shaved fennel, green olives, parmigiano

MAINS
WOOD OVEN ROASTED CHICKEN WINGS  agrodolce, rosemary crema
MARGHERITA PIZZA  mozzarella, tomato sauce, basil
MUSHROOM PIZZA  porcini, cremini, fontina, taleggio, thyme
SLOW ROASTED PORK PIZZA  fig, grilled onion, fontina, arugula

DESSERT
CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIE

MOVIE SNACK
PARMIGIANO POPCORN

The Manhattan of 1995: a land without cell phones, but abundant in CD listening stations, bar smoke, and family dysfunction. Enter the Jacobs. Eldest daughter Dana’s looming marriage to straight-laced Ben prompts a willful dive into her wild side, while her younger sister, Ali, is still in high school but leads a covert life of sex, drugs, and clubbing. After discovering love letters penned by their father, the sisters try to expose his apparent affair while keeping it from their all-too-composed mother.

Gillian Robespierre’s follow-up to Obvious Child reprises her talent for subversive comedy and explores how family bonds grow sturdier through lying, cheating, and strife. Compelled by the emotional snarl of people’s poor choices, Landline relishes in the dark humor of life’s low points while basking in ’90s nostalgia. A hit at Sundance and starring Jenny Slate, John Turturro, and Edie Falco, Landline is an honest, observant portrait of sibling rivalry stumbling awkwardly toward friendship, and of children realizing that parents are people too, there’s no attempt at concealing the indulgences and insecurities of its characters-all of which make them endearing and human.

AUGUST EDITION – Thurs, Aug 24
THE MENU: LA CAJA CHINA
THE FILM: TBD

SNACKS
WHITE GAZPACHO  smoked almonds
MEDIA NOCHE  ham, pork, swiss, pickles

SALAD
ARUGULA  shaved red onion, radish, french feta, lemon

ENTREE
ROASTED WHOLE PIG  mojo & roasted chiles

SIDES
Black Beans
Saffron Rice
Tostones

DESSERT
TRES LECHES

MOVIE SNACK
CALLE OCHO POPCORN