Michael’s Genuine® chef de cuisine Tim Piazza has his hands in a box of artichokes. Peeling them, especially baby ones, is not exactly a stimulating activity, but Tim is wearing one of his wide-eyed smiles, the one that makes him look a little crazy. Spring is here, and he is clearly in the zone.
“Last night Mother Earth harvested like 50 pounds of greens in the dark with little headlights, because that’s the best time to harvest greens — at night when the temperature cools down,” Tim explains. “Katia just grows like the nicest, coolest stuff.”
Mother Earth Miami, sprouting from Litter River Cooperative’s Farmer Incubator Program, is a new source for us this season, with Tim bringing in vegetables and greens like turnip, carrot, spigariello kale and fairytale eggplant. This kind of organic growth in the local farming community is a definite reason to get excited. And to make Eggplant Tomato Curry.
The combination of Indian spices and local ingredients has proven to be a hit, maximizing the flavor potential of a curry. Roasted eggplant is sautéed with cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, coriander, cumin, black pepper, lemon pepper, fenugreek, and fennel seed, served at room temperature with lightly-marinated chickpeas, some cilantro and a freshly-made cucumber raita served with a side of fresh pita.
“It’s cool to work with people who care about what they’re doing and are trying new things,” Tim continues. “Getting good ingredients helps us elevate the simplicity of what we do and these relationships are essential to the process.”
Ms. Bechara, a wine rep by trade raised in Colombia found she had a green thumb and founded Mother Earth Miami in November 2015. The move began in her backyard after participating in various small farmer workshops with experienced leaders like Margie Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm in Homestead and John Gentzel of J&P Apiary.
“It was the best canvas for my budding farming career,” says Bechara of her impromptu home project.
She volunteered for urban farmer Muriel Olivares in 2013, to learn the ropes from one of the best who started small. Olivares chose her last spring to participate in the incubator. Designed to educate and give urban farmers starting out that extra boost for success, it provides them with a plot of land and shared farm tools, as well as classes. It’s the ultimate small business resource when you deal in seeds and soil.
“I consider Muriel, and Tiffany Noe, my mentors,” says Bechara.
Her current business partner and friend, Gabi Serra, was a plot neighbor in the program. Born and raised in Venezuela, Serra’s focus on the herbalism side of farming brings great balance to Mother Earth’s proposition. They also grow edible flowers, herbs, and medicinals like calendula, nasturtiums, and moringa.
“Gabi and I love working together and we have so many aspirations to help the Miami community,” say Berchara.
At its peak, South Florida’s growing season always brings fresh, local ingredients to our doorstep thanks to new farms like Mother Earth. Their passion is contagious and brings new ideas to the kitchen. But it’s the mainstays that keep the flagship humming. With its 11th anniversary this week, Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink continues to be the nucleus of activity for seasonal change, a north star for our restaurant group, setting the tone and the bar for our chefs. If you want to get a taste of what’s happening now in the fields and who is growing what you’re eating, you need look no further that Tim’s menu.
“So it’s really coming in now from everywhere… the tomatoes from Borek are obviously a big thing for us. The run is pretty long from the end of last year but they’re peaking right now, along with the kale and eggplant,” he says. “With a restaurant that moves so much, we have to stay on our toes and utilize the farm products we order in many different ways you know; in a pasta, on a pizza, with a salad, maybe showcase it in a dish of its own like we are doing with the eggplant.”
There’s always a method to the madness. But that madness is familiar to those in our line of work.
Working with farmers is an ever-changing, ongoing process that he’s constantly adapting to. He’s currently working with 5 or 6 farms, with familiar names such as Michael Borek’s Teena’s Pride, who we receive beautiful heirloom tomatoes from, amongst other things, every season.
When asked what he was most excited to work with ingredient-wise this season, he simply shrugged with a baffled look on his face. Always working with what he receives and changing things up, or using standard products in new ways — it is hard for him to narrow it down.
“As a chef, you are excited about everything.”