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.

Snack on this Harry’s Pizzeria® Downtown Dadeland Update

CRUNCH TIME: Since this image was taken on Thursday progress has been fast and furious, with furniture in place and window coverings coming off this morning for our gold leaf signage installation! Follow the work in progress with videos and more on Instagram at #hpdowntownd.

You may have noticed a lot of new faces at your neighborhood Harry’s recently… These are our new Downtown Dadeland team members getting a taste of how we do things in anticipation of the new location opening!  We are less than two weeks out and will hold our first full staff orientation on Thursday as training kicks into high gear.

As we await our Google Business postcard to make it official, amongst myriad other items on the check list, the question on everyone’s mind is of course… when are you opening?  Good news, here.  By signing up for our new Harry’s Pizzeria®-specific email newsletter through the pop-up at harryspizzeria.com, not only will you be the first to know about the opening and imminent enhancements to the Harry’s experience like online ordering for takeout and a new loyalty program, you’ll receive a complimentary snack on your first visit to Harry’s Pizzeria Downtown Dadeland for our gratitude!  From Meatballs in Sauce and Fresh Housemade Ricotta with Focaccia, to Polenta Fries with spicy ketchup and Oven Roasted Agrodolce Wings with rosemary crema, simply print and turn in your newsletter email confirmation. The offer’s good once we open at 8975 SW 72nd Place, until July 31. We can’t wait to meet our new neighbors!

That “can do” attitude, out in full force this week.

 

[Recipe] Vidalia Onion Marmalade is Sweet on the Cypress Burger at Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink

Genuine Burger Month continues its weekly special burger rotation May 8-14 with a true keeper, the Cypress Burger.  The meat is ground chuck 75% fat, 25% lean, with dry-aged beef trimmings that build deep umami flavor in the patty.  What’s stunning about the burger isn’t necessarily that the blend is particularly ingenious, rather how the few special elements it is built on come together to create magic when they’re enjoyed in unison.  The Cypress Burger is so much more than the sum of its parts: cheddar-like Jasper Hill Landaff raw cow’s milk cheese and the Vidalia onion marmalade that it smothers, jacked up on the best caramelizing onions we know.  No added sugar necessary!

Due to the Vidalia Onion Act of 1986, Vidalia is a Trademarked name and an onion can only be called a Vidalia if it’s grown in one of the 20 Georgia counties designated in the act.

The original sweet onion has been cultivated by grower artisans for more than 80 years, a discovery of Great Depression era farmers who were trying to find a new cash crop suitable for Georgia soil.  Vidalia onions became the Official State Vegetable of Georgia in 1990 and get their sweet flavor through the perfect combination of mild winters and low sulfur soil, the unique terroir surrounding Vidalia, Georgia.  It’s only available from April until August, making it a special nearby summer crop when it’s slim pickings down here in the South Florida fields and tropical fruit trees are at their peak.  Over 80,000 Vidalia onion seedlings are hand-planted per acre translating into about 5 million 40-lb. boxes sent out across the country and into Canada each year.

Enjoy the Cypress Burger’s unique combination of specialty ingredients next week at lunch and dinner, between a hard roll bun skewered with a cornichon.  You may find it hard not to sit in admiration like its butter lettuce and sliced heirloom tomato do to the side.  Ok, maybe not that hard!  Follow along at #mgfdburger #genuineburgermonth and #onlyvidalia.

Deeply delicious onion marmalade fresh from the range chills out in the walk-in cooler.

Vidalia Onion Marmalade

Built on the recipe for caramelized onions that form the base of the dip for Thick Cut Potato Chips and decorate Chicken Liver Crostini at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, this condiment has many applications beyond a burger topping.  But we challenge you to find one more epic!

Makes 1 quart

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 Vidalia onions (about 1 1/2 pounds), thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar

Place a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil and butter. When the butter has melted, add the onions along with salt and pepper. Stir occasionally and cook until the onions are deeply golden brown and caramelized, roughly 20 minutes. Watch carefully so as not to allow the onions to burn. Add the red wine vinegar and stir to deglaze until the liquid cooks off, about 3 more minutes. Set aside and let cool.

A Juicy & Genuine National Burger Month

All in the genuine burger family in May.

We love a good burger at Michael’s Genuine® & Drink, so National Burger Month is too irresistible a motivator to up our game and griddle you what you came for.  In addition to the Genuine Burger, now available on lunch, afternoon and dinner menus, our fresh, simple, pure neighborhood bistro will offer one new special burger each week in May to complement the classic.

The burger.

What makes for a good burger according to chef de cuisine Tim Piazza?

“The right bread, quality meat and a good pickle.”

His schedule below is subject to change, as the disclaimer goes, and it’s looking like a solid line up.  See you beginning this Monday!

May 1- Sun May 7 | All American Double
2, 3oz patties, American cheese, bacon, shredded lettuce, sliced tomato and pickles on a Martin’s potato roll

May 8 – Sun May 14 | The Cypress Burger
Jasper Hill Landaff, Vidalia onion marmalade

May 15 – Sun May 21 | The Frita
Chorizo and beef patty with onions, American cheese, shoestring potatoes and secret sauce on a Cuban bun

May 22 – Sun May 28 | Lamb Burger
Feta, thick cut grilled heirloom tomato, arugula on a hard roll

 

A James Beard House (Dinner) Away from Home with Cheese of the Queen

CALLING ALL FRIENDS & FAMILY — The foundation set aside some tickets at our member rate of $160 each (reg. $210) — the procedure is to call 212-627-2308 to reserve as “friends of chef/CODE WORD FENNEL Mon-Fri, 10a-5p EDT.

Apropo, @kasekaiserina! Delectable Instagram, reposted from @cheesegrillenyc featuring Tia’s The Art Of The Cheese Plate.

“Michael is a purist. He’s classical at the same time that he is creative,” Mark explains. “It’s the same way I am with my wines.”

Mr. Tobin is certainly passionate about what he does, and we can relate. The approach is old school, non interventionist, like Chef’s.  Instead of tweaking and tweaking, it’s about what you can take away, not add to make food, and in Mark’s case, wine, perfect.

“I have incredible respect for Michael,” he continues. “His authenticity, passion and commitment makes mediocrity completely unacceptable.  He is a freak about detail and executing properly. I’m just thrilled to collaborate with him and the Cheese Queen.”

Indeed New York City-based writer, cook, and cheese specialist Tia Keenan, as her Instagram @kasekaiserina indicates, is rennet royalty and will effectively, indulgently tie this collaborative trifecta together on Friday, June 2, as we kick off Michael’s third dinner at the James Beard House. A Team chef de cuisine Tim Piazza, GM Nicole Kelly, and TGHG executive chef Bradley Herron will preside to support our featured co-hosts, part of our ongoing 10 year celebration of all things MGFD.  We’ll share the menu and link to tickets first here today, and later chat with Tia.  We want to dig into the what really has us revved up: her cheese selection.

Over the years, cheese has played a subtle yet an important role at MGFD, less even about the cheese itself but the way it is featured that crystalizes exactly what Michael’s approach is all about.  Many of you may recall the more deliberate Cheese of the Week (some blogged selections above circa 2011), where one cheese each week was highlighted with one accompaniment. No elaborate cheese plate, organized by firmness, milk, type and aging.  Just a simple presentation on a board, in its element, to let hand-crafted product shine.  It was the only item on the dinner menu encased by a bubble, special and notable in its lack of artifice and celebrated as such. Servers and cooks were able to get to know it, really understand it. And then cheese class would begin all over again the next week.  To start the dinner we are paying tribute to this legacy with Tia owning passed hors d’oeuvres, five beautiful cheeses presented as they’re meant to, almost unadorned except for one accompaniment each and the final ingredient: Mattebella Vineyards Rosé 2016:

Pipe Dreams Farm Dairy Buche Cheese with Beet Tartare
Lazy Lady Farm Sweet Emotions Cheese with Cucumber–Celery Marmalade
Jasper Hill Farm Calderwood Cheese with Carrot Mostarda
Woodcock Farm Humble Pie Cheese with Pickled Asparagus
Boucher Family Farm Green Mountain Blue Cheese with Chocolate–Onion Chutney

We’ll look forward to a peek into the cheesemakers, what drives them and the special stories behind each cheese from Tia.  The menu follows.  See you in NYC on June 2!

FIRST – Market Salad with Anson Mills Farro Verde and Nettle Meadow Farm Sappy Ewe Cheese | Mattebella Vineyards Riesling 2014

SECOND – Grilled Skuna Bay Salmon with Peas, Spring Onions, Crispy Potato, Meyer Lemon, and Crème Fraîche | Mattebella Vineyards Reserve Chardonnay 2013

THIRD – Ricotta Cavatelli with Wild Mushrooms, Taleggio Fondue, and Parmigiano–Reggiano | Mattebella Famiglia Red Wine NV

FOURTH – Slow-Roasted Niman Ranch Beef Short Rib with Roasted Peppers, Marcona Almonds, and Herb Aïoli |Mattebella Vineyards Old World Blend 2013 (Public Debut)

DESSERT – Milk Chocolate Cremoso Cheese with Hazelnut Praline, Toasted Sourdough, Sea Salt, and Olive Oil | Mattebella Vineyards Noble Late Harvest Chardonnay 2013