Chef Derek Dammann is Like a Great Bar. He Owns a Restaurant with One, Too.

 

About an hour after I hang up from my interview with Derek Dammann, he sends me some images to illustrate this post. There is no pristine beauty of Baked Oysters with Mushroom and Marmite, now iconic at the chef’s beloved five-year-old Québécois gastropub, Maison Publique — the dish he mentioned over the phone that began as half-serious, half-joke until they realized it was really fucking good.  Also not included is a table full of Sichuan dishes from that place back home in Vancouver that doesn’t look like much but serves some of the best Asian food the city’s immigrant nooks and crannies have to offer.  No.  He has sent me two images.  One is of a wood burning stove for heating not cooking — and the other, a flood-lit house and shed fronting a wood disappearing into the night.  Leading to it, a pathway has been plowed four feet deep and is soft with footsteps fresh from the evening’s snowfall.  For someone for whom affability seems to come more naturally and fluidly than most, who makes a living playing host to both friends and strangers daily, Dammann has chosen to live of all places out in the woods.  “This is home,” he writes, and suddenly I realize he has shared all I need to know in this one text message.  I can relate.

He, wife Christina and six-year-old son Felix call the Laurentian Mountains home.  They are majestic, primal and not exactly the obvious choice for a man who has built his reputation on creating atmosphere and community at his popular restaurant ensconced in the residential Le Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood of Montreal, just north of the park and mount for which the city is named.  As a young chef, Dammann set off to London to work for Jamie Oliver, and these quiet neighborhood streets remind him of his little corner there.  The commute is 45 minutes to an hour of rolling, fir-lined roads. Thinking time.  He wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Laurentian Mountains run through southern Quebec. They consist of Precambrian rocks over 540 million years old, making these soft peaks among the oldest in the world.(credit: Tourism Laurentians)

Eating at the bar and the sense of welcome it can cultivate in a restaurant is something important to us at Michael’s Genuine®, a feeling and approach to hospitality that Dammann shares.  When we knocked down the back bar in 2014 to make room for the now familiar horseshoe there today, it changed the entire dynamic of the dining room.  Everything opened up to the hearth and the energy shift was palpable.

“I love eating at the bar. It’s less serious and more convivial,” he explains.  “It takes a lot of pressure off —if you’re on a date, there’s other people to talk to.  Things come faster… Drinks come faster…. There should be lots of little things to look at. All the little details.  We added angled mirrors above the bar, and they reflect where we are, the street lamps and cars crawling in the snow.”

When he bought the place, there was nothing there except dirty carpets.  They ripped everything out and built the whole restaurant based around the bar.  They distressed it, made it look really old and lived in.  An enthusiast and practitioner of the national pastime, Dammann made sure there was a TV strategically placed so he could watch hockey from the pass.

“It’s something you think about when you get open. You feel out the space, where the best seats are in the restaurant,” he continues.  “Bar 1, 2 and 3 in the corner by the open kitchen were saved for walk-ins in the beginning. No one really wanted them at first. Now they’re the most sought-after in the house. There are people that hem and haw about sitting at the bar.  Then there are those that the bar speaks to. I’m one of those people. It says, ‘you’re going to have a good time tonight.'”

Next Thursday’s dinner for South Beach Wine & Food Festival will be his first time in Florida, but something tells us he’ll feel at home.  He tells of meeting Michael for the first time as his booth neighbor at one of the Alex’s Lemonade Stand chef events last year. They hit it off immediately.

“It’s one of those things that people say,” he notes. “‘You should come and do a dinner’ — and then you don’t hear from them.  But three weeks later, I got a call.”

In addition to the Marmitine oysters on the reception menu on February 22, he’s doing Smoked Mackerel with anchovy and lemon, a nod to his travels in Italy and affinity for the country of his mom’s heritage.

Spaghetti all’ubriaco.

“There are things in the flavor profiles you like that you either grow up with or you discover,” Dammann reflects.  “My grandmother’s house always had a lot of certain things — good salami, homemade pasta… It always stuck with me, the complex simplicity of it.  You can have the simplest spaghetti and tomato sauce and if you finish it with amazing olive oil, it kind of changes everything.  Canada is a big country. We don’t have white truffles, but we have insane pine mushrooms… They all go to Japan, they’re that special… We have 95% of the flour going to Italy for pasta. Lentils going to France, mustard sent to Dijon only to be turned around and sold back to us… It’s kind of crazy. This is a country full of prairies and rich resources.  Massive space for farming… You can stereotype the cuisine here, but we have a rich, hyper-regional history.”

The thing I find out about this chef is that, like a great bar, he’s disarming the moment you get acquainted.  It’s comfortable right out of the gate.  He’s also a good listener and answers questions thoughtfully, like he’s hearing them for the first time.  It’s like you’ve been friends for years. You want to take a seat, settle in and have a pint. He admits when he drinks beer, though, it’s really rare.

“It’s going to be a shitty after-hockey beer.  I just want something cold on tap and don’t care about the next new craft beer. I have people that actually care about that,” he says. “Maybe I’m crotchety, but I know what I like.”

Felix asked Dad to throw him in the lake.

He’s always been in love with the region his family now calls home — and the lake, Lac Barron, in particular.  He has fond memories of summers at a family cabin back home.  He always told himself that he wanted to live that lifestyle.  Now he wakes up some mornings to wild turkeys in the backyard. And there are plans for the place, rebuilding the shed, for one, this summer. He’ll fashion a wood stove inside so he can hang out in there when it’s minus 20 outside.  It’s a little piece of heaven he calls home, and that’s something we can toast a shitty beer to no matter what the weather.

Want a piece?  Dinner with Dammann, Kapur and Schwartz is almost sold out, but click here for tickets while you still can.

Chef Ravi Kapur Has One Serious Poke Face

Ravi Kapur has strong feelings about poke. As he should.

“In Hawaii it’s kind of… Well, it’s really a treat,” Ravi explains. “It’s not this mass-consumed, everyday thing necessarily, because really poke should be pretty expensive if you’re using high quality fish. For me growing up, it’s a celebratory thing.”

At now 3 year-old Liholiho Yacht Club in San Francisco, this Oahu-born chef not only takes inspiration from his Hawaiian-Chinese-Indian roots, he takes them quite seriously.   Right off the bat this was pretty clear, even as we stole just few minutes in between phone tag on Wednesday.  There’s a sense of responsibility that informs his approach.  I have neither been to Hawaii nor eaten in his restaurant, but I have read Kapur is a chef-owner known for his cool, collected demeanor in the kitchen.  Schwartz had a great meal there. I get the feeling this attitude is an expression of the strength of his intention, to cook with principle and represent his culture correctly and with confidence.

Fresh fish, the best fish. From @liholihoyachtclub’s Instagram.

This means something to Kapur, that he stand for something and that his expression is one true to his identity as a Hawaiian.  We can relate to this — MS also stands for something, and akin to that.  It’s about quality and doing it right, or not at all.  This is in part why I began our conversation with poke. To poke a nerve.  With the relentless stream of DIY, paint-by-numbers, flavor-of-the-moment poke shops UberEatsing on my Miami doorstep, it’s also hard to ignore.

“The most important element for me is that the fish is extremely fresh and you let that flavor shine without covering it up with too many seasonings,” he continues. “The traditional version would not have soy sauce.  It would be Hawaiian salt, and sweet onion, and inamona or ground kukui nut.

From there he explains it can be embellished, which is fine, with a measured hand, as with most things. Seaweed, sure.  Still no seasoning though. You take this highly perishable product and then need to mask it when it’s inferior.  Often, when it’s about preserving meat or fish, something common all over the world to extend a product’s lifespan — typically out of necessity — it can be quite good.  But it’s transformed.  It’s no longer the thing it was.  For true poke, if you are using good quality there’s just no way it even can be mass produced — which is basically the benchmark for what my exposure has been to date, fast casual-style.  It becomes more about what you are putting on it, than what it is.

“I popped in one day to one of these places, because I’m interested in how they operate, how it flows,” Ravi explains.  “I understand the model, how this came to exist, but I’ll never do it because it’s in direct conflict to what I believe poke is.  I can’t wrap my head around culturally appropriating things for profit.  You won’t find sesame oil in traditional poke. I use some, but for me it’s always going to be all about the fish.”

The fish is Ahi traditionally, but now you can find all types, like Striped Marlin and large bill fish. It’s more sustainable too.  Ravi admits he just got back from Maui, and even there, there is a range of quality. Previously frozen… unknown origins at the supermarket. The place he goes to now, Kaohu store, will run you about $17, 18, 19  a pound.

“To me I taste the difference,” he adds.  “And you can see the fish.  It’s undressed.”

I don’t know about you, but I need my own #alohafloorselfie moment.

Ravi won’t know what species will greet him when he walks into Michael’s Genuine® on Thursday February 22, but he knows it will be fresh and that will produce the best first course on the plate whether it’s Cobia, Golden Tile or Little Tuny.  And there’s pork too, another ingredient that connects our food cultures.

“Absolutely. It’s pretty much pork all the time,” Ravi says.  “In the late 1800s, ranching formed a big part of the economy but beef is more expensive.  Pork is for everyone and it can be great and flavorful – it just depends on the pig and who’s raising it.  I’m doing something off the shoulder.  I like roasting those cuts and still having a little bite to it, so you can taste the meat. Some accents, of course, like chili honey rub for a little sweetness and spice.  I don’t think I told anybody, but I’m also bringing something else with me.”

We’re not giving that one away.  You, co-guest chef Derek Damman and hosts Michael and Tim will just have to squirm.  Now isn’t that cause for celebration? And some poke!  Find out for yourself.  For tickets and menu, visit sobefest.org/michaels.

Amara at Paraiso, Miami’s Quintessential Waterfront Restaurant, Opens Thursday, January 11

The time has come to welcome our newest restaurant into the world. Amara at Paraiso opens Thursday, January 11 in Miami’s East Edgewater neighborhood. Located directly on Biscayne Bay in the Paraiso District—the latest master plan development by The Related Group—Amara at Paraiso brings together all the elements of the quintessential Miami waterfront dining experience from environment to cuisine to vibe. The bayside enclave has inspired Schwartz and the team led by Executive Chef Michael Paley to cultivate a menu influenced by the bold flavors of Latin America, coastal ingredients, and the diversity that underpins the city’s cultural identity. The restaurant opens with dinner service, with Sunday Brunch following shortly after. Make a reservation here.

“The dynamic energy, local ingredients, and natural beauty that define why we live and visit here are what Amara at Paraiso is all about.  It couldn’t exist anywhere else,” says Schwartz. “This restaurant is in the unique position to bring it all together.  It’s our love letter to Miami and why we are proud to call it home.”

 

Highlighting the open kitchen’s wood grill and Josper charcoal oven, the vibrant menu celebrates clean-eating food and cooking techniques centered around the flame.  Dinner is divided into Snacks, Small, Medium, and Large plates, Vegetables/Sides, and “From the Wood Grill” dishes that are paired appropriately from amongst six complementary and signature Amara Mother Sauces.

Snacks include Grilled Flatbread with chimichurri, fried oregano and lemon; hand-formed Empanadas with Short Rib with olive, raisin and chimichurri, baked in a flakey lard crust; and Corn and Leek with roasted poblano, mozzarella and smoked paprika aioli, fried in a yuca crust. Dish highlights include Banana Leaf Wrapped Cobia with mashed yuca, pickled vegetables, coconut chutney, and grilled lime; Grilled Beef Short Rib with shaved cabbage, Marcona almonds, grilled peppers, and sour orange; and the Amara Feijoada, a beautifully composed spread built around a cazuela filled with layers of specially cooked-ingredients tied together on a bed of deep red, savory Domingo Rojo beans from heirloom purveyor Rancho Grande. Sides include Long Cooked Broad Beans with breadcrumbs and basil.

The beverage program by Assistant General Manager Maria Pottage mirrors Amara at Paraiso’s menu, inspired by Latin American ingredients, artisanal producers of spirits and winemakers, and Miami’s lively melting pot. Cocktails are served on-tap, as single servings or punch bowls, bottled, and shaken or stirred. Calm Before The Coconut recalls a sense of tropical place with Diplomatico Planas rum, Velvet Falernum coconut crème, coconut water, pineapple, lime, salt, and nutmeg, served in a chilled coconut.  Pisco Cafecito is bottled and combines Barsol Quebranta pisco, Don Ciccio Nocino, Luxardo Angioletto, cold brew and chocolate bitters.  La Fresa is served in a coupe, with fresh, local strawberries infused in Plantation 3 Stars rum, ginger, lime and a strawberry garnish. Sommelier Amanda Fraga’s wine program highlights selections from North and South America, with iconic favorites from Europe to round out the list.

Designed as a key part of the Related’s Paraiso District to complement the resort-style living for the soon-to-be residents of the Paraiso development, the restaurant occupies the ground floor of the free-standing Paraiso Beach Club and will soon be flanked by Paraiso Park and boat slips.  Amara at Paraiso is ideally located  just two blocks east of Biscayne Boulevard, offering the public unimpeded access to its entrance with street and valet parking.

The 4,500-square-foot, indoor-outdoor space designed by Meyer Davis Studio, with direct input from the Related and Schwartz teams, celebrates the tropical, bayside environment as an effortless design element to unify the natural beauty of the restaurant’s surroundings. The restaurant includes main dining room and bar seating for 150, with floor to ceiling windows offering dramatic Biscayne Bay views, as well as deck seating for 70 on the water.  Its stunning location and versatile menu make Amara at Paraiso an ideal venue for private dining and events. The approach is warm and inviting, drawing the outside in with white washed paneling, natural woods, and graphic concrete tiles. Detailing is open, honest and relaxed with exposed trusses, and an open double-height steel stair.

Amara at Paraiso is located at 3101 NE 7th Ave, Miami, FL 33137.  The restaurant will be open for dinner Monday through Thursday from 6:00 to 10:00pm, Friday and Saturday 6:00pm to 12:00am, and Sunday 6:00pm to 10:00pm.  For reservations visit amaraatparaiso.com, email reservations@amaraatparaiso.com or call 305-702-5528.  Amara is available for private parties and events; for groups larger than 12 guests email lindsay@michaelschwartzevents.com. For more information including menus, please visit amaraatparaiso.com and follow @amaraatparaiso on social media (where there are lots of Instagram Stories to catch up on!)

Genuine Pizza Opens First Atlanta Location on Friday, January 5 in Buckhead

Genuine Pizza will open its first Atlanta location on Friday at the main entrance of Phipps Plaza in the heart of Buckhead. This will be our first pizzeria out of state and with a private dining room… as well as our first restaurant where it snows!  We’ve been working so hard to get open that somehow these little things are just astounding in their magnitude when you have a brief pause to reflect on them.  The team on the ground is working just as tirelessly to bring this place to life from front and back of house. The goal is to exude that Genuine Culture we know and love at home.

Originating in Miami, where we have now for casual pizza restaurants, the idea is about on honest ingredients, creative toppings combinations, and a thoughtful experience from dough to table.  Genuine Pizza Atlanta looks like the fraternal twin of Aventura, with a menu anchored by 12 hand-formed pizzas featuring a tender, quick-fired crust and snacks, soups, salads, entrées and dessert to make a meal around it. The restaurant also offers a list of wines that work great with food, as well as Atlanta craft beers. Signature items include Short Rib Pizza; Polenta Fries with spicy ketchup; Warm Brussels Sprouts and Burrata; and Chocolate Chunk Cookie, warmed in the oven to order. Every day there is a Daily pizza special and a soup of the day.

“We are passionate about our favorite food and can’t wait to bring our genuine approach to the Atlanta community,” says Michael Schwartz. “We’re introducing classic dishes from our flagship location while embracing our new Atlanta community as we fold in seasonal offerings, local beer selections and gluten-free options.”

Genuine Pizza is located at 3500 Peachtree Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30326 in Phipps Plaza and opens with lunch and dinner beginning Friday.  Hours of operation are Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. – 11 p.m., Friday to Saturday 11 – 12 a.m., and Sunday 12 – 10 p.m.  Reservations are not necessary. Phipps Plaza offers plenty of complimentary outdoor as well as covered parking, and valet. Takeout will be available with online ordering at genuinepizza.com, and Genuine fans can also give the gift of pizza with electronic gift cards, now available for purchase as well on the website. Follow the new location and join the conversation @genuinepizza and #genuinepizza on Instagram, where the team has been actively sharing stories as we count down.Genuine Pizza is family-friendly and can seat 64 inside, including 7 seats at the counter and 6 at the pizza bar. Outdoor dining for 36 is available weather permitting with heaters. The space also offers a private dining room for 6-8 guests – perfect for business lunches and intimate gatherings – that can be reserved by calling (470) 481-3883.

Amara is Fired Up for a Proper Argentine Feast at South Beach Wine & Food Festival

Food in Argentina is not just a piece of meat.  And TGHG executive chef Bradley Herron along with Michael, Tamara, Director of Ops Eric Larkee and Amara at Paraiso executive chef Michael Paley had to wait until the last stop of their menu R&D trip to Buenos Aires this summer to find out at Proper Restaurant.

“They were the ones doing the fresh approach,” Brad explains of the Argentine capital’s brightest chefs. “No one else was doing it at the couple of newer places we visited.  We missed the vegetables, and it was one the the last meals we had. The one that almost got away.”

Now while Amara’s food is not exactly Argentine, nor meant to represent fully the traditional cuisines of Latin America, it is informed by the flavors and the techniques that make them unique.  This decidedly Schwartzian approach to what is largely known as a meat-centric culture felt familiar and exactly the inspiration — or connection — they didn’t even know they were looking for.  It was the last thing the team would have expected to encounter in this journey — which is precisely what journeys are for.

Now, of course to miss the meat would also be to miss the point of traveling to Argentina in the first place.  And there was plenty to be enjoyed, and it too came with discoveries to be made, especially in how beef is processed and butchered, and how this can affect what’s on a menu.  “Beef is processed for efficiency in America, cut in half and hung. There they get the whole animal and so cut a little bit differently and can get better steaks,” Brad continues.  “They have access to certain things from certain places that you just don’t see in the US. Things in our kitchens would just go into the wood chipper for burgers, which is delicious, sure, but we don’t benefit from access to the full muscles, to pull them apart and find the special places that can be featured in a dish.”

If there was an iconic cut of the Argentine menu it would be ribeye, and so at Amara there will be one that eats like it’s not the grass-fed you may have tried and sent back.  Read about that in our post on Joyce Farms. “If they had a big steak on the menu, that’s what they had,” Brad remembers. “We like ribeye, too.  It’s our favorite steak with the right amount of fat to meat ratio.”

Joyce Farms ribeye on the wood grill at Amara.

Michael and the team were so fired up about the eye-opening experience and simpatico team they met at Proper Restaurant that they had to share it with Miami in person. Huge thanks to Lee Schrager for getting on board, as well as our sponsors Esprit Du Vin Fine Wine Merchants. Join us South Beach Wine & Food Festival on Saturday, February 24 at 7 p.m.  Inspired by experiences in their travels to develop Amara’s menu, Chef and Amara executive chef Michael Paley will collaborate on a menu celebrating a new bright and fresh approach to traditional South American flavors and ingredients with Augusto Mayer and Samuel Alex Fitzgerald of the much buzzed about Buenos Aires-based eatery Proper.  $250 (gratuity included, tax is not) includes a waterfront reception with the chefs putting out snacks off the wood grill at sunset, followed by a three course dinner including dessert and paired wines from the Esprit du Vin Fine Wine Merchants portfolio, in the heart of downtown Miami. Click here for tickets and check out the menu here first!

Reception on the Beach Terrace
Grill Items: 4  items
Proper 1 – Provleta cheese with pickled dates and roasted onion and peppers
Proper 2 – Lamb cutlets with roasted eggplant and chermoula
Amara 1 – Amara Chorizo: Red, Verde, Seafood with mother sauces
Amara 2 – Grilled Oysters, farofa, vinaigrette

Dinner
First Course: Amara
Local Flounder Tartare, blood orange aguachile, radish, toasted pumpkin seed

Second Course: Proper
Dish 1 – preserved olives with roasted haricot vert
Dish 2 – Grilled calamari with broccoli and fermented bean aioli
Dish 3 – leek with pea purée fried garlic and pecorino
Third Course: Amara
Grilled Joyce Farms Grass Fed Ribeye, bone marrow, domingo rojo beans, malibar spinach, preserved sour orange

Dessert: Proper & Amara (alternating)
Proper- Flan of dulce de leche with soft cream
Amara- Ginger Guava Mille Feuille