Bienvenidos Basel: Our Private Arty & Everyone’s Invited

At French Farms on November 20, with farmer Chris French, farmer Michael Borek and new MGFD chef de cuisine Jorge Olarte.

Meet Olarte as he explores The Redland and connects the dots with local farmers in our video field report, coming soon.

To be a restaurant when Art Basel comes to town is a curious thing that might need a little framing.  Miami Art Week is the jolt of season officially arriving in Miami, the one that whispered sweet nothings in November and now wants to put a ring on it and elope ASAP.  Shotgun wedding. We want to make art and make merry, and do, but it has to be at our game so everyone else can play theirs. It’s also the official arrival of a season of another sort — the growing and harvesting of the bulk of the coming year’s produce threading the Michael’s Genuine menu.  So it’s a time of extreme creativity and intensity inside and importantly outside the restaurant — to take the precious time you probably don’t have to learn what’s out there, connect with the farmers new and old growing the product and figure it all out while being slammed with the most traffic we’ll see in a week period all year.  Did I mention there’s a new chef leading the kitchen?

Your post-Basel Week cure-all: Harry Schwartz’s Sweet & Spicy Wings. Look for them at Michael’s Genuine beginning Monday, December 10.

A strategy is in order and everyone must be aligned, from operations to marketing.  This week, we must stay the course. We focus on our own little party taking shape, and take it to the breaking point, that place between humming like a well-oiled machine and everything going down in flames, crash and burn. Because that’s what we do as genuine hospitality people.  Every service is a party.  Playing the loom, weaving the experience just so, trying to minimize the snags so it we can achieve the impossible — making it seem effortless.  It’s the game we love, that we forever chase and we wouldn’t have any other way. This is the week it unfurls in marvelous display. Game on!

As we push ourselves to share what we do in new and immersive ways, look for more video documents of our process. We think they work a little harder to highlight our dynamic team and what drives our culture.  This week we have two on deck: our 2018/19 Homestead growing season report with chef de cuisine Jorge Olarte and Harry Schwartz dialing in his wings recipe at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink.  Home-tested and now restaurant-ready, Sweet & Spicy Wood Oven Roasted Chicken Wings with cucumber yogurt dipping sauce is your post-Art Basel cure-all beginning Monday, December 10.  Proceeds go to Young Musicians Unite, and we can all rejoice in wings’ return to the menu with a personal twist, crafted by someone who is truly passionate about his favorite food. Maybe they’ll even stick around a little longer!  Videos will hit social media and the blog this week as you execute your strategy for navigating it. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Or maybe, DO!

 

[VIDEO] Field Report: Old Spot, New Tricks at Joyce Farms

Heritage Black Turkeys for Thanksgiving.

Is it sustainable?, you ask, head deep in today’s buzzword feedbag.  But what if we can do better than simply maintain?  Ron Joyce doesn’t just think we can, he does.  His agriculture alphabet begins with regeneration, and it is as preventative as it is progressive.  In October, we flew to American swine farm capital North Carolina (second to Iowa) to learn exactly how.  What followed was the most unconventional and scientifically surprising farm tour you just couldn’t dream up.

Knowing where our food comes from, although sometimes difficult to experience for better and worse, is essential if we are to do things better.  Being informed is absolutely the only way to be, especially in this business where the decisions we make on food sourcing affect what thousands of people a day put in their bodies.  To make good on this vision for how Michael does business, visiting suppliers is something we try to do as much as possible.  When we get an invitation like Ron’s, to enhance a trip with education, it’s impossible to pass up and something worth sharing with the next generation of cooks.  For Chef, that’s son Harry Schwartz.  From soil university and rainfall simulation, to population restoration and integration through genetic selection of heritage breeds, Dr. Alan Williams near blew off each of our thinking caps — from rooter to tooter as they say in those parts!

Me, Brad, Chef and Harry Schwartz.

The Joyce Farms approach is common sense and begins in a place all chefs can relate to.  How do we get best flavor from an animal?  The answer is simple – natural animal, not bred to be factory farmed on cheap grain and restricted conditions, begets natural flavor and nutritional value.  We last spoke with Ron for the blog about his Aberdeen Angus program.  Today we share our tour of farmer Adam Grady’s Dark Branch Farm in Kenansville, NC to see it in action.  Grady is also raising Joyce’s heritage hog of choice, the Gloucestershire Old Spot.  The timing couldn’t have been more opportune — with the area still reeling from Hurricane Florence, the flood recovery process was an object lesson all its own.

Watch and learn here, and look for more menu items to come at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink as the season changes and we continue to evolve our efforts at product sourcing as a growing business.

Fairytale Eggplant & the Novel of South Florida’s Growing Season Charms

Beautiful Fairytale Eggplant from Mother Earth Miami

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.

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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.”

Katia last year at a pre-opening wine tasting for staff at Amara.

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.

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Gabi (left) and Katia working together

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.

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Tomatoes from Teena’s Pride

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.”

Joyce to the World of Grass-Fed Beef

From soil health to genetics, North Carolina-based Joyce Farms does grass-fed beef right, because that’s the only way Ron Joyce knows. Standing behind the tasty intersection of tradition, science and passion, Joyce’s energy is palpable through the phone as we recount how a jet-setting French chick became a worldwide calling to find lost heritage breeds and do the work to raise them the way they’re supposed to be raised.

“No day is ever the same,” he says. “We were in meetings on Friday, and then I saw your missed call.  It’s one foot in this year and one foot in the next.”

In November, Amara at Paraiso chef Michael Paley and senior sous Max Makowski paid Joyce Farms a visit to check in on his product mix and talk sourcing for our new restaurant’s menu including dry-aged grass-fed ribeye.  So for about a month now, I’ve been wanting to catch up with this man behind one of the most exciting ranching operations in the U.S.  It’s been much longer than that since we last connected — on Michael’s first visit in 2010 to get acquainted with the now so familiar bird on the Michael’s Genuine menu — Poulet Rouge.  Joyce left one of those impressions that sticks with you, though.  Something in his voice rang true.  Genuine…  The same voice greeted me on the phone last week, but with news to share about the his consortium of farms, the company’s focused growth and his current projects that have our ears perked.

“People eat our beef and they can’t believe the flavor. They also can’t believe it’s raised 100% on grass,” he says. “I cringe when my friends say it’s rough and you have to get used to the difference in taste. Most grass-fed beef isn’t appetizing, because it’s complicated to produce, and most are doing it wrong. This is unfortunate of course for everyone trying to do it right.”

Aberdeen Angus

Doing it right we learn is more scientific than we could have ever imagined, not to mention more expensive.  Ron explains that people tend to forget grain has been status quo since WWII. Corn is cheap, but it’s not natural and collateral damage included a shift in fat content from unsaturated to saturated, an increase in the presence of E. coli, and a change in the pH of the meat.

“When Michael Pollan published The Omnivore’s Dilemma, it was a game changer,” Joyce says. “Demand outpaced supply for grass-fed.  People were gravitating to it for the health benefits, like better Omega 6 to 3 ratio.”

The whole thing started with Poulet Rouge, and Joyce blames his father, who was with another livestock company in the ’50s and ’60s.  He would talk about how disappointed he was in how chicken had changed.

“As a younger person I put that off thinking this is about a guy getting older lamenting about the past and ‘the good old days’,” he explains.  “But then other people started saying the same thing. And then I went to France which changed everything. It made me realize that people don’t remember here in the States how it used to be.  Only the older folks do!”

Joyce explains that in Europe, they’re called industrial chickens, and most butcher shops, a fixture in every neighborhood, don’t sell industrial.  “You have a choice over there, and in many ways that’s the short term goal here.”

Chef Paley, chef Max and the team at Amara during one of four preview dinners this week. With the Art Basel pop-up wrapped, it’s time to shift gears for opening in January.

This chicken problem was the problem that got him started, and the French helped him chose the Label Rouge, a naked neck bird with thin skin at half the thickness of its industrial counterparts that renders crispy. It took Joyce a while to break even, but after they made these birds sustainable the question was naturally, what else?  In America it has been cheap and large for decades. The meat and poultry is market driven here.  It’s a give-the-people-what-they-want mentality that can be poison for a food system.  And labels aren’t helping.  They can be downright misleading. Free-range this, and pastured that.  Semantics, however, mean something.  They can mean everything. They can create a movement, even.

“Chefs were asking do you know anyone doing great grass-fed?,” he continues. “They would say how they’d get requests, and then dishes would be sent back! Feedback was that it tasted gamey and livery. Something wasn’t right and I knew it didn’t have to be that way. Then we found Allen.”

Disillusioned with what universities were researching and teaching on big Ag’s dime, this farmer, Dr. Allen Williams gathered a band of rebels and dropped out of the system to form a consultancy and started working on cattle.  They found that the genetics in the animal had changed to be efficient on corn.

Allen Williams, Joyce’s soil guy.

“The animals simply didn’t do well on grass anymore,” Joyce explains. “Everything in a pasture has a purpose. If you plant a monoculture, one kind of grass and the grass is too green you get minerals and that off-putting taste. Fertilizer kills all the natural organic matter, especially weeds which are a natural dewormer.”

With no choice but to go back to the trough, a farm can get sucked into a viscous cycle that eventually kills everything. Soil becomes compacted. It loses the ability to absorb water, so there’s runoff and loss of top soil. “Animals have a strong sense of what they need to eat it, but if it’s not there.”

No grain finishing here, just fire for the Aberdeen Angus ribeye.

Now the company’s genetics and foraging expert, Dr. Williams is a sixth generation farmer and holds a B.S. and M.S. in Animal Science from Clemson University and a
Ph.D. in Genetics & Reproductive Physiology from LSU.  He has focused on soil and regenerative farming techniques to develop a grazing cocktail for the cattle comprised of 18-24 different plants including legume. Happy cows indeed. In three years, they were able to lower impact costs and eliminate use of pesticides and insecticides. This is not what your extension agent is telling you to do. This is not only maintaining soil health through a natural process, but restoring pastures to the way it used to be.  Bison will be next, the ultimate expression of this principle, because of course, prairie animals don’t belong on feed lots and there are only a handful of suppliers even doing grass.  Joyce will be field harvesting, because bison don’t like to be handled and agitation manifests bad flavors in the final product.  It’s a full-on, holistic approach to the entire ecosystem around commercial livestock and a commitment to doing it right.

“This doesn’t work if you grab a jug every time you see a pest. You have to rethink what that bug is,” he reflects.  “It’s not actually a pest. It’s an insect, and the good ones out number the bad.”

[UPDATED] All Smiles, No (Significant) Damage & See You Tomorrow at MGFD, ella pop café, Harry’s Pizzeria Downtown Dadeland

As of Thursday, September 14:

Harry’s Pizzeria in Coconut Grove is back online and opened at 4pm!

As of Wednesday, September 13:
We are currently preparing to reopen with regular business hours ASAP as follows:

OPEN TODAY
HARRY’S PIZZERIA® Downtown Dadeland and Miami Design District 
MICHAEL’S GENUINE® FOOD & DRINK
ELLA POP CAFE

OPEN FRIDAY
FI’LIA BY MICHAEL SCHWARTZ

We will advise as soon as HARRY’S PIZZERIA® Coconut Grove is back online, as it’s currently dealing with power issues.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE AND STAY SAFE IN YOUR RETURNS AND RECOVERY!

TGHG executive chef Bradley Herron’s breakfast treat this morning for Senior Director of Human Resources and Administration Charles Bell. Lucky.

Sous chef Randy prepping for tomorrow’s reopening.

We are extremely lucky. Such is the sentiment you’ll probably find expressed from Miamians the city over today. Despite challenges with power and downed foliage and the occasional complication associated with water damage, our restaurants and teams are in great shape sustaining virtually zero damage and preparing to reopen tomorrow pending rounding up staff and power. Here is the latest from the home front:

MGFD, ella and Harry’s in Downtown Dadeland will be open tomorrow business as usual and with regular hours. Please visit their websites or Google for quick access to accurate hours, location, contact, menus and more.

We are out of power at Harry’s in Coconut Grove and the Miami Design District (where the only losses are a stolen smoker from our chain gated back lot (looters cut the fence), ripped awnings, and blown away planters. FPL estimates Grove power will be restored by the 17th. We are holding out for sooner (being that it’s also my neighborhood!)  Word on Fi’lia coming soon, and despite a collapsed crane on the Paraiso Bay property, Amara is all systems go on schedule with what appears to be no damage or backtracks to construction.

Cheers y’all. I’m working remotely from my brother’s apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn currently until Thursday with my cat Kittie.  Per usual, updates here and on all our social feeds. Hope everyone is ok and wishing all a swift return and recovery.