With a Classic Cheese Pizza on the Table, We’re All in for Family Night at Genuine Pizza™ & Harry’s Pizzeria®

Break up the week with a humpday treat!  Beginning today and every Wednesday from 6PM on, visit any Genuine Pizza and Harry’s Pizzeria location in Miami and Atlanta for dinner, and parties of two and up receive a free classic cheese pizza with the purchase of one or more of any pizzas from our menu.

You can’t combine the deal with another offer but you sure can with other menu items and your pies on the table to balance out the meal!  Adults have our full support in digging into a childhood craving while their offspring provide the lesson in eating something green.  How’s that for turning the tables?  No judgement!  Visit genuinepizza.com and harryspizzeria.com for locations and hours.

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.”

It Takes Two to Tango the Amara Beverage Book — Part I: Cocktails

“Challenge accepted!” Amanda exclaims, but Maria is up first.

I’ve asked two bright lights in Miami’s beverage industry, Amara at Paraiso Sommelier Amanda Fraga and Assistant Manager Maria Pottage, to join me for happy hour at Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink.  The agenda is to better understand Amara’s beverage program and the origins of its pièce de résistance — The Beverage Book. To get there, we’re breaking the ice by choosing each other’s drinks.  Well, I’m actually letting the professionals handle the selections — Amanda on wine and Maria on cocktails, just like their roles at the restaurant — to focus on the interview, note-taking, and, of course, the drinking.  My hunch is this device will reveal as much about their approach to the program at our newest restaurant, as it will about the game they play to balance the leanings of their own palates with consideration for guest preferences.  It’s quite possibly where the skill lies in making a good list a successful one.  It must perform at the bar and in the dining room.

Maria begins with Dead Presidents, which she’s set before me, polished and smooth but pretty boozy — a stirred cocktail with Camus V.S. Congac, Basil Hayden Bourbon, Redemption Rye, Green Chartreuse, and Pink Peppercorn Syrup. “I felt like you would like something with Bourbon.  This cocktail has a lot of depth and at the same time it’s really balanced.  I was also curious about the pink peppercorn.”

Oh the places you’ll go…

For Amanda, it’ll be the Mezcal Paloma, a welcomed palate cleanser after a day tasting over a 100 wines at United Way’s annual Best in Glass competition. “Luckily we had a lunch break!” she jokes.

Maria continues, “It’s early in the afternoon, and I thought Amanda might need it after a day like today. I also love mezcal.  She has been very generous with me, so I wanted to give her something I like. I overlooked the agave habanero at first, but I’m looking forward to trying that.”

T&T, matched with chilled Atlantic shrimp.

For herself, Maria chooses the Jungle Plaza, a cocktail akin to the T&T at Amara which matches Campari with Tequila. “It’s hard to balance Campari with other spirits because it can be pretty forward.  You don’t want it to overpower the other ingredients.  I saw the rum and pineapple juices, which have the backbone to stand up.  It’s a classic combination, and makes me think of the Jungle Bird.  The strawberry-infused Campari interests me — how much can it take in an infusion.”

While a student of Business Management in Peru, Maria had the opportunity to go on a student exchange program at a ski resort in California, and then at the Grand Canyon National Park. She worked at one of the hotels there and when she saw how much fun the F&B staff was having, how were they able to create great experiences for their guests on a day-to-day basis, she wanted in.

Maria in action behind the Amara bar.

“Being from Peru, where food and beverage is an integral part of our culture, the rest was just a natural step,” she explains. “I was instantly hooked and became obsessed with everything food and beverage related.  Books, restaurants, films… but especially about the power of hospitality.”

About a year and a half ago, Maria had just returned from a trip to Tulum and happened to meet Michael Schwartz one night when he was out for drinks at a Peruvian restaurant in Miami where she was then Beverage Director.  Although she had heard of Chef and the Genuine Hospitality Group, she didn’t know Michael personally at the time, nor could recognize him.

Maria game to chat beverage on her day off, just one of the reasons we love her.

“His guests were celebrating a birthday and having what seemed like a good time, and so I sent something to the table,” she continues.  “They asked me what Pisco was so I went and did a little tasting for them and then we exchanged cards. And that’s how we began the dialogue that ultimately brought me to Amara.  When I heard about the project, it felt like all those things that I loved about Tulum, somehow uniting a feeling of being far away but being in the middle of everywhere. Timing wasn’t right then, but we kept in touch.”

The grills, the beach and the water — what it means to be Miami and the experience of Latin American culture — is reflected in Maria’s drinks in a few ways.  It was important to have first and foremost good representation from Latin American spirits, but unique global brands were essential for a serious list with character and balance.  Part of her role is discovering new product and producers, and to ignore the rest of the world would be a disservice to guests and the bar.

“The beverage program is meant to complement Amara at Paraiso’s food,” she says.  “We are inspired by Latin American ingredients, just as we are by artisanal producers of spirits and winemakers. Miami as the epicenter of this tasting melting pot: diverse, exciting, and fun.”

She’ll say it sounds like an easy-out, but her favorite cocktail on the list really depends on her mood.  We say, good answer to a difficult and loathed question.

“It’s hard for me to pick one I like above the rest.  They are all different and each exist for a reason on our menu,” she says. “If I am craving something refreshing and easy to drink I definitely want to start with a Tulum Spritz. For a cocktail with more body but also citrus forward, I love our Nikkei Sours made with pisco and Japanese whisky. And for a drink that can well start or finish a meal, Monkey Business seems to be a perfect fit, with rum, bourbon, and banana liqueur. It’s like asking a mother to pick a favorite child.”

With a book so rich with content, the possibilities for exploration are endless, especially when you consider food pairings.  To me, and I suspect especially to Maria and Amanda, it’s an endless journey with countless destinations and opportunities to learn, traveling to new places through the stories these drinks tell. It’s about tasting with context and knowing where things come from to understand what purpose they serve and why they were chosen.   As we continue to explore them in longer form here on the blog as a series, you can also follow along each week on Amara’s Instagram, where we highlight beverage on Wednesdays (wine) and Thursdays (cocktails, spirits, beer, and agua fresca.) The adventure has only just begun.  Enjoy Part II next week on Wine Wednesday when it’s Amanda’s turn.

With Genuine Weddings, Love is in the Fare

Good food, good drink, good music, and love.  If there is a day to indulge in all of the above, all at once, it’s on your wedding day. Elegant but not pretentious; unfussy, but buttoned-up, Michael Schwartz Events has new menus with nuptials in mind — from cocktail parties to seated dinners, and even a beautiful mobile wood oven to make a culinary statement on this memorable occasion.

Whether it’s for a celebration at home, or a reception at one of the many beautiful venues in South Florida, our events team can customize the perfect menu for both large and intimate parties. Get in touch and let us know how we can make your big day simply delicious. For menus and more visit michaelschwartzevents.com.

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.