Myrtille’s Morning Baking Routine at Amara at Paraiso — Anything but Routine

Her “long coffee”

It’s 5:40 a.m. on a recent Friday, and I’m blasting up I-95 under a nearly full moon-lit sky thinking I’m late.  Myrtille Quillien runs on baker’s hours, and they began 40 minutes ago in pastry’s corner of the kitchen at Amara at Paraiso.  I arrive relieved to find out I’m just in time.  She’s in the dining room’s coffee station, brewing coffee for the crew arriving later on and making her own morning cup — a long espresso latte with steamed milk filled to the brim of a juice glass. We have a laugh about the Google calendar notification we both received at 4:50.  I had mistakenly set today’s appointment remembering the much earlier wake up call for my visit to the commissary in the fall to make bagels with Pastry Chef MJ Garcia and her team, which at the time included Myrtille.

“We start here at 6,” she smiles. “The morning here is a bit different. It’s the first half hour checking everything.  It’s not like at the commissary where it is a lot to do right when you get in and MJ has organized the day’s prep list to assign everyone tasks. It’s a little quieter, just Yesenia and I for a while.”

A soft light has begun to emerge in the horizon, a thick yellow band bleeding into blue-green.  Although it’s still dark at (the now one hour later) 6:15, for me the sky transfixes at its most dramatic.  It’s that moment on the verge, the sun’s proud entrance imminent yet still tucked so deep into the unknown below.  Mesmerizing, and gone in a hot flash not more than 20 minutes later.  Not quite so subtle after all, all this anticipation, and Myrtille jams a pint container to prop open the “in” swing door, one way only during service.  This isn’t just a trick to ease the flow of traffic that will pass through in waves from both directions as prep ramps up later on.

Pre-dawn here isn’t all about the sunrise, that view so different from any other time of day that few rarely witness.  It is really about the dough — because so is Amara.  There are two types for the restaurant’s empanadas alone, one of the first items to greet guests on the menu. Myrtille’s first helper to arrive is Yesenia, a transplant from ella pop café, and she begins there, scooping heaping stainless steel spoonfuls of glistening starch-white lard from a tub that smells like bacon. Once stretched in a pasta roller, cut into discs and portioned onto wax paper, it will be filled with tender pulled short rib, crimped and then baked to golden brown. The other is fried, puffing to a crispy delicious pocket thanks to the fluffiness of cooked yuca in the mix.

Flatbread dough, flecked with scallion.

The root of the cassava plant synonymous with Cuban cuisine also forms the base of the pâte à choux for the restaurant’s addictive savory snack, cheesy yuca puffs.  The dough is cooked raw over a burner as the rising agent, then mixed with a blend of cheeses before resting, rolled into balls, and frozen before hitting the frier and sprinkled with parmesan at plate up.  Myrtille is starting with the flatbread, a yeast dough that began as the Harry’s Pizzeria recipe and then took shape over the summer as Executive Chef Michael Paley worked through how they wanted it to eat.

“The more you let the yeast dough rest, the more it will develop flavor,” she explains.  “So we let it rest until it rises to the top of the bowl, but maybe a little longer is ok, too.”

Myrtille is from Nantes, a city on the Loire River in Brittany.  Yes, she is French and is all those things you dream a paragon pâtissier to be, but the cliché is not lost on MJ.  This import from the northwest reaches of France had an “interesting” resume which immediately piqued her interest for the commissary gig in the fall. MJ started developing her and showing her the concept of how we approach baking and pastry at TGHG.  When the Amara opportunity came up, it was very easy to explain the new role, and apply the simplicity of technique and beautiful pastries to the new concept.

“It was really nice that she had the French pastry background, which isn’t a typical find here in Miami, ” MJ recalls.  “Myrtille comes from a country where learning the basic skills to properly execute traditional techniques is important.  She’s a natural — it’s ingrained. So she had a lot of experience.  Her vibe and energy also felt so good. I had Brad [Herron] interview her right away. I thought she had potential toward something else.”

Chef Paley explains that Amara’s approach to pastry began with building a great dessert menu that hits all the notes: The flan is the foundation, it was important for us at the outset we have the best flan in Miami. Beyond that, a great chocolate dessert, a great fruit dessert, and well executed ice creams and sorbets. Nothing overly technical, just delicious and simple.

The young family arrived in Miami in 1999, her husband and their first 6-month-old baby, Valentine, it tow.  Myrtille was an art teacher back in France so that’s what she did here until 2004 when she got hooked on pastry in Chef Kris Wessel’s kitchen one summer.  She followed him everywhere until 2010 when the French government suddenly cut the couple’s work visas. Back in France, she pursued a year of formal training in pastry in 2011 to get her diploma and spent time with Pierre Hermé for cake and macarons at Ferandis School in Paris. Her sister owned a small restaurant back home at the time.  Myrtille worked there and knew she wouldn’t find a better job, so when it was about to close, she applied for a Green Card.  It was 2017, they were approved and now with an 18-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son, the family had to make a call.

“Europe is small so you can travel with your car. It is important for kids to see things and to travel, and we’d take one big trip every summer,” she explains. “But we were living in a small town, and we didn’t want them to grow up like that. With my husband and kids we sat down, and we asked ourselves what do we do? Do we stay in France or go back? We said, ok, let’s change.”

Chef Paley getting a look at the pastelitos.

With Chef Paley driving the concept of the menu both savory and sweet, Myrtille’s role requires equal parts artist’s touch and technical skills — someone who can precisely develop ideas into executable desserts and baked goods suitable for production.  The approach is working together and inclusive for a cohesive outcome on the menu, and all the chefs get to be included in the process of developing pastry. Myrtille works smart and tests in small batches as she goes. The new Sunday Brunch is an area she can bring new ideas to the table, since dishes change weekly, like last Sunday’s guava pastelito. She took the paste and thinned it out just a bit on the stove top, adding ginger and lime zest to bring out the guava flavor but not upstage it.

“Myrtille is dedicated, skilled, and up for challenges,” Paley says. “She is always down to figure things out, do the research, and make things as good as they can be.”

Much like its savory companions, Brunch’s sweet cart is the chefs’ chance to be spontaneous and creative. The balance between hyper-traditional items, like the concha — a sweet Mexican-style brioche — or the flan, to more out of the box twists, like kaffir lime churros.  Paley swears by her Arroz con Leche which he says is “out of this world.”   They say at the commissary that Myrtille is made out of rainbows.  I think we now know why.

“She’s special in the sense that her energy is driven by the passion, and what she genuinely likes,” MJ adds.  “She takes pride and loves it — you can see in every movement in her hands, her care and attention. It made everyone around her feed off that energy, and the effect it had on our team was very nice.”

Taste the rainbow for yourself — for dessert and brunch menus, as well as reservations, visit our website.  Many brunch items aren’t shared (or created!) until the weekend, but you may get a preview or glance by following our Instagram @amaraatparaiso.  It’s also where you can tap into Instagram Story highlights of our mornings with Myrtille.

Ella Pops a Little Pie Shop for Thanksgiving & the Holidays

Apple of our eye.

Palm Court, Ella’s front yard, sparkles for the season!

Sweeten your holiday dessert game this year with Caramel Apple, Pumpkin and Bourbon Chocolate Pecan in your pie-hole!  For the first time, Ella Pop Café in the Miami Design District will offer a menu of homemade pies baked fresh by our pastry team and available for pick up at the café.  Beginning today, Thanksgiving pre-orders will be accepted in person or over the phone to Ella at 786.534.8177 with a credit card.  Pies range from $25-28 and guests will receive a copy of their receipt by email.  24 hour notice is required with Monday through Friday pickup available from 9am to 7pm at the café (140 NE 39th Street, unit 136).  Last day for Thanksgiving orders is Monday, 11.20 for pickup Monday 11.20 to Wednesday 11.22, based on availability.  The café will be closed Thanksgiving Thursday.

Can’t wait? Get a taste of what’s baking beginning tomorrow, Wednesday 11.15 when Ella will also sell pie by-the-slice and whole on the spot (limited availability).

When a Just Ok Bagel Is Not Good Enough, The Genuine Commissary Dials in the Schwartz Recipe

“MJ always has to touch the dough.  Always,” explains Chelsea Hillier, assistant pastry chef.  It’s 5:56 a.m. and work on the day’s prep list has already been in motion for 30 minutes.  We’re spending the morning at the Genuine Commissary, where the energy is decidedly different than later in the day.  It’s… well… therapeutic?

To understand how a place so frenetic can glaze-coat the spirit and spark a twinkle in the eye, you have to be there. In fact, I prescribe a visit with MJ and her team to anyone afflicted with a case of sour attitude or bad day.  It’s a dose of good vibes, creative energy and inspirational collaboration like no other I’ve experienced.  Talk about knowing where our food comes from… They have their hands all over it.

“We started making the bagels because Harry and I went to brunch on Miami Beach,” chef Michael recounts. “Harry’s bagel arrived, and it was like a Lender’s. At this fancy place! I listened to myself as I justified how this could happen — that it’s too hard to make good bagels, so why go through the pain of making sure it’s done right, the extra cost and time associated.  It was then when I realized that was totally ridiculous.  We shouldn’t have to suffer through shitty bagels.  Let’s make bagels!  So Harry and I spent a few weekends after that testing recipes and figuring it out.”

Spreading the peanut butter cream to the nutter shell. Myrtille is one of several commissary staff exclusively working on-site,  not including TGHG chefs overseeing the production or popping in on any given day for recipe testing or other projects related to Michael Schwartz Events.

MJ, whose title of Pastry Chef is more and more savory these days, and Chelsea have totally embraced this thought process and put it into action, with their well-oiled machine.  It’s an exercise in “mental time management”, and to get good fitness there serves them in every aspect of functionality and productivity at the space.  That they are taking on bagels to begin with demonstrates the strength of the operation, and its steady and calculated evolution from humble beginnings in January — both in capabilities and the scope of its role. The commissary now supplies Ella Pop Café with 12 to 14 a day (“We want them to be fresh, and eliminate waste when possible, so no crazy pars,” they say) and 56 on Sunday’s for Michael’s Genuine.

“We used to do the English muffin at brunch, and Chef was like ‘I want you guys to do bagels’ and he gave us this recipe and asked us to develop it,” MJ explains. “It really came to life when we got the commissary and this (combi) oven.  There aren’t a lot of places that make them by hand, from scratch.  We just worked with the dough and used the Rational as our ally to make the best of it in a controlled environment. Before we would boil them, we were trying to be rushed at the restaurant to get it done, and they weren’t right.”

As Chelsea rolls and then rests the dough before pulling them into loops, she explains that the bagels take good chunk of time even if it is only 12 to 14. The key to bagels is keeping a clean workspace, and that also includes your hands.  You don’t want to incorporate more flour or oil than necessary, even the tiniest bit.  They need to sit and rest for the gluten to develop properly in the dough, not too much or they’ll get tense and rip, overextending like a muscle.

“It’s a time to breath and think amidst the craziness of the pace from one thing to the next. It’s like therapy,” she reflects. “The time they need depends. You need more than time to know.  You have to touch them, and use all your senses to know when.  I usually stare at the prep list and contemplate as I’m pulling them.”

Homework.

So much depends on time and timing here for it to all work, from the bagel dough and all its stages including proofing and baking, to adjustments on call times for the staff based on the work load for the week.  When the duck confit goes in for its 9 hour water bath (sous vide) at 8 a.m., you better have completed everything requiring the combi oven by then. In this way, the prep list double as a recipe, which Chef notes only serves if read all the way through before starting.  Then there’s the last minute requests, the fire drills you can’t plan for, like a downed walk-in cooler, that can set things off axis and require smart, creative thinking on the fly. It’s a business of anticipation but also of problem solving.

The day builds momentum from the instant Chelsea opens the kitchen, a mind-blowing (cue the new emoji!), eye-squinting 4:30 a.m. on Sundays.  The morning is the most hectic because because the team needs to knock out all orders for the restaurants, to supply everyone — and they want things fresh.  They base everything off Ella’s timeline so that means 8:30 a.m. delivery. On days there are early orders for Michael Schwartz Events, that could be 7:30 a.m.  Rye Butterscotch Brownie trimmings make it all better, of course. So does the surprise, creative elements unique to each day.

“We never do the same thing. Everyday is different,” Chelsea smiles.  “There are certain routines and things we need to make. Sometimes we do cupcakes or special cookies.  Whoever is making the donut gets to make what they want to make and have a creative outlet.  If we want to bring something in we always make sure we have a plan for it.  I’m working on developing the brunch menu to reflect the arrival of season.  So if I bring in pears, we find ways to cross utilize them across many restaurants and formats.”

Then there’s the fun of watching MJ and Chelsea bat back and forth like a tennis, crosschecking tasks and playing off each other’s moves and sensibilities, which are opposed in the most fluid and collaborative way.  Complementary, like any effective creative pair.

“I think everybody at the commissary really enjoys working here,” MJ reflects.  “We all come with a purpose and work equally as hard, and at the end of the day that’s what worth it.”

Cruller & Unusual, Just How We Like Our Fall Desserts

Spot the cruller, drag the cruller. It’s how MJ wants us to pot de crème this season.

When you ask Pastry Chef MJ Garcia how she approaches developing new desserts, she tells you it’s just like the savory side of the kitchen.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given she’s closer than ever to the big picture of the sourcing process now running the Genuine Commissary. Seasonality drives it all, as specific ingredients each become the focus around which dishes and desserts are built.

From apples to pumpkin, now is the time to get a bite, lick and drizzle of fall.  Ella Pop Café is increasingly becoming an outlet for creative development thanks to a format conducive to quick product turnover and pastry case production in small batches.  A visit could yield anything from Pumpkin Cupcakes to Gingersnap Pumpkin Donuts, often a canvas for seasonal flavors.

Right now, Michael’s Genuine®’s dessert menu is full on fall with three new items, Apple Pie with toasted oats ice cream and salted caramel, Maple Pot de Crème with french crullers, and Turkish Coffee Ice Cream Trifle with cold brew syrup, meringue cream and ginger snaps.  Recent specials have included Sticky Toffee Pumpkin Pudding and Pumpkin Ice Cream.

“Apple and pumpkin are so versatile and play really well in both sweet and savory,” she explains. “Going extremely homey, like apple pie, just makes sense.  And then there’s just so many different places you can go with it.  We’ve been pushing ourselves this season to be smart with cross utilization, but also have a little fun while we’re at it, too.”

Keep your eyes peeled to Instagram for daily specials as the season unfolds.

 

[VIDEO] Stewarding the Genuine Culture | Our Growing Restaurant Group’s Fall Job Fair is Today!

It’s that time again! We are excited to announce our fall job fair, which will take place TODAY, Thursday, October 12 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at our corporate headquarters, 3936 North Miami Avenue on the second floor (above Harry’s Pizzeria in the Miami Design District!)

Michael’s philosophy is simple, and it permeates every aspect of our business as stewarded by our people. Genuine is a thoughtful approach — not just making food that tastes great from quality ingredients, but a tireless, it-can-always-be-better attention to detail in every aspect of the dining experience.  We are laser focused on growing the company with great people who have a passion and desire to contribute to this Genuine Culture, and regular job fairs are a perfect way for representatives from each restaurant to meet with potential candidates to find the right fit! We are looking for dependable, reliable and professional staff members with great attitudes and personalities to join the team and help us be better at what we do. If this sounds like you and you’re inspired and motivated by a dynamic environment, apply in person with your resume.

The fair will recruit for all front and back of house positions including restaurant manager, bartender, reservationist, host/hostess, barista, pizza cook, line cook, sous chef, server, and busser. The Genuine Hospitality Group restaurants include Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink (fresh, simple, pure), ella (light and airy café), Amara at Paraiso (coming soon!) and Harry’s Pizzeria® (neighborhood American pizzeria) which is expanding to Aventura in November, in addition to its current three locations (Miami Design District, Coconut Grove and Kendall/Pinecrest in Downtown Dadeland). Join team Michael Schwartz!