Niman Ranch Asks Chef Bradley Herron Some Questions. We Are All Ears.

Brad with Chef in Iowa in September, getting the Niman Ranch slow roasted pork shoulder ready.

Although the word chef isn’t in his title, Bradley Herron embodies what it means to be a cook at The Genuine Hospitality Group. Our Director of Culinary began as line cook at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in 2009 and now oversees all the chefs and menus in the company’s 10 restaurants and Michael Schwartz Events catering.

His role is multi-faceted and providing continuity and oversight of sourcing is key — from dry and paper goods to perishable product, including a constant re-evaluation of how we can do better on quality and cost while serving Michael’s vision and culture.  It’s a tall order.  Part of this process is cultivating longstanding relationships with suppliers like Niman Ranch.  In follow up to September’s visit to Iowa for the Hog Farmer Appreciation Dinner, the team posted an interview with Brad we wanted to share here — a small but important way we can recognize the person behind hard work and dedication not always visible but essential to the function and spirit of our kitchens and hospitality at the table.  We appreciate how Brad to clearly explains why things are done in certain ways versus others.  Most importantly, we count on him for his pragmatic insight on what it means to be creative as a cook — and a photo bomb or two, especially when he’s the subject!

Q&A With Chef Bradley Herron
from The Niman Ranch Blog

Q: Where did you grow up?
Southern California

Q: What inspired you to become a chef?
It’s my only career choice. I started when I was 14 and liked the way things work in the restaurant – High energy, fast pace, different every day. So, when I was a senior in high school, I had three restaurant jobs and decided to go to culinary school at the California Le Cordon Bleu to become a chef.

At Osteria in Philly, celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Q: How did you hear about Niman Ranch?
Back in southern California, my first restaurant job used Niman Ranch beef and pork. When I came to Miami, it was a name that everyone knew and it resonated with customers. When you get product from Niman it’s always great.

Q: What inspired you to care about sustainably and humanely raised beef, pork and lamb and, in turn, support family farmers?
It’s the right move and kind of the norm now. It’s about our children and our children’s children. It’s easier to do now because there is a lot more awareness, especially in California. But the quality is better and you feel better about it because it’s something you believe in while helping farmers.

2010, Slow Food Miami’s Ark of Taste Dinner

Q: Do your customers care about where you source your ingredients? Why do you think this is the case?
Yes and no. We brought Niman Ranch into one of the cruise ships we consult for and no one seemed to care. In Miami at Michael’s Genuine, our farm to table restaurants, people ask. Our reputation is built on transparent sourcing and people trust us more. If you are in California, everyone asks!

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten?
I get asked that question often, but I don’t have that scripted yet. We’ve been on an 80% growth rate for the last few years and opening a lot more restaurants. I see myself being in a similar environment doing similar things. For me, if I don’t like something, I’m going to change it and do something else. But I like what I’m doing and I’m going to keep doing that.

Cooking in the back of ella for a pop up dinner in 2015.

Q: What is your most memorable experience with a Niman Ranch product?
It was recent. It was when I went to the hog farmer appreciation dinner in Des Moines. I went with Chef Michael Schwartz, and at the end of the dinner, I spoke in front of everyone – all 600 people, about the importance of what the farmers do and how they raise their animals with such care and compassion. The farm tour was great and I have a lot of special memories from that weekend.

2016, getting ready to open Fi’lia by Michael Schwartz in Miami.

Q: What person would you most like to cook for?
My grandma Nana, who is no longer around. When I was young, she was always there with me cooking. I was probably around three to four years old and I have memories of her and the food we made together.

Q: What did you have for dinner last night?
It was Monday, so every Monday, religiously, I have a whole roasted chicken with sweet potatoes and a salad. It’s a staple to start the work week and it’s good to have roast chicken in the fridge. My wife doesn’t cook so I set her up with a big batch of things like brown rice or roasted vegetables on Monday night. She can fend for herself when I’m in the restaurant all week.

Q: What is your favorite kitchen equipment or gadget?
The iPhone. There are so many ways that the iPhone has revolutionized cooking and everything in general. It’s an important tool nowadays. If you think about every dilemma you have in the kitchen, the iPhone can solve it. For me, if someone tells me to cook something that I’ve never cooked, I usually Google it and if you watch enough videos, you can be pretty good at cooking something the first time.

At Michael’s Genuine as TGHG executive chef.

Q: Are there any foods you don’t like?
Poorly made food. Anything can be good, but if something is poorly made, it’s always going to be bad.

Q: What do you love most about your job as a chef?
It’s hard to pick just one. I guess, being where I am now, I have a lot of younger, next generation cooks and chefs coming through the ranks. Teaching them and showing them the ropes is probably the most rewarding thing. We operate 10-11 restaurants and will open five more in the next six months, I’ve probably opened 22-23 restaurants in the last nine years. So, there are a lot of chefs and cooks that I work with. It’s a pretty cool thing to teach someone something and be able to look back and say, “I helped them do that.”

Q: If you were to open a new restaurant, what style of food would you pick?
Simple foods that change daily.

Q: If you weren’t a chef, what would you do for a living?
A farmer however cooking is all I know and all I want to do, so that’s hard.

Q: Most embarrassing cooking moment?
When I was first starting out, I think I was 15, I got a real restaurant job in a hotel with real chefs. One had me break down lobsters and asked if I knew how to do it. I didn’t, so he showed me in like 12 seconds, then he gave me 20 of them. He came back after 3 hours and I was still on the second one and it was completely butchered and a huge mess. That would probably be my most embarrassing cooking moment.

A Pallet Cleanse with Wynwood Brewing Co.’s Missionary of Beer David Rodriguez

IMG_4125

At Wynwood’s facility on NW 24th Street, pallets of 13 gallon (50L) Euro Kegs and 7.5 gallon (30L) Slims await their escort.

In preparation for Harry’s Design District beer pairing dinner on March 29 (one week from today,)  we are visiting each contender for the flavor of its operation and strategy with chef Bradley Herron’s menu.  Your ticket decides the winner and which brewery owns the taps in April.  Co-hosting with Mr. Eric Larkee on Tuesday is Evan Benn, newly minted editor in chief of Indulge magazine and beer aficionado long before the days of his “Brew in Miami” column for the Miami Herald.  After graduating from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, he reported on the subject for the St. Louis Post Dispatch (including authoring a book on the city’s brewing history!)  We are so lucky to have him onboard.

Last week, Larkee, Fraga and I checked in to see what a difference five years makes for Miami’s first craft production brewery.  Wynwood’s tap room was packed with lacy pints, tulips, and flight paddle sippy cups as Miami took a mid-Monday afternoon beer break. So much for 305 Cafecito. Before sampling from among its 18 styles on tap (including six guest brews,) we made the rounds in the warehouse facility to the back.

With a monthly production of 330 barrels at current full capacity, there was barely room to move as we slalomed through a forest of six 15 and four 30 barrel fermenters.  Wynwood also has three bright tanks where carbonation and other flavorings can be added to finish beers, and its bottling line, added in 2015.  We were practically mowed over by pallets of kegs and bottles backing their way out to the street in a hurry to trucks bound for grocery, bar and restaurant accounts through Brown, its exclusive distributor since 2013.

“Craft beer has been trending upward throughout the U.S. for much of the past 10 years, and it’s incredibly gratifying to see it take hold in Miami,” Benn explains. “Wynwood Brewing paved the way for other breweries to follow with its vibrant tap room and award-winning beers. The result has been a growing local craft beer community that chefs, restaurateurs, bartenders and foodies are enthusiastically supporting.”

IMG_4076Wynwood certainly seems like the Goliath in this bout.  But being a “big” brewery in an emerging craft market means you are still relatively small — most likely a family-owned operation sticking to its roots, distributing locally and staying tapped into your community and its tastes.  Since co-founders and owners Luis Brigoni and his Pops set up shop in 2011, a wave of local breweries opened in their wake, certainly on-trend with the national market.  But why (and how) in Miami?  Rodriguez chalks up the energy and support for the trade to our DNA as a tourist market.

“Pretty much Miami was the last frontier, the last large metropolitan city that didn’t have a brewery to call its own until we opened,” he explains. “Culinary-minded travelers visit a destination and look for its local beer as a way to get a taste for the local culture and its flavor. We filled that void here.  You also look at the slow food movement and its influence.  There’s a demand for farm to table in food, and now people want to drink fresh, local beer, too.  Having great restaurants are a point of pride in a community.  So are breweries. We’ve really felt that here.”

West coast Columbus hops for a piney resiny dankness we just love in an IPA.

Second from left, Wynwood IPA nails the piney resiny dankness we just love, from West Coast “Columbus” hops.

Rodriguez bets on Biscayne most likely featuring its Saison and Pale Ale, which they are known for. Maybe the Coffee Porter.

“Purely speculation,” Rodriguez adds. “But I can’t really think about what beers my opponent has chosen. I’m more concerned about our selection and pairing choices.”

According to Rodriguez, balance is the main priority when pairing beer with food.  The food shouldn’t overpower the beer nor vice versa. When the flavors of both beer and food are complementary, they bring out other attributes normally not perceived.

“What’s unique about our beers is that they are very balanced. No one particular flavor goes unchecked by another,” he says.  “A balanced beer allows you to enjoy each of the specific flavors within a desirable threshold. The contrary is also true, which is one-sided beers that are powerful in one flavor don’t pair well with food and one can most likely consume only one.”

Now that wouldn’t be fun for anyone!

La Rubia, a session beer with character. Viva the blonde ale!

La Rubia, a session beer with character. Viva the blonde ale!

Passion: Brewed

Pete Seeger, an American folk singer and songwriter who died this week, said that “the key to the future of the world, is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.” If this is true, then one of those key holes is specialty coffee flavored, and is known all over Miami and soon to be the world, if barista Camila Ramos has anything to say about it. Jackie and I were lucky enough to sit down with her on Monday to talk about her win at the Big Eastern US Coffee Championships a week ago, the myriad 3 a.m. coffee tastings that paved her way, and most importantly the farmer whose vision gave spirit to a mountain.

If it happens to be a perfect Miami day, as it was this past Monday, then Panther Coffee in Wynwood is a living, breathing social phenomenon. Serving most often as hipster-central, on a weekday at 3:30 under the breezy shade of its bicycle-wheel blooming tree at the center of their newly perfected outside seating, one can find a mingling of suits from downtown, tourists in the know, shoppers and passersby trickling down from Midtown or the Design District, and the specialty coffee drinking elite. Inside there is a feeling of growth, an energy breathing new life into an already magic city. And then Camila walks in. A whirlwind makes her way through the store front, “I’m so sorry I’m late,” she calls through hugs and kisses, then she’s off and our anticipation peaks as we wonder what we are about to experience.

“This is Wottuna from Ethiopia” she says placing a carafe of batch-brewed black drip coffee and three stemless wine glasses in front of us, and brighter than her perhaps overly caffeinated eyes is the radiance with which she speaks the name of the coffee. A passion within which you can feel the respect and knowledge she carries, all indicating how deep the relationships in the chain goes. Just as we serve fish that has been touched by happy hands passed from the fisherman to our chefs and pigs from farmers that we’ve known for years, so Panther has its history, its coffees flavored with friendships as strong as the brew we taste, which is strikingly more nuanced when instead made V60, or poured over Japanese paper filters. Lovely, fruit forward and somehow cooling to the tongue.

In the competition Camila chose to tell a bit of the story of the farmer Maximo Ramos Gutierrez and the farm he calls Kailash after its Himalayan inspiration. It was a winning move, and I would be remiss to think I could do any better.  So please watch his story, and if you’d like to take a glimpse into the specialty coffee arena being cultivated in this country then watch her competition piece.  Either way, be inspired. Be optimistic, and know that everything you eat or drink today has the potential to be passion driven. Stories like these tell the tale, and you have the capacity to make it so.

Interview with Carl Myers, Artist, Architect & Genuine Designer

IMG_0923In a story often told, a steadfast dreamer leaves his Podunk town in search of bigger and brighter things, and in this case, he found them. Carl Myers, the designer of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, both our Miami Design District flagship restaurant and its sister in Grand Cayman, has another story to tell, this one through his portraiture. This Thursday, while we say thanks, eat, nap and then eat some more, the walls of MGFD will undergo an artistic transformation showcasing the newest installation of Carl Myers’ work, just as our Magic city transforms into the contemporary art and design mecca it becomes annually the first week of December. I sat down with Carl last week to catch up since we last connected, and talk art, inspiration, Mennonite heritage and Miami’s evolution.

You’re a Harvard Man turned artist, how’d that happen?

I was just a nerd out of high school, I studied really hard. I came from bum-fuck Virginia, and I never wanted to go back there, so I wanted to go to really good schools. I follow my heart a lot. Literally picking up and moving to another state or country, I closed a 15-person business in a day just because my heart wasn’t in it anymore.

What’s your heritage?

Born in Illinois, and raised in Virginia. My family comes from hearty Mennonite stock. They started out being schoolteachers for Amish children in central Illinois, and then decided to come back east near they’re families, but not too near so they could be more modern and cool. They had a phonograph but they never had martinis after work. My dad was a “Black bumper Mennonite”, he painted all the chrome black. My grandmother wore the traditional clothing until the day she died.

Are you religious?

I used to do a lot of pictures of religious icons. I have a collection of colonial carved statues of saints. I had a crown of thorns made, and I would put it on my friends and take pictures of them. I’m just fascinated by these forms, they are statues that people revere and worship. I’m not conventionally religious, but I find them fascinating. It’s a fascination with how other people treat them.

You’re living right now in a pretty religious place, (Guatemala) do people like it?

They do, but funny enough, I don’t think they buy it because it is religious, I think it’s more because they remind us of a place or time. People have even asked me to lay off Jesus a little bit because I would become a Jesus freak, you know him and his mother. So it became more about portraiture, the feeling of the person in the piece.

I use these religious images as inspiration, in a non-conventional way, but still using.

What else do you use for inspiration?

Love in my life. The people that are really important to me. All the people and things I did in this series are my boyfriend, my car, the dog, the views here. I was feeling mushy, sensitive and emotional. I had taken time off to do some architectural projects, but I decided to take the time and do the pieces and put a collection together for a show.

It was an intention to make them in a way that other people could appreciate and like and find something of their own in it, by things that I was inspired to make.
What I really wanted to do was do a portrait of Michael. I’ve always wanted to do one of him, I did Tamara and the kids in Cayman, but I don’t know why it never came up.

What is your technique for creating these pieces?

My technique is quite simple. I photograph living people and sculptural facsimiles of people. While travelling I also take hundreds of photographs of ancient and contemporary figural statues and busts. Then, I digitally manipulate and modify the photos to create pixilated images. Each image becomes a figure ground study comprised of 10,000 to 30,000 pixels. The final images are ‘constructed’ in a variety of mediums: coins, dice, beads, lead shot, straight pins, paints and metal leaf. I continually search for new materials and methods. I am not attempting to capture an image. I am trying to create images.

With the religious references I want to explore the line between the sacred and profane, the real and unreal. Sometimes I only want to memorialize, and other times I want to manipulate. The result is often an image that is recognizable from afar, but when viewed close-up becomes distorted and indiscernible.

How did you end up in Guatemala?

I was working for a hotel as their design director, traveling like a mad man and working 100 hours a week., so I said I was going to take a month off. Back at Harvard I took Spanish classes, because I’ve always had this pull towards Latin (Spanish) culture. A neighbor took me to Guatemala and to this day all my friends there are still my friends. Then September 11th happened and all my hotel jobs were canceled and so I decided to go to Guatemala and start doing furniture.

Obviously Miami has changed, and you were here for most of that. What was it like?

I think the quality and creativity and design in restaurants in Miami has flourished. There’s a lot more talent in Miami now, there’s this energy to explore, not so much by the book, but to go out of the box and do different things.

I had an art gallery on Lincoln Road with 3,000 square feet of space and $900 and we still couldn’t afford the rent. When that started to change and people got upset, I was so happy. I try not to spend time with people who keep change from happening; I like to roll with the punches.

And things are changing in the Design District now.

Is it working? Are people actually shopping at Cartier?

They are.

It’s good, because for a while Miami was looking pretty bleak.

I moved to Miami in the late eighties when all we did was have so much fun and you could buy a one bedroom in south beach for $8,000. It was so cool. Lincoln Road was like a wasteland. It was a playground.

[All I see are scenes from the Birdcage] Have you exhibited at Art Basel before?

No, I haven’t, I haven’t actually focused on it as much before, as with the last two years. And I’m not exhibiting at Basel, but I’m having a show at Michael’s during Basel. But two years ago during Basel when someone saw some of my pieces at Michael’s was when it really started taking off.

There is this esoteric side of the art world, and that’s really hard for me because I don’t really speak the language. But I try. I use a $10 word every now and then.

Here’s a sneak peak of the new work as Carl and Michael Kump unpack the first crate yesterday!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Renier the Good: Genuine Handyman, Genuine Philanthropist, Genuine Guy

photo 2

TGIF, it’s Renier’s special day!

My day began yesterday around 9:30 a.m., which translates to about 2 o’clock p.m. for Mr. Renier Bautista. On an average day he’s up, in the Design District taking care of business around 4 a.m. See, he can’t work when we’re all at the restaurants, because they are being readied for service at that point, and then in service for the majority of the day and night. He is a little mystical, fixing everything when no one is looking. So when Jackie suggested we do a blog post about him I thought why not?  He keeps all the gears well oiled around here, and I’m sure he’s got a thing or two up his sleeve. I had no idea.

We agreed to meet in Renier’s new workshop, built out of the back room at Harry’s Pizzeria this spring, and a place he’d be comfortable. There, sitting on chairs formerly of The Cypress Room, in the company of a sawdust-covered work bench, drills, ladders, saws and the rest of The Genuine Hospitality Group storage, Renier told me his story.

Continue reading