Go Figure (It Out) | In Culinary Assistant Life, Attitude Is Everything

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Happy Chefs:  Bosslady and her bossman in the Harry’s Design District kitchen, full Beer Slam event mode this past summer.

“I don’t even know where to start,” she begins as we sit in my office on a Monday morning last month.  It’s as fitting a place as any given Ms. Hess’s new role.  Megan has been pretty much everywhere over the past six months since she was promoted to Culinary Assistant, quite a departure from where we last found her on the line at Michael’s Genuine®.  Yet, she’s often still on any given number of lines these days, depending on the day, even the minute, as she can get called from one venue to the next based on what’s going on.  With Megan fresh off Oasis of the Seas and in the corporate office finishing MGFD’s recipe book (“so I don’t get pulled away…”), I thought we could catch up for a hot minute on what chef life is like when you’re a culinary assistant, and what than means exactly.

img_1991“Yeah, so relaunching 150 Central Park… That was my first project,” Megan says of her transition from line cook.  “We actually began in March.  There was a photo shoot for the new dishes, and it was the week of St. Patrick’s Day. Everyone wanted me to go out, and I had to work the next morning at 9!”

Working on the ship menus turned out to be the perfect training for Megan’s new position — not only in learning how to teach people, but giving her a new found sense of independence and responsibility where she’d have to act as ambassador for the company.  In addition to developing and formatting recipes, testing dishes and shooting how to plate them — all done in Miami in advance — she would travel to the three ships to get menus online with Royal Caribbean’s team.  Brand new Harmony of the Seas kicked it all off across the Atlantic.  Snapshots of Megan’s journey overseas to meet the ship for its maiden voyage were an invaluable peek behind the scenes of the launch through fresh eyes.

That attitude tho.

Go Time: Megan holding it down at the Genuine’s Summer Series “OMG! Picnic & a Movie” featuring an Israeli feast off Lynx Grills.

“The first time I went on my own [to the ship] it was exciting, especially because it was first time I had left the U.S.!” she remembers.  “I flew into London, then eventually arrived in Southhampton where the ship was in port. I had no idea where I was going.  I didn’t have cell service or a contact onboard, and I probably looked like a kindergartner lost in high school!  I just went to my cabin first to drop my bags and then to the venue. No one was there, because they were on break, so I just started by tasting some things.  That will tell you a lot.”

She held a meeting to hear from the staff on what was working and what wasn’t, then scheduled a full menu tasting for the second day taking lots of notes along the way and reporting back to the TGHG team through email.  Some corrections and tweaks were made. Nothing was insurmountable, she recalled thinking.

Plating a dish for Michael Schwartz Events alongside Chef.

Plating a dish for Michael Schwartz Events alongside Chef.

“My goal was that when Brad and [Eric] Larkee showed up the day after, that they wouldn’t have to fix anything,” Megan continues.  “I’ve worked closely with Brad for two and a half years now, and I feel like I have a good idea of what he wants, not just from seeing how he works, but also because he tells me.  Also having the experience and time spent in the restaurants — knowing what our standards are — helps a lot.”

Megan identifies three big takeaways that she’s applied to working with the cooks in our kitchens on land: The importance of repetition, showing and doing hands-on rather than telling, and patience. We would add trust — in your support system, but also yourself.  “Problem solving is huge,” she adds.  “Prioritizing. Just getting in there and figuring things out.”

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Head down, working hard.

Brad also points to an asset you can’t really learn, but that he recognized in Megan from the get-go, essential to all his hires.

“From the very beginning it was about her attitude,” remarks the TGHG executive chef. “Whenever I ask her to do something, the response is ‘no problem’.  She’s on it and gets it done. It’s that can-do attitude that is really the bottom line for everyone right now and why Megan is so valuable.”

Brad also talks about her “universality”.  She has a potent, diverse knowledge base and the versatility that comes with it — Megan can be called upon to jump in anywhere and know what to do — or learn how to, quick.  It could be something planned, like prep for or execution of a Michael Schwartz Events party. Then there are the guaranteed fire drills in this business, like when a cook calls out at Cypress Tavern, Michael’s Genuine or Harry’s Pizzeria® and the restaurants need coverage.  Speaking to his confidence in her adaptability, Brad notes a hypothetical. “If we needed the support there, I could go tell her to go run Harry’s for a week.”

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Getting sh*t done at MGFD.

When we spoke, Megan’s attention was laser focused on Michael’s Genuine and its recent menu changes.

“I feel like it is a lot crazier than when we relaunched Cypress last year,” she reflected. “There, they handed me the new menu and were like ‘here is what we are doing’.  At Genuine, I’ve been a lot more involved, supporting Brad, but also Saul and the team in the kitchen. It’s been everything from foundational stuff like writing the recipes, figuring out how plates are going to look, portion sizes, and making the recipes solid so that anyone can make them.  A big part of it has been getting people onboard with the changes in training.  Everyone is excited in the back of house to learn the pickups — they are a little more complex and require more skill sets than the previous menu. Time management is key since a lot of the dishes take longer to make. That’s been something fun for me, a lot of new faces in the kitchen and being able to teach them, getting them to understand the way we do things here.”

Supporting at Fi’lia, Megan is experiencing a restaurant opening for the first time and she’ll be the first to admit not quite knowing what she or Brad is getting her into, but from the looks of it the young chef is just adding another arrow into her quiver.

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Warm Up: Megan’s view last week, working the Fi’lia oven’s first fire.

“It’s very exciting that Tim is there,” she says of Fi’lia Chef de Cuisine Tim Piazza, who was a sous chef at Genuine before transitioning to get Michael’s first Italian restaurant open. “I didn’t work with him a lot, but the time I did spend with him was great.  It’s a different relationship now. I see him as a great mentor.”

For all these changes, Megan happily admits, even reassures herself, that she doesn’t feel corporate. She can still get her hands dirty.

“That’s the thing that still excites me the most.  Jumping on the line and getting to cook.”

A Harmonious Experience at 150 Central Park Sets Sail

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Harmony of the Seas captured by Eric Larkee at STX France’s docks in Saint-Nazaire (May 4.) She began her first sea trials on March 10 and and was delivered to Royal Caribbean on May 12.

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Lobster Gnocchi with carrot butter sauce, herb salad (paired with Qupé, Marsanne, Santa Barbara County, California)

After a build time of 32 months, Harmony of the Seas has set sail on her maiden voyage from Southhampton, UK with a shiny new 150 Central Park for Team Genuine to call (third!) home.  Harmony features VOOM, the fastest internet at sea, so book your next trip here, make a dinner reservation, and tag #150CentralPark so we can see your impressions while onboard!

Befitting the latest — and largest — offspring in Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class fleet, Harmony’s edition ensconced comfortably on Deck 8 rolls out all new menus by Michael highlighting artisanal ingredients in a new format that offers guests more ways to experience simple, elegant American dining.  Oasis and Allure will follow suit with version 2.0 later this summer.

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Click here for the menu in full.

A straightforward multi-course menu includes Appetizers, Entrées, and Dessert or Cheese Cart, trimming from the previous six course tasting but with more dishes to choose from than ever before.  The idea is to streamline dining time, allow the guest to explore the restaurant on multiple visits and try something new each time, and maintain the thoughtful details that make an experience at 150 Central Park special.

BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE BOURBON TART salted caramel, spiced pecans, cranberry chutney, chantilly cream GRAHAMS, “SIX GRAPES”, PORTUGAL 6

Bittersweet Chocolate Bourbon Tart with
salted caramel, spiced pecans, cranberry chutney, chantilly cream
(paired with Grahams, “Six Grapes,” Portuga)

For an introduction to the menu, a three course dinner invites diners to design their meal by selecting a desired dish for each course.  Or, for an elegant evening out, opt for a four course pairing with a choice of four dishes, each expertly matched with wine by sommelier Eric Larkee.

New to the menu is a world-class cheese cart, tuna tartare service and 23-ounce dry-aged rib eye presented tableside, showcasing the importance of details and deliver the special touches and personal service in the dining room while catering to distinctive tastes.

150CentralPark_CheeseAndDessert_0523asThe result of months of collaboration with our F&B partners here at the port, but informed by what we’ve learned in the dining room since Michael first introduced his Farm to Ship program aboard Oasis of the Seas in October 2011, the changes went live under the thoughtful direction of  Director of Licensing Operations Mr. Larkee and Executive Chef Bradley Herron, who each made two trips overseas with new TGHG assistant chef Megan Hess to ensure smooth implementation and to capture feedback and respond to issues nimbly.  Harmony’s home port will be Barcelona until October 23 when she crosses the Atlantic to Port Everglades, FL.

The most dynamic wine pairing program of any Royal Caribbean restaurant, created with the direction of Michael’s Genuine® sommelier, Eric Larkee. Chef Schwartz’s passion for food and wine, combined with 150 Central Park’s comprehensive tasting program, make for an upscale and intimate gastronomic experience onboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-Class ships.

150 Central Park Dining Room

After the plastic wrap!

Harmony of the Seas spans 16 guest decks, encompasses 227,000 gross registered tons, carries 5,497 guests at double occupancy, and features 2,747 staterooms.  The ship combines the iconic seven neighborhood concept that sister ships Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas are known for, with some of the most modern and groundbreaking amenities and offerings that will appeal to guests of all ages. From The Ultimate Abyss, a dramatic 10-story tall slide, to unparalleled entertainment including Broadway’s hit musical Grease and distinct high diving, acrobatic performances in the ship’s trademark AquaTheater, sophisticated dining in venues ranging from Jamie’s Italian by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to Royal Caribbean’s whimsical restaurant Wonderland, which is a unique culinary adventure for the senses, and robot bartenders, there is an adventure for everyone onboard Harmony of the Seas.  Follow what she’s up to at #harmonyoftheseas!

Farm-to-Ship: Cruising into Summer at 150 Central Park

Ah, #shiplife. With Michael’s Genuine® Pub coming online in the fall, we are utilizing this summer menu transition at 150 Central Park aboard Allure and Oasis of the Seas as an opportunity to orient our greater TGHG team to the unique charms of work at sea!  Special Ops Chef Thomas Tennant will cruise the length of menu implementation periods with genuine teammates coming on and off throughout. First up, Allure. Eric disembarked in Port Everglades yesterday, and Michael and Ryan hopped onboard. Rather than feature two menus per week-long sailing that swap half way through, we are introducing one six course menu with choices on course numbers three through six. Oasis will come online in July.   To start, a smattering of tapas including tortilla español with romesco sauce.  Delicioso.  Poulet Rouge chicken from Joyce Farms is back, as is Jim Wood’s Palmetto Creek pork.  Please find Michael’s Summer Menu, including option of Royal Pairing selections by Eric Larkee, below.  Happy sailing, gentlemen!

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Hitting the Sweet-Tart Spot: Lychees On Deck

Bradley digs into Luc’s citrus poached shrimp surprise!

A week from today, the largest MGFD contingent to date — and with a farmer in tow — flies to St. Thomas to board Oasis of the Seas and test the next pair of South Florida farm-sourced menus  at 150 Central Park: Meadow and Artisan.  For the summer shift, we are introducing two new players: lychee, a favorite locally-farmed fruit native to Southeast Asia with a fast and furious season, and an exotic import of another kind named Luciano.

Meet Englishman Luciano “Luc” Bonci, the Royal Caribbean sous chef who will be taking the helm as our new chef de cuisine at 150 Central Park beginning June 2.  As superstar Jamie Seyba heads back to MGFD land after a job well done bringing Michael’s menus to life at sea for 8 (read: e-i-g-h-t) months, we are making a genuine transition by moving Luc into the MGFD kitchen for a couple weeks.  Here he’ll be able to train with chef de cuisine Bradley Herron on all things fresh, simple and pure, as well as flex his creativity a bit away from the structure of life as a ship chef.  We gave his shrimp above two thumbs up for flavor and texture, with brunoise chorizo, brioche croutons soaked in syrup and a confetti of other ingredients.  A lot going on there, but as Bradley likes to say, it didn’t suck!

My next victim! I catch Luc redhanded in the Chef’s Table galley on Oasis, October 2011.

The two join Michael, Wine Director Eric Larkee, and myself seaside next week, where, in a matter of four days, Meadow and Artisan will be put through the ringer as they currently stand conceptually to make them implementation-sound for their first service on June 2.  Hopefully the lychee harvest will kick in on-schedule, but in the meantime, we will be working with last year’s harvest of this freeze-friendly fruit for dishes including Florida Rock Shrimp and Lychee summer roll, sweet and spicy dipping sauce; Hedy’s Lychee “Tres leches” Hani’s goat milk sherbet, biscotti crumbles, toasted meringue; and Pan Roasted Scallop, whipped celeriac, lychee butter sauce, parsley salad.

The Samimy grove at peak of harvest on June 11, 2011. When this season’s sweet spot will be remains to be seen with this wacky weather.

On Friday, Luc treks down to Homestead to meet owner Roland Samimy, Michael’s longtime lychee supplier for MGFD, to experience the farming of lychee first-hand in the grove and tape the next in our Farm-to-Ship Webisode series with Royal Caribbean.  Read about the Samimys and their product here on The Genuine Kitchen, and find out more about Luc, his background, and how he got hooked up with this gig in the coming weeks.  We’re excited to have new blood onboard and someone passionate about learning what we’re about here at The Genuine Hospitality Group to represent Team Schwartz.  It’s a great opportunity for all of us to grow and learn!

An Epic Officer’s Log: Sea Date 6

As previously reported, chef Jamie made a big transition last month, trading the oven station in the MGFD Miami kitchen for fire-free cooking in the galley at 150 Central Park aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas.  When Michael, Eric, and I  joined Jamie a couple of weeks ago for the launch of fall’s “Farmstead” and “Greenhouse” menus, we recorded what we hope to be the first of more “Officer’s Log” videos charting the course of this newly-minted chef-at-sea.  Please find it here for your viewing pleasure, and check out our quick tour shoreside with line cook Conmelia of Falmouth, Jamaica in search of the real Jamaican patty! The favorite was beef, although the bean and cheese may have gotten Michael’s vote when all was said and done.