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.

[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.

Bowled Over By Inspiration? For Chef Bradley Herron, It’s Right Under Your Nose.

Tuna Bowl, constructed.

Ever made a “garbage salad”?  The Genuine Hospitality Group’s Culinary Director Bradley Herron has.  Head scratch?  It’s not what you’re thinking.  Or maybe it is?

Perhaps you’ve had this moment, too, standing in front of a refrigerator looking for something good to eat and the landscape is bleak — a few lonely remains, a couple of scallions here and a half a lemon there, the bundle of parsley looking more like a bushel, and mismatched jars with innards haggard like the end of the DMV line.  It’s the look of resignation.  But this is not what everyone sees in what’s left on shelves or hidden in the pantry. If you’re Brad, you just need a stainless mixing bowl and boom! You are the envy of the office with special requests for lunch.

“Cleaning house.  It’s how we like to do things here over the course of a week, and it’s how the tuna bowl happened.” Brad explains to me on the line at Michael’s Genuine last Friday. “I saw this bag of wild rice sitting around waiting to die and thought about what we could make with it.  It starts with what you have, not always what you can order, and goes from there.  We can supplement with a few special things and make something really delicious. Cooking creatively is usually always about cooking smart.”

Vegetarian’s delight — Grain Bowl with sprouts, calabaza, radish, avocado, sambal

Lunch’s Tuna Bowl, and its Grain Bowl counterpart at dinner, snuck up on the menu over the past couple of weeks and have been a big hit at the office and in the dining room.  On Friday, fresh yellowfin came very finely chopped with seasonings including sambal, an Indonesian chile sauce we love for its intensity of flavor (mostly due to fish sauce).  The bowl is then constructed with a foundation of mixed grains including wild rice, red quinoa and farro onto which sliced cucumbers and radishes, nice looking hydroponic arugula, shaved white onions, bean sprouts and alfalfa, butter lettuce and a hulking half scoop of cubed avocado are packed. A favorite Vietnamese dressing, also fish sauce based, nuoc cham, is drizzled liberally.  Last week, the Tuna Bowl popped on Instagram with tail feathers of green and purple on display in baby fire sorrel.

“Yea, and it’ll have different things next week, too,” Brad continues.  “It’s a different way of looking at the recipe development process — maybe even backwards from the perspective of someone who is used to looking up recipes in a book and shopping for ingredients to conceive a menu.  But it makes for an efficient and creative kitchen, and there’s no reason why cross utilization shouldn’t apply to the home cook looking to eliminate waste and maximize flavor. Lots of cost savings, too.”

Teach a man to load the ingredient wall — left to right — from ripe, to ripening. This process brings back of house and front of house together to make the dining room stand for something (beautiful) and function properly for cooks in need of ingredients as the tickets come in.

What initially piqued my interested in Brad’s bowls was the idea of what makes for a good one. There is a formula, and it’s not how your corner “poke” shop does it DIY, a recipe for over doing it. Simplicity and restraint, sure, but really it’s about one thing — balance. At Michael’s Genuine it produces successful menus from the practicality and practice of cross utilization and is the essential notion all of our Genuine kitchens are built on. This is why the bowl canvas is so apt.  For our cooks, this idea informs the roadmap for every single dish.  It’s about the interplay of texture, color, flavor and temperature to create contrast and, if not thoughtfully considered, is what can make or break even a technically perfect one.

Look for more bowl variations to come, as well as what’s new for Miami Spice beginning August 1, posted daily @michaelsgenuine and where we now have a video of the tuna bowl assembly.

Bowls on fire at MGFD. What combo is up next?

Love & Learn | MJ’s Seasonally Sweet & Relentlessly Prolific Pastry Program

Snapshot of now via #MGFDpastry

Snapshot of now via #MGFDpastry on Instagram. They’ve been busy.

MJ spending some stage time with master baker Tomas Strulovic.

MJ being a sponge for all things bakery, staging with True Loaf’s Tomas Strulovic.

There’s no “i” in pastry, and Maria Jose “MJ” Garcia will be the first one to tell you.  We last checked in with our pastry chef at Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink to learn about her department’s regular role in the ella display case — namely the café’s daily donut.  Today’s angle zooms out to capture the scope of what’s going on these days at Michael’s Genuine (a lot), and how — in addition to the invaluable supportive role it plays within our growing organization — pastry is driving much of the research and development in our flagship kitchen.

MJ maintains that to become really good at what you do, you have to have really good team that works hard together to grow, referring to the chemistry and commitment of pastry assistants Alexandra Sarria (lead) and Chelsea Hillier, with their support staff.  “We can always get 10 times better, as we mature as cooks,” she explains. “But these girls have challenged themselves really hard and trusted me with their careers. They have the foundation; they respect their roots and sometimes that’s all you need.”

Always learn

Always learning new techniques (for our benefit! Thanks MJ!)

You first need to know that MJ grew up in kitchens — her father owned eight restaurants from Venezuela to Miami — so it became a place where she felt most comfortable.  The family is originally from Galicia, Spain and spending several months out of the year abroad in her youth set MJ on a path where travel and the experience of other cultures, especially the European way of life, played a formative role.  She studied philosophy and then started teaching, saving to pay her way through culinary school, her ultimate passion. It would propel her to the U.S. from Venezuela in search of the level of gastronomy and environment necessary to develop her craft and gain experience working for the best.

Moving to Miami in 2010, MJ enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu and began researching local restaurants and chefs. Self described as “obsessive” when it comes to details, she was drawn to pastry because of the precision and technique it requires. “I had more confidence, enjoyed the control of flavors and understood the chemistry,” she explains. “The different components and how they interact and work together is so specific as compared to the culinary part of the kitchen.”

She had heard of Michael Schwartz, his pioneering style of food focused around local ingredients in season at flagship neighborhood bistro Michael’s Genuine.  So MJ just decided one day to show up on the restaurant’s doorstep, and it paid off.  She would do anything to be in that kitchen and ended up staying on as an intern for six months under the guidance of then acclaimed James Beard nominated pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith. In fact, she completed another internship, this time the one she needed for school credit, at South Beach’s Raleigh Hotel.

Looking back on her influences and how they shape her approach today, MJ contends the simple, traditional desserts that she experienced in Spain, Italy and France — those born from recipes perfected over time — are her benchmark as a pastry chef.  MJ thinks and develops desserts in terms of “food flow”,  how she describes cooking with the seasons, that biological clock that makes so many food cultures across Europe tick.  She also wants the sweets developed for the menu to be delicate, just sweet enough and most importantly not over-complicated.  Her dad was the kind of person who would drive miles to get the perfect bread.  She recognized and admired that in Michael and also early on in the Michael’s Genuine kitchen under then chef de cuisine Bradley Herron — the importance of sourcing — to look for quality or the person who does it the best.  “We just want to do one thing well with each dessert using good quality ingredients — not a lot of things and not over the top.”

fullsizerender-44

Miami winter on a plate: Almond Absinthe Cake from January 5, 2016

She points to Almond Absinthe Cake with Florida strawberries and tangerine curd, a dessert that went on last winter as encapsulating her approach.  “It respects seasonality of South Florida with freshness, combined with this nut flour-based cake which is traditional to the region where my dad is from. And a subtle hint of sweet licorice flavor reminds me of my teenage years!”

The seasons also perform another function for Genuine pastry — creating a feeder system and momentum for new menu items.  There’s a lot of planning that goes into the process, about a month ahead, sometimes more. She’ll get the team together to sit down and talk about what’s coming in, sharing ideas and then testing them, putting things out as specials to see what’s working and what’s not in the dining room. Big seasonal crops for South Florida – like citrus for instance – are long and abundant, so MJ particularly flags this annual challenge in advance as an opportunity to keep things interesting. “We can’t enter a season guessing,” she asserts.

Vegetarian ice cream! Vanilla Kulfi with citrus, ginger, rosewater and pistachios

Vegetarian ice cream as beautiful to eat as it is to look at! Vanilla Kulfi with citrus, ginger, rosewater and pistachios, from March.

mgfd-new-dessert-sectionsAs for her style, she’s always followed her instincts, an approach that has proved fruitful in life and in the kitchen with her husband and chef de cuisine at Cypress Tavern, Max Makowski.  “As a chef, you have a passport to do whatever you want and seek out new opportunities to learn.”  They’ve never been afraid of change and taking chances, following their guts to learn whether it be in Seattle or Denver, where MJ moved for two years before returning to Genuine in her current position. They decided to get to married and Max had established himself in the Rocky Mountain capital as a Sous Chef.  Then their curious, inquisitive and beautiful daughter Mia arrived (now two years old and very patient of Mom’s phone interview time!)  MJ was ready to try something different and found it in a vegan bakery. “It’s one more step of thought process,” she explains.  “Interchanging dairy elements that work in pastry for something vegan that behaves in the same way… That was interesting to me. You just have to work out the puzzle.”

Stay updated on the latest specials at the #MGFDpastry feed, and click here for the dessert menu.  We dare you to find a repeat in the mosaics above!

#thisisMGFD: Short Rib Croquettes | Roasted Vegetable Salad | Pan Roasted Snapper

 

As our new menu settles in, we’ll be highlighting dishes on the blog a few at a time as we taste through them all, with menu descriptions provided by the chefs so you can get to know them, too.  Here are some highlights from last night’s first Dinner service:

img_0145

Short Rib Croquettes with smoked paprika aioli — These tasty three-bite nuggets are made with an ingredient common to the Miami table: yucca.  I like to think of this as a take on what one might find at Palacio de Los Jugos (a known palace of inspiration for Chef!) where they’re sprinkled with pork bits.  Here, the tuber is boiled and mixed into a batter with flour and egg, filled and balled with slow cooked short rib and all the good flavor-making stuff — mirepoix, white wine, tomato, orange, cumin and oregano — fried until brown and crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and nestled in a pool of smoked paprika aioli.  This sauce is a keeper, and you can whisk it up with egg yolk, lemon juice, and a slow steady stream of olive oil.  The creamy condiment is transformed into a vivid shade of orange with the intoxicating addition of smoked paprika.

img_0146Roasted Vegetables with seeds & grains, tahini, cilantro — So not all of us may be in agreement that this is a salad, but we are definitely on the same page that it’s a flavor-packed winner. Share it with a friend as a starter or make a satisfying meal of a bowl including red quinoa, bulgar wheat, wild rice, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, and toasted, spiced pumpkin seeds tossed with roasted heirloom carrots, cauliflower and petals of caramelized onions.  Sitting atop a cushion of tahini and topped with fresh picked cilantro, this one’s gonna call you back.

Pan Roasted Snapper with clams, bacon, green onion, green sauce  Umami bursts from the plate here in perfect balance. A 6oz filet of snapper (or what’s light and flakey and running locally, like tilefish perhaps) is pan roasted skin side down until crispy.  That’s important for contrast.  Braised in the pan with butter, thyme and garlic, it’s served on a bed of grilled scallions and a pool of green sauce.  It’s just heaven, combining clam juice, garlic, thyme, white wine, spinach, parsley, tarragon, and basil all puréed and mounted with butter.  Good lord is it lick-your-plate-clean good.  Adding crisp chunks of house smoked bacon and a few steamed clams in their shell to guild the lily, this is sure to be a keeper.

Follow #thisisMGFD on Instagram as we continue to tour the news.