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.

Kneading Lessons & a Learning Legacy on the Road with the Vetri Family

Growth happens when we are exposed to new things — or sometimes, the same things but new ways of doing them.  When we have those with the experience, passion and patience to teach us, something beautiful happens in the exchange.  An invitation to cook at the annual Great Chefs Event for Alex’s Lemonade Stand in Philadelphia last week presented such an opportunity for The Genuine Hospitality Group culinary assistant Dillion Wolff — to stage at Vetri Cucina, thanks to Michael and friend Marc Vetri.  A chef respected by his peers for his talent and heart, Marc has cultivated a stable of acclaimed chefs and restaurants since his flagship Vetri Cucina opened in Philly in 1998. It’s hard enough to be a for-profit business in this business, so 20 years is many lifetimes in the restaurant world, especially when you are also running a foundation in tandem.  Vetri Cucina set the tone and proved a solid foundation from which to build, recognized for the level of care taken in honoring and elevating the traditional Italian kitchen.  Its special tasting menu has minted this gem in the canon of American dining and won multiple James Beard Awards for its offspring, Jeff Michaud and Mike Solomonov to name a few.  If Marc is the OG progenitor, Vetri Cucina is the primordial Italian wedding soup.

The dining experience at Vetri is an ode to the mother country and its love of food unlike any other. In addition to the dining room, guests can arrange for private dinners, as well as partake in cooking classes on site.  As Dillion found out, perhaps the education most important happens daily among its cooks in service — a recipe of teamwork and technique.  It’s a place where bread, pasta and even polenta made from scratch means milling the flour in house.

“Going into it there were a few things I was curious about, like making fresh pasta, for example,” Dillion reflected on the phone Monday.  “How they run service is so different than Harry’s or Genuine Pizza — even Michael’s Genuine or Amara.  We are talking a 30 seat restaurant where 40 covers is a crazy busy night.”

TGHG Culinary Director Bradley Herron snagged Dillion for his team in February 2017 from Michael’s Genuine, where he had been working the line for a year after interning there during culinary school.  The culinary assistant role is a unique one, providing support to all Genuine group entities — from Amara at Paraiso to Fi’lia in the Bahamas to our commissary kitchen — with ongoing training, their chefs with last minute help on the line, working Michael Schwartz Events including private parties from cocktail receptions to cooking classes and off-site catering, and handling special projects.  Really everything under the sun.  Most recently, Dillion worked with the Genuine Pizza cookbook team on a week-long photoshoot.  The 150 pictures of recipes and lifestyle shots due to publisher Abrams Books quickly became 180, including several step by step instructive images for which he and colleague Brandon Green served not only as prep cooks but subjects.

Some of the Genuine Pizza cookbook photo wall, most of Dillion’s hands!

“This job requires flexibility and versatility, but it demands a good attitude,” Bradley explained.  “You have to be able to jump in to help and get things done at a moment’s notice, and they need to be done right. Dillion is as fast as he is proficient, but these are strengths that as a cook you always want to be improving upon.  That comes with experience, time on the line and repeated exposure to new environments and things.”

Dinner at Vetri is conceived based on each table, and everything isn’t the same.  The on the fly structure is part of the challenge, the fun and the instruction.

“It was cool to see how dynamic the approach is with the tasting menu,” Dillion reflects.  “It’s not just what the chef wants to do, it’s trying to make the diner’s experience as custom and to their tastes and food preferences as possible.”

The first day, Dillion was a fly on the wall for service, and they would make him an extra of each dish to taste. Tuesday was spent with the baker, milling fresh flour and baking bread.  He worked service with “pasta guy” and also helped with private events upstairs.

“Matt, the executive chef… On Monday he was the dishwasher.  I mean, it really sets the tone when the first courses come in heavy and the pasta cook comes in to help put it out.  You could tell in the kitchen that it was a huge team effort,” he reflected. “Everyone will do whatever. The whole operation is impressive, the attention to detail and craft but also people being genuine with each other — and incredibly welcoming to me.  They didn’t want to ask me to do things, like the stuff that’s not glamorous, and I’m there to work and to do anything. I had so many questions and no one got annoyed with me!”

The City of Brotherly Love indeed. Something we can all benefit from emulating!  Follow Dillion on Instagram @dillion_wolff.

Summer Cooking School with Chef Michael Schwartz: Class is in Session After Hours at Ella Pop Café

Summer is just the time to learn something new, or polish your skills doing what you already love! All you need is a little motivation in the form of a great instructor — James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz!

For the first time, Miami’s beloved chef known best for his straightforward, delicious food at flagship restaurant Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, teaches a series of cooking classes, including Pizza (June 14), Pasta (July 12), and Empanadas (August 9).

$125 per person, per event includes it all — each cooking class brings a three course meal, signature cocktail, wine & beer, take home gift and chef! Max 26 people per event.  Pizza is already sold out but you can snag your tickets to Pasta and Empanadas at these respective links.  The summer school is hosted at ella pop, the chef’s light and airy café in the Miami Design District’s Palm Court, from 7-10pm after regular business hours (140 NE 39th Street, Miami, FL 33137).

The new summer series is brought to us by the amazing folks at Michael Schwartz Events.  Our catering and private party division puts on special events like this, as well as a host of other offerings for your upcoming gathering large or small. For more information, menus and to request a quote for everything under the sun from weddings to birthday parties, visit michaelschwartzevents.com.

Chef’s Night In at Genuine Pizza: Michael Schwartz Spins 3 Special Pies in the Aventura Oven on Tuesday, April 3

It’s a dinner date!  Tuesday, April 3 from 5-10 p.m., Genuine Pizza Aventura not only brings three more special pizzas to the table, it’s adding the pizza cook who conceived them to the line.

Chef’s Night In features our pizza maker in chief, Michael Schwartz, working the Marra Forni oven with a few new creative topping combinations.  We hear he makes a mean margherita, too.

CHEF’S 4.3.18 SPECIALS 

MERGUEZ
harissa, scallion
halloumi
mint

BÉCHAMEL
pepper relish
bitter greens
parmigiano

CLAM
preserved lemon
parsley, chile flake
parmigiano

The special menu of pies will run all night until they run out and can be made with gluten-free crust for an additional $3.  They’ll be available a la carte, or bundled in a great deal — pick one with a salad of your choice and a glass of wine for $30 per person plus tax and gratuity.

So how would Michael slice his?  “It’s a tough one, but I think I’d have to go with the clam and the Sancerre,” he says. “But if I’m starting with the Brussels sprouts salad, I’d need a glass of the Au Bon Climat Chardonnay, too!”

Now that’s a party.

Genuine Pizza Aventura Mall
19565 Biscayne Blvd, Unit 956, Aventura, FL 33180
Get Directions
(786) 472-9170
Click here for our regular menu (including wine list!)

 

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.”