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.

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.

 

[Recipe] Mango Upside Down Cake

Whether you are following your nose and creeping front yards to forage the perfect specimen, or running and hiding while trying not to squish the rotten ones, no one can escape mango season in South Florida. It’s here!

Michael surprised us this morning with the fruits of his Graham tree home-baked into an upside down cake.  Crumbs are about all that’s left!  “It’s no Haden, but my kids love when I make this cake, so I brought you guys some!”  Graham is a fiberless cultivar that originated in Trinidad and became popular nursery stock tree in Florida for home growing due to its fine flavor and good disease resistance. It was even selected as a curator’s choice mango for Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden’s 2008 mango festival. Not bad!  

Fresh fruit caramelized and embedded in rich buttery cake makes a great dessert any time of year, especially this time.  The beauty of this one-pan cake is its simplicity: you don’t even need a cake pan.  When people take their first bite, the reaction is always the same: oh my God! It’s great with a scoop of basil ice cream as a point of contrast to the caramelized to the point of almost burnt brown sugar… or just plain vanilla will always do!  Enjoy this oldie but goodie below, from Michael’s Genuine Food: Down-to-Earth Cooking for People Who Love to Eat.

Mango Upside-Down Cake

Serves 8 to 10

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
2 1-pound firm-ripe mangoes, peeled, pitted, and cut into ½ inch slices
11/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon fine salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, separated
2⁄3 cup buttermilk
Basil Ice Cream (recipe follows), optional

Put a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add the 4 tablespoons butter. When the butter is melted, stir in the brown sugar. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture looks like caramel, about 5 minutes. Swirl the pan around so the caramel covers the bottom completely. Remove from the heat. Tightly fan the mango slices over the caramel in concentric circles to cover the entire bottom, overlapping the slices.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, beat the softened butter with a handheld electric mixer on medium-high speed. Gradually sprinkle in 1 cup sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and egg yolks, one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula if necessary.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and add half of the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Stir in the buttermilk, then add the remaining dry ingredients, stirring to incorporate.

Beat the egg whites in another bowl with cleaned beaters until frothy.

Sprinkle in the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and continue to beat until the whites hold stiff peaks. Gently fold half of the beaten whites into the batter with a rubber spatula to lighten it. Then fold in the remaining whites; it’s okay
if some white streaks remain.

Pour the batter over the mangoes and spread evenly to the edges of the skillet. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center, 45 to 50 minutes.

Cool the cake in the pan for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the inside rim of the pan to loosen it from the sides and make sure the cake will come out easily. Set a serving plate firmly on top of the pan and carefully flip it over to invert the cake onto the plate. Cool before serving with basil ice cream, if desired.

[Video] [Recipe] Rosemary Pine Nut Tart

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Your Thanksgiving table will thank you for this.  Each year, we gather to share in the bounty of the season and no matter how delicious the savory spread is, from customary turkey to rainbow of side dishes, I always look forward to dessert.  There are no fewer than four pies on the table, all homemade and no one alike from crust to filling.  My mother would have it no other way and boy does it make the holiday complete.  From the stages of preparation that materialize on the counter days in advance with currents of bakery smells flowing through the house, entry of self control-challenged persons is ill advised, as is wandering around on an empty stomach.

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Click to watch and learn from the professional, then don’t be scared to give it a whirl yourself. Source: Foodable TV

With the luxury of step-by-step video instruction from Michael’s Genuine® Pastry Chef MJ Garcia, I had the confidence to ask for the recipe to attempt her stunning Rosemary Pine Nut Tart at home and add another notch in my apron sash.   What are you thinking about making this Thanksgiving?

Rosemary 🌲 🌰 Tart

Invoking taste memory adds depth not only in meaning and enjoyment of a dish, but layers of flavor, too. Here Michael’s Genuine pastry chef MJ Garcia conjures Queimada, an ancient Galician ceremony from the mountains where a traditional spirited drink of orange-infused aguardiente called Orujo Gallego is passed around.  With its use of a specialty ingredient like pine nuts and decorative garnish in powdered sugar-dusted rosemary sprig, this festive dessert transports even the diehard Miami snowbird to a forest of towering furs on a snowy December evening, plumes of chimney smoke rising in the distance.

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Makes one tart

3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
2 egg yolks
1 cup brandy
Peel of 1 orange, such as navel
3 sprigs rosemary
6 eggs
1/2 cup fine breadcrumbs
1 1/8 cups corn syrup
2 cups honey
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups pine nuts

Begin with the pastry dough or “pate sucree”. In a large stainless steel bowl sift or whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter, pinching to rub into the dry ingredients just until the size of small peas. Be careful not to overwork the dough. Add 1/3 cup cold water and the yolk, mixing with your hands until it barely comes together and doesn’t develop too much gluten. Divide in half and wrap each pound of dough tightly in plastic. You’ll use one for the tart and must refrigerate for at least 1 hour prior to using.  Stow the other in the freezer and thaw in the refrigerator the day before baking for a December gathering.

Preheat oven to 300°F.

Prepare the brandy syrup by placing a large sauté pan with brandy, orange peel and rosemary over medium high heat. Once bubbles begin to form, carefully flambé by tilting the pan toward the gas range until the fumes ignite the liquid. For electric or induction, use a long lighter or match and touch the edge of the pan to spread the flame. Simmer until syrup is reduced by half and set aside to cool.

Roll out one tart crust on a cool, floured surface until a scant 1/4 inch thin. Gently fold in quarters to more easily transfer to a greased 12 inch tart pan. Work with your palms to mold the pie crust to the inside edge of the pan while using your fingers to press the crust to the edge evenly. Clean the edges of overhanging dough. Line the pie crust with parchment paper a few extra inches larger than your tart tin and fill with weights such as dry beans. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and blanche in the oven for 10 minutes, remove the weights by pouching the edges of the parchment, and set aside. The crust shouldn’t take on any color at this point, as it will finish baking with the filling. Raise the oven temperature to 325°F.

For the filling, whisk the remainder of the ingredients in a large stainless steel bowl with the syrup, adding the pine nuts last and mixing until fully incorporated. Pour the mixture into the tart crust lined tin and return to the oven being careful not to spill as it will burn on the baking sheet. Bake for 22 minutes or until pine nuts develop a deep golden brown. Cool on a rack before slicing.

Slice and serve with crème fraîche whipped cream, a spring of fried rosemary dusted with powdered sugar and a wine-poached pear half, although a dollop of quality orange marmalade would do quite nicely, too.

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.”

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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!