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.”

The Fruit of Life: Kristina’s Summer Bite of Haitian Mango Culture & Trade

Kristina Francillon took the summer off from her duties in MGFD reservations and with us branding folks at TGHG to work with mango growers and exporters in Haiti during the peak of season.  We thought it would provide a unique perspective on sourcing and agriculture to hear her story!

Happiness. That is what a mango means to a Haitian. March to August is the Francis mango season in Haiti, and adults and children alike look forward to it, eating multiple mangoes a day. My number is two per diem.  A mango could be sliced and daintily eaten with a fork, but to enjoy this tropical fruit in its true sense, you must peel it all, grab it with both hands, and take a bite as its sticky, sweet juice runs down.  Full face in!  In fact, my paternal grandmother (who was quite the lady) used to say, I will not get dirty for just one mango, I need at least two or three. Thus, bathing in your mango, if you will, is the only way to do it.

The Haitian mango does not only impact taste buds, but also the economy. The mango business supports over 50,000 Haitian families, with jobs, from the growers, to the exporters, to the street merchants. Mangoes are life around here. Although there are 140 varieties growing around the country, the francis variety is the most exported. Why is the francis mango so special, in addition to supporting Haiti’s recovering economy? Its flavor. The taste is rich and spicy and this variety has consistent flavor, unlike some others. It is also one of the juiciest mangoes there is. This is why these mangoes are so orgasmic. It drips as you eat it and no one is shamed into licking the nectar as it falls.

I have had the pleasure to intern with F&L, a mango exporting firm in the St Marc area in Haiti, approximately two hours from Port-au-Prince. The firm exports its mangoes to the US and is USDA approved. With a rigid selection process and a diverse and talented team, the company truly impacts the local economy. Mangoes are sourced from both F&L farms, and other local farmers. The fruit is naturally grown and only the highest quality mangoes are exported. They are then treated using a hot water treatment, sorted, packed and shipped in refrigerated containers to the States. The process is thoroughly supervised by a local and a USDA inspector, who are both on site, at all hours of operation. All so that you may enjoy the very best Haiti has to offer.

F&L is an affiliate of Agrotechnique SA, a company dedicated to the agricultural sector in Haiti for over 40 years. The team is local and their desire to help the country is palpable. Haiti does not grow through humanitarian aid, rather it develops through sustainable investment and exportation of local goods. This is what F&L does, and their products, mangoes in particular, are proudly showcased in major US cities like Miami, New York and Boston. Yes, Haiti is often portrayed as a country of despair, but let’s look at Haiti through another lens. Haiti = Good Mangoes.

Let’s discuss my experience. The best part: eating all the mangoes I could ever want, whole or juiced. I have never indulged this much and lost weight. This is a girl’s dream! Thus far, my work involves sales and strategy, where I help the firm improve its processes and increase its clientele. I like to think of it as an internal consultant of sorts. But I am learning so much more from this team, than I believe they are learning from me : from the mango culture, to the exportation business, to the love for Haiti. It is contagious. I have always loved Haiti, having been raised there. But working at a firm with direct impact on growers, families and the economy, has changed my view of the country as well. There is so much to be done here, and the impact of your work will be visible. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to make a difference.

At the Genuine Hospitality Group restaurants, the farm to table approach is vital. And TGHG has taught me the value of careful sourcing and of supporting growers. This is why I value the work of Haitian mango growers, and of firms such as F&L, who create work for these farmers, and distributors, through exportation. I have always loved the Francis mango, but now the fruit means so much more. Mango is now life to me.

Farm-to-Table Dinner Celebrates Fall in Grand Cayman

Farm-to-Table-poster3After a week on the rock catching up with the team, we are excited to announce that Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink in Camana Bay will welcome back The Genuine Hospitality Group Special Ops Chef Thomas Tennant from Miami for the return of a favorite event on-island! Its Farm-to-Table Dinner Series is back for the fall season on Saturday October 11 at 7 pm and celebrates local farmers and seasonal ingredients in a family-style menu of four courses for CI $65 (CI $60 for Slow Food members.) An optional wine supplement is available for an additional CI $29. The evening will begin with a welcome cocktail sponsored by Cayman Spirits Company on the Crescent Lawn, followed by a family-style dinner in the restaurant. Thomas is really into coconut and its health benefits these days so the menu definitely reflects this, from cocktails to dessert.

‘Coconut oil usual gets passed off as a ‘bad oil’ due to saturated fat but science is telling us it’s the good kind,” Thomas explains.  “Almost every dish in the menu will have some coconut product in it. I find it also yields a cleaner result in deep frying.”

A very special thanks to our farmers Hamlin Stephenson, Patrick Panton, Joel Walton and Clarence McLaughlin for their gorgeous product!  Click here for menu and for reservations, please email camille@michaelsgenuine.com or call 345.640.6433.  For a last taste of summer, visit our Flickr album of Camana Bay’s Wednesday Farmers Market.

Third Time’s the Charm: Announcing June’s Farm-to-Table Dinner Menu in Grand Cayman!

Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Camana Bay is proud to partner with Slow Food South Sound for a third season of dinners celebrating local farmers and fisherman and their fresh, simple and pure bounty!  Saturday, June 15 at 7:00 p.m., Executive Chef Thomas Tennant rolls out a three course, family-style menu with summer written all over it!  It’s exciting to have accumulated and supported a great core group of farmers over the three years we’ve been on the island, and to see their operations branch out from backyard gardens and produce, to growing businesses with diversified products including meat, poultry and dairy.  We still relish the occasional freelancers through our back door with their home-grown specialities like amazing mangos, which are in full force right now on Grand Cayman like they are here in Miami!

“The mangos are a collection from Plantation House’s Joel Walton, a freelance gardner with whom we’ve become acquainted named Roger, and Harvey Stephenson,” Thomas explains. “I’m using East End Garden eggs from Patrick Panton’s chickens. Hamlin Stephenson’s goats…”

Book your reservation now by emailing reservationsgcm@michaelsgenuine.com or call 345.640.6433.  CI $55 (CI $50 for Slow Food members,) includes a welcome cocktail, passed snacks, and three courses served family-style including dessert, as well as gratuity. A beverage pairing option is available for an additional CI $40.

Farm-to-Table Dinner Series: Season 3: June Menu

-Welcome Cocktail-

Honeybee
spring 44 honey vodka, local mango

-Passed-

Smoked Mahi Tacos
sofrito, arugula

Compressed Watermelon
citrus, purslane

Spanish Tortilla
sweet potato, scallion

-First-

Grilled Mahi
wilted swiss chard, dried tomato tapenade

Wood Roasted Baby Carrots
arugula, Caybrew pretzel croutons, basil, sunflower seeds, spicy carrot vinaigrette

-Second-

Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder
Seven Fathoms rum mojo

Wood Oven Roasted Goat Leg
fennel & greek yogurt marinade

Sauteed Bok Choy
farro, roasted plantains, dried season pepper flakes

-Dessert-

Local Mango-Lime Semifredo
coconut cake, fruit salsa

Eventful August in Grand Cayman: Farm-to-Table Dinner & Genuine Cayman Movie Night at Camana Bay

Thomas is stepping up his charcuterie game in Grand Cayman.

Chef Thomas Tennant has been busy on-island (not just making sausages!), and we have two great events coming up that showcase his flair for farm to table, Grand Cayman-style!  For all of our ongoing events, please visit our regularly updated EVENTS page on the blog and look for summer brand intern Victoria Calleja’s great flyers in print at our restaurants (and digitally below!) Cannot wait for September and our beer dinner to launch Michael’s Genuine Home Brew in Cayman.  And then October is all about our executive pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith and the release of her first cookbook, Baking Out Loud. Phew! Stay tuned!!!

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