Bienvenidos Basel: Our Private Arty & Everyone’s Invited

At French Farms on November 20, with farmer Chris French, farmer Michael Borek and new MGFD chef de cuisine Jorge Olarte.

Meet Olarte as he explores The Redland and connects the dots with local farmers in our video field report, coming soon.

To be a restaurant when Art Basel comes to town is a curious thing that might need a little framing.  Miami Art Week is the jolt of season officially arriving in Miami, the one that whispered sweet nothings in November and now wants to put a ring on it and elope ASAP.  Shotgun wedding. We want to make art and make merry, and do, but it has to be at our game so everyone else can play theirs. It’s also the official arrival of a season of another sort — the growing and harvesting of the bulk of the coming year’s produce threading the Michael’s Genuine menu.  So it’s a time of extreme creativity and intensity inside and importantly outside the restaurant — to take the precious time you probably don’t have to learn what’s out there, connect with the farmers new and old growing the product and figure it all out while being slammed with the most traffic we’ll see in a week period all year.  Did I mention there’s a new chef leading the kitchen?

Your post-Basel Week cure-all: Harry Schwartz’s Sweet & Spicy Wings. Look for them at Michael’s Genuine beginning Monday, December 10.

A strategy is in order and everyone must be aligned, from operations to marketing.  This week, we must stay the course. We focus on our own little party taking shape, and take it to the breaking point, that place between humming like a well-oiled machine and everything going down in flames, crash and burn. Because that’s what we do as genuine hospitality people.  Every service is a party.  Playing the loom, weaving the experience just so, trying to minimize the snags so it we can achieve the impossible — making it seem effortless.  It’s the game we love, that we forever chase and we wouldn’t have any other way. This is the week it unfurls in marvelous display. Game on!

As we push ourselves to share what we do in new and immersive ways, look for more video documents of our process. We think they work a little harder to highlight our dynamic team and what drives our culture.  This week we have two on deck: our 2018/19 Homestead growing season report with chef de cuisine Jorge Olarte and Harry Schwartz dialing in his wings recipe at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink.  Home-tested and now restaurant-ready, Sweet & Spicy Wood Oven Roasted Chicken Wings with cucumber yogurt dipping sauce is your post-Art Basel cure-all beginning Monday, December 10.  Proceeds go to Young Musicians Unite, and we can all rejoice in wings’ return to the menu with a personal twist, crafted by someone who is truly passionate about his favorite food. Maybe they’ll even stick around a little longer!  Videos will hit social media and the blog this week as you execute your strategy for navigating it. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Or maybe, DO!

 

Joyce to the World of Grass-Fed Beef

From soil health to genetics, North Carolina-based Joyce Farms does grass-fed beef right, because that’s the only way Ron Joyce knows. Standing behind the tasty intersection of tradition, science and passion, Joyce’s energy is palpable through the phone as we recount how a jet-setting French chick became a worldwide calling to find lost heritage breeds and do the work to raise them the way they’re supposed to be raised.

“No day is ever the same,” he says. “We were in meetings on Friday, and then I saw your missed call.  It’s one foot in this year and one foot in the next.”

In November, Amara at Paraiso chef Michael Paley and senior sous Max Makowski paid Joyce Farms a visit to check in on his product mix and talk sourcing for our new restaurant’s menu including dry-aged grass-fed ribeye.  So for about a month now, I’ve been wanting to catch up with this man behind one of the most exciting ranching operations in the U.S.  It’s been much longer than that since we last connected — on Michael’s first visit in 2010 to get acquainted with the now so familiar bird on the Michael’s Genuine menu — Poulet Rouge.  Joyce left one of those impressions that sticks with you, though.  Something in his voice rang true.  Genuine…  The same voice greeted me on the phone last week, but with news to share about the his consortium of farms, the company’s focused growth and his current projects that have our ears perked.

“People eat our beef and they can’t believe the flavor. They also can’t believe it’s raised 100% on grass,” he says. “I cringe when my friends say it’s rough and you have to get used to the difference in taste. Most grass-fed beef isn’t appetizing, because it’s complicated to produce, and most are doing it wrong. This is unfortunate of course for everyone trying to do it right.”

Aberdeen Angus

Doing it right we learn is more scientific than we could have ever imagined, not to mention more expensive.  Ron explains that people tend to forget grain has been status quo since WWII. Corn is cheap, but it’s not natural and collateral damage included a shift in fat content from unsaturated to saturated, an increase in the presence of E. coli, and a change in the pH of the meat.

“When Michael Pollan published The Omnivore’s Dilemma, it was a game changer,” Joyce says. “Demand outpaced supply for grass-fed.  People were gravitating to it for the health benefits, like better Omega 6 to 3 ratio.”

The whole thing started with Poulet Rouge, and Joyce blames his father, who was with another livestock company in the ’50s and ’60s.  He would talk about how disappointed he was in how chicken had changed.

“As a younger person I put that off thinking this is about a guy getting older lamenting about the past and ‘the good old days’,” he explains.  “But then other people started saying the same thing. And then I went to France which changed everything. It made me realize that people don’t remember here in the States how it used to be.  Only the older folks do!”

Joyce explains that in Europe, they’re called industrial chickens, and most butcher shops, a fixture in every neighborhood, don’t sell industrial.  “You have a choice over there, and in many ways that’s the short term goal here.”

Chef Paley, chef Max and the team at Amara during one of four preview dinners this week. With the Art Basel pop-up wrapped, it’s time to shift gears for opening in January.

This chicken problem was the problem that got him started, and the French helped him chose the Label Rouge, a naked neck bird with thin skin at half the thickness of its industrial counterparts that renders crispy. It took Joyce a while to break even, but after they made these birds sustainable the question was naturally, what else?  In America it has been cheap and large for decades. The meat and poultry is market driven here.  It’s a give-the-people-what-they-want mentality that can be poison for a food system.  And labels aren’t helping.  They can be downright misleading. Free-range this, and pastured that.  Semantics, however, mean something.  They can mean everything. They can create a movement, even.

“Chefs were asking do you know anyone doing great grass-fed?,” he continues. “They would say how they’d get requests, and then dishes would be sent back! Feedback was that it tasted gamey and livery. Something wasn’t right and I knew it didn’t have to be that way. Then we found Allen.”

Disillusioned with what universities were researching and teaching on big Ag’s dime, this farmer, Dr. Allen Williams gathered a band of rebels and dropped out of the system to form a consultancy and started working on cattle.  They found that the genetics in the animal had changed to be efficient on corn.

Allen Williams, Joyce’s soil guy.

“The animals simply didn’t do well on grass anymore,” Joyce explains. “Everything in a pasture has a purpose. If you plant a monoculture, one kind of grass and the grass is too green you get minerals and that off-putting taste. Fertilizer kills all the natural organic matter, especially weeds which are a natural dewormer.”

With no choice but to go back to the trough, a farm can get sucked into a viscous cycle that eventually kills everything. Soil becomes compacted. It loses the ability to absorb water, so there’s runoff and loss of top soil. “Animals have a strong sense of what they need to eat it, but if it’s not there.”

No grain finishing here, just fire for the Aberdeen Angus ribeye.

Now the company’s genetics and foraging expert, Dr. Williams is a sixth generation farmer and holds a B.S. and M.S. in Animal Science from Clemson University and a
Ph.D. in Genetics & Reproductive Physiology from LSU.  He has focused on soil and regenerative farming techniques to develop a grazing cocktail for the cattle comprised of 18-24 different plants including legume. Happy cows indeed. In three years, they were able to lower impact costs and eliminate use of pesticides and insecticides. This is not what your extension agent is telling you to do. This is not only maintaining soil health through a natural process, but restoring pastures to the way it used to be.  Bison will be next, the ultimate expression of this principle, because of course, prairie animals don’t belong on feed lots and there are only a handful of suppliers even doing grass.  Joyce will be field harvesting, because bison don’t like to be handled and agitation manifests bad flavors in the final product.  It’s a full-on, holistic approach to the entire ecosystem around commercial livestock and a commitment to doing it right.

“This doesn’t work if you grab a jug every time you see a pest. You have to rethink what that bug is,” he reflects.  “It’s not actually a pest. It’s an insect, and the good ones out number the bad.”

Niman Ranch and Harry’s Pizzeria® Double Down on Ingredients Raised with Care

Food we can feel good about is what it’s all about.  Today we are announcing a commitment to just that at Harry’s Pizzeria®, by sourcing meat raised sustainably and humanely in partnership with industry-leader Niman Ranch. As of this summer, all locations of Michael’s genuine brand of thoughtfully-made, better pizza exclusively feature responsibly-sourced beef and pork products from Niman Ranch on the menu in pizza toppings including hot soppressata, shredded pulled pork shoulder, braised short rib, meatballs and bacon, as well as beef sirloin as an entrée. It just tastes better this way.

“Harry’s is about much more than pizza,” Chef explains. “We are committed to building community and a genuine experience for our guests, and this is a perfect way for us to check all those boxes. It feels good to support independent American family farmers who raise their livestock without antibiotics or added hormones. Not only can we stand behind a product that is top quality and tastes amazing, but we’re able to work with a supplier that shares our passion for doing the right thing.”

You’re bacon me crazy.

A special snack, Short Rib Bomba with fontina and arugula, will be available at all locations for $7 from Tuesday, September 5 until Saturday, September 30.

To celebrate the introduction, Niman Ranch’s family farmer advocate, Sarah Willis, will co-host a family-style dinner with Chef Schwartz at the original Harry’s Pizzeria in the Miami Design District on Wednesday, September 27 at 7 pm, the restaurant’s 6th anniversary. Tickets are live for Harry’s Rancher Appreciation Dinner as of this morning through harryspizzeria.com/nimanranch for $89 all-inclusive for a welcome cocktail, 3-course menu, and beverage including unlimited tap beer and two wines poured by the bottle all night. The menu will be announced soon.

With more than 40 years as an industry leader, Niman Ranch is a community of more than 720 independent family farmers and ranchers who raise livestock traditionally, humanely and sustainably to deliver the finest-tasting meat. All Niman Ranch pork, beef, lamb and prepared products are certified under the Certified Humane® program and available nationwide at both food service and retail locations.

Over the years, our chefs have enjoyed working with the product.  We can recall many dishes showing up at Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink with lamb especially like Niman Ranch Lamb Flatbread with preserved meyer lemon, hummus, harissa, pine nuts, golden raisins, and French feta and Lamb Stuffed Eggplant wood roasted and topped with local heirloom tomato, greek yogurt, and pistachios. Niman Ranch beef made our then restaurant in Grand Cayman’s burger one of the most sought after menu items on island.  Michael has also traveled to Iowa for its annual Hog Farmer Appreciation Dinner to celebrate the good folks raising good product with a meal by adoring chefs.

“We are proud to have Niman Ranch showcased on Harry’s delicious pizza,” Niman Ranch general manager Jeff Tripician says. “The folks at Harry’s, under the vision of Chef Schwartz, serve up terrific dishes that are a perfect pairing for our meat, not to mention our company values. We’re proud to be associated and a part of such a progressive chef-centered enterprise that cares deeply about where their food comes from.”

Named one of the top 25 pizzerias in America by Food & Wine Magazine, Chef Schwartz’s Neighborhood American Pizzeria will add restaurants in Miami Beach, Aventura and Sunrise, FL as well as its first out of state locations in Cleveland and Atlanta as part of its expansion to 20 restaurants by 2020 and Niman Ranch is a key component to getting there in the right way.  Come along for the ride.  Follow @harryspizzeria and visit harryspizzeria.com for what’s on the menu.

Spring Field Report in Pictures | Little Haiti Community Garden, Teena’s Pride Farm & Bee Heaven Farm

Chef in the heirloom tomato (and squash, celery, beets, carrots, onions, broccoli rabe, salad mix) fields with Teena’s Pride owner/farmer Michael Borek.

Friday was a great day, one of those that begin with a specific goal in mind and end netting so many more valuable takeaways.  In anticipation of Fi’lia’s LA opening, we’re producing a video to capture Genuine Culture as a tool to educate our teams at The Genuine Hospitality Group on who we are, what we do and the reasons why.  Michael and I visited three farms as they began to wrap South Florida’s main growing season to document how we source product, an important component of the genuine way.  While footage of strolls through Homestead tomato field tractor lanes and Little Haiti urban farm footpaths materialized in the lens, ideas were generated between Chef and a handful of our farmers as they discovered new opportunities for collaboration and tasted ingredients in the field.

Curiosity scared the crows.  We also found a small prop airplane in Borek’s new warehouse facility.

Enjoy the day in photos laced with informative captions below as we digest new opportunities through the genuine chef network.  Will Michael Borek identify a great Roma tomato to cultivate at Teena’s Pride for Harry’s Pizzeria®?  What about the Upland cress Little Haiti Community Garden’s Gary Feinberg is growing?  How could it be expressed on the menu at Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink?  Margie Pikarsky’s heirloom peppers are beautiful to behold, as Chef recalls the “seasoning pepper” related to the Scotch Bonnet — all the flavor without the punishing heat — from our days in Grand Cayman.  Is she growing something similar, and should we shave it raw on the daily focaccia at Ella?  Let us know what you would like to see in our restaurants!

Homestead Field Report: Growing Season is Verde

Head south on Florida’s Turnpike to Homestead at Exit 5 and you’re in the heart of The Redland, South Florida’s agricultural sweet spot.  As you cross US-1 west, farms, original clapboard homes of early settlers,  u-pick fields and coral rock walls whiz by.  The Redland was named for pockets of red clay in the limestone terrain, which is fed by pure water from the Biscayne Aquifer and has been a natural laboratory for agriculturalists, botanists, and naturalists around the world, including John James Audubon and David Fairchild.  It’s a place locals rush to re-familiarize themselves with this time of year, enduring the tourist-stacked lines for Knaus Berry Farm sticky buns and strawberry shakes, while small white flowers dance on baby plants in the fields behind beckoning a winter harvest that can’t come soon enough.

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Imagine before Verde had its tractor… Here Chuck sets the sun hemp, aka ‘green manure’, a few weeks before planting in late summer of 2014, its second season.

But this heartland is more like hardland and no one is more familiar with that than farmer Chuck Lyons.  Like Henry Flagler’s railroad pioneers before him, Lyons had to work hard to coax fertility out of the 5-acre plot now known as Verde Farm.  Not only is its weed pressure serious, but this meticulously laid out field and greenhouse operation was pre-Hurricane Andrew Homestead Air Force Base. That means concrete.

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Niven expands his role as chef de cuisine, now not only overseeing his own backyard garden but stewarding our foraging program at Michael’s Genuine. He’s looking forward to spending more time at Verde and learning more skills he can incorporate into Rancho Patel.

“We spent a lot of time and money getting stuff out.  It wasn’t easy, and we weren’t the first to try,” Lyons explains of the land owners before he came in three years ago.  “First off, this is old rockland, not that ideal, receded-Everglades Redland soil. We’ve got grasses, and grasses produce lots of seeds.”

And by grasses, we’re not talking about what’s in your backyard at home. They are sky-high, more like a grass forest.  It took Lyons two weeks with a brush mower to clear the field himself.  He had little equipment or help — a back hoe and concrete saw to  cut through slabs of concrete from the old military base and a skid steer to tear through it.  There were foundation footers with metal beams, and a pile of discarded palates and tires, left from the previous owner.

The operation is a beneficiary of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust and collaborates with Carrfour Supportive Housing, a community comprised of 145 formerly homeless families living in LEED-certified townhouses.  Fresh produce also reaches Camillus House Properties and the Chapman Partnership for the Homeless.  The first main harvests began in October, with fast growing sprouts of greens – and continue into February and March with field harvests.

Today Verde Farms is thriving as a community system, a working organic farm that teaches valuable job skills to the homeless it employs and sells product both wholesale (with outlets like Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink and Coconut Grove’s Glaser Farms Saturday Market) and direct to consumer through its uniquely single farm CSA program.  They grow microgreens, sunflower and pea shoots in their state-of-the-art greenhouse, tender baby greens such as kale, arugula, and a variety of lettuces in raised garden beds in the shade-house, and in the fields, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, and a variety of eggplants including Chef Michael’s favorite — Sicilian.

Behind the marigolds is the kids garden, part of Verde's educational outreach programming.

Behind the marigolds is the kids garden, an outdoor science classroom for Verde’s growing educational outreach programming, both after school and integrated into curriculum at neighboring Mandarin Lakes K-8 Academy.

“My whole season is on paper in July,” Lyon continues. “Cucumbers and squash go in first week of September.  We get a second planting of those, with 55 days to fruit.  To come up with the mix, I think more about what my end customer is going to want and be able to cook with from their farm share.  It’s like I’m planning their menus at home.  We do 100 total different crops, a quarter specifically for wholesale but 75 are for the CSA. Very proud of that. It’s a very important part of the business, and we want to grow it.”

Verde’s CSA is distributed through the Urban Oasis Project‘s network including Upper East Side (6599 Biscayne Blvd, Saturdays 9am-2pm,) Adrienne Arsht Center (1300 Biscayne Blvd., Mondays 4-8pm), and of course at its own location a block or so from the farm (12690 SW 280th Street, Tuesday-Saturday 10-3PM,) which is run by Bill Squire.  They accept SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and double their value up to $20 when spent on Florida fruits and vegetables. This is made possible through Fresh Access Bucks provided by our partners at Florida Organic Growers.  You can sign up here on the CSA page of its website, where you can also donate to the farm program.

“I’m really pleased with where we are now, but we’ve definitely hit a ceiling,” Lyons reflects.  “Currently we’re operating without electricity.  We need cooler space and packing house to really ramp up production, like I know we are capable of.”