The Peak of Seasoned: Commissary Goals

There’re a lot to be said for writing things down. Releasing your desired reality out into the universe, having them in type — or in my case script — there to remind you.  To look at every so often, sometimes more than others.  And to be astonished one day that it’s time to make new ones because what you’ve set out to accomplish is now, seemingly suddenly, real.  Growth is a thing you commit to and when you do, something magical happens where what was so unknown becomes the most familiar thing in the world.

img_8973We set goals here at The Genuine Hospitality Group.  Our people do and so does our company.  It’s hard to imagine that the idea seemed foreign just a year and a half ago.  Now at the start of the year, it’s not just goals for our business, I set personal ones, too.  Even hashtag them.

“It’s unfolding like an onion,” says Michael.  He’s speaking about our new commissary kitchen, but I know it’s a metaphor for what’s happening now writ large.  What unfurls when something is set into motion.  “So many exciting opportunities will come from this project.”

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Strawberries in the fields at Knaus Berry Farms. We want them all.

We got into the large space a month ago, and executive chef Bradley Herron will tell you we’ve already grown out of it.  It’s not hard to imagine, I found visiting last Wednesday with MJ Garcia who is exploring “the savory side of life”, captaining the project at ground zero.  But for Bradley, our MGFD pastry chef was just the right person for the job.

“Brad stitched me for the part,” MJ explains.  “I’m learning how to administer and organize my time, figuring out how the proteins work, how to utilize the space properly.”

The journey began around summer’s end, and the understanding that there was opportunity to build out Michael Schwartz Events and our catering capability quickly became the realization that we could centralize production for our restaurants, capitalize on product at the peak of season and get as much of it and out of it as possible.  For Brad and Michael this has opened up the potential to rethink how we do things, the possibilities for ingredients and sourcing, the development of people at this facility and at the restaurants that comes with increased efficiency.  Imagine the doors this opens for creativity.

“Michael connected with Margie from Bee Heaven Farm and hashed a plan with the chefs,” MJ explains.  “We bring in whatever she has leftover from the weekend market and in abundance.  We take as much as we can and get to work preserving, dehydrating, processing things fresh, incorporating it into sauces, veal stock.”

After a space was identified and lease signed, Brad along with culinary assistant Megan Hess just started showing MJ the savory ropes. Recipes were dialed in, and once the space was delivered and equipment online thanks to heavy lifting from TGHG VP of Development Patrick Brown, programmed into a combioven which MJ swears could basically take care of her child.

“I put the eggs for the mayo in there, right in the crate. There is no movement, no breakage.  And the time it saves!  Brad built this operation for efficiency. Everything is big enough to climb into.”

Coffee is the first item on the check list in any kitchen Brad and Michael are running.

Good coffee is the first item on the check list in any kitchen Brad and Michael are running.

“You don’t have service so you have time to pay attention to details and make sure product comes out the same way every time,” MJ continues.  “We have a unique opportunity to basically work without the million variables at odds in a busy restaurant. The time pressure now is different. It’s scheduling and planning, forecasting the needs of the restaurants.”

She’ll say she’s slowly taking on more production, that she was terrified the first week getting into the space.  But as an outsider to this process observing it for the first time, the progress they’ve made since the fear of January 2 is nothing short of astounding.  In one month MJ has gone from fish out of water to conservatively comfortable, owning the first (and longest) cooking stages of the prep for proteins and so much more that she’s already hiring more staff to handle it all.

Combimagic: 3 cases of octopus -- a week's worth of octopus in one day that MGFD will then take an wood oven roast or add to its daily pasta set up. We control temperature, humidity and pressure -- basically every element of the cooking process.

Combioven magic, no joke.  This rig has been programmed to cook 3 cases of octopus in one day — that’s a week’s worth for MGFD which it will wood oven roast or add to the daily pasta set up. We can control temperature, humidity and pressure — basically every element of the cooking process.

“When they order I have to be ready,” MJ says of the constant communication with the restaurants as the process synchronizes. “Most of this is lead time stuff so by nature it requires forecasting. 8-10 hours of cooking overnight for most of the proteins like the pork belly, pastrami, short rib, pig ears… The bacon is just rubbed but I’m smoking it here so again, that’s a process that takes time.  I’m still building up a base pantry and learning our pars but then again they’re going to change as we continue to develop new catering offerings.  We are creating a pattern of what we need, don’t need, one thing at a time as I get my feet on the ground and understand the rhythm of things.  We want to train and do things in the right way.”

Brad is guiding MJ through planning based on restaurant sales and previous orders, as well as weekly forecasts of covers.  Then there’s the innovation that happens when the tail can wag the dog, maybe anticipate what the restaurants might not even know they need.  Sometimes she’ll work special projects for Cypress Tavern if Max requests, like duck confit. She’s caramelizing the onions and slicing the chips for MGFD’s dip, cutting and crisping potatoes for fries and cabbage for the pastrami, building ella’s grilled cheese sandwiches for the griddle.  The list goes on and will continue to grow when she takes on something familiar next month — pastry production with assistant Alex Sarria.

“I go every morning to check on the girls,” MJ says. “And then I surprise drop in and taste twice a week with the night crew.”

 

For Michael it’s not just about capitalizing on bumper crops for pricing and quality, it’s about investing in our people.  That’s the thing about goals.  By design they need to be measurable and achievable and to make them so, you time stamp and list who’s on the journey with you.  Because you can’t do it alone, ever.  We like to say we know more what we don’t want than what we do.  And that’s perfectly fine too.   Many thanks to TGHG Managing Partner and Harry’s Holdings CEO Sunil Bhatt for teaching us about goals.  Onward and upward.

Ghee Whiz, It’s Niven’s Rancho Patel Pizzeria Menu!

December is upon us which means two weeks from today Rancho Patel Pizzeria pops at Harry’s in the Design District.   Chef de cuisine Niven Patel of Michael’s Genuine is pulling out all the stops for his dinner including featuring his backyard harvest for this menu, which we’re sharing first now here.  One look at @chefniven’s Instagram feed, and it’s clearer than a misty Homestead farm morning that the freshest, and likely first locally-sourced Indian meal you’ve probably ever had is in store.

Rancho Patel Pizzeria

“It’s going to be awesome. I am so pumped!” says Niven. “When we cook at home we don’t really think of it this way, but a fresh approach to Indian food is kind of a game changer.  It’s perfect timing.  I’ll have a lot of stuff that will be ready for the dinner!  We’ll be picking chard, purple pac choi, carrots, turmeric, ginger and eight ball squash, to name a few!”

Book your ticket to Rancho Patel Pizzeria now here before we sell out! Tuesday, December 15 at 7:00 p.m. Niven’s evening unfolds with welcome cocktail, passed snacks, four courses including dessert, and some Eric Larkee beverage selections to mix and match or stick with all night. Tax and gratuity, and that special brand of Niven hospitality are included for $110,  with a jar of homemade ghee to take home. What holiday treat!

Responsible for the kitchen at Michael’s flagship restaurant, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink going on 3 years, Niven is a genuine chef at heart. His approach to Rancho Patel Pizzeria is to share his uniquely fresh take on authentic Indian cuisine from his home in Homestead and family traditions.

Field Report: A Spring Farm Run in The Redland

On Sundays and Wednesdays at 9:00AM an email is sent out to some of the best chefs and produce junkies in Miami.  I was lucky it was a Wednesday when I found myself poking around the walk-in cooler at Farm to Kitchen HQ.  While owner Chris Padin finished up the morning’s transmission, I became acquainted with the fridge, a snapshot of spring’s arrival in South Florida.  There were passion fruit the size of ostrich eggs, a box of rosy-rooted watermelon radishes and a crate of bright green sapote, the kind of gems that conceal the real treasures just beneath their skins — sweet tart seeds jeweled bright orange, pink and green rings to make even Saturn jealous, and sweet flesh tasting of chocolate custard with the color and texture to match.  Mesmerizing.  Losing the feeling in my fingers was my cue to exit.

Chris had just hit send as he explained, “I update the email blast twice a week. It lists the farms, their products, price and classification. Then, the chefs have about a day to call me with their orders.” I peeked and counted about 10 farms with a long list of veggies, dairy products, greens, herbs and fruits.  Chris and partner Aleli Lauria-Padin operate Farm to Kitchen, and I think they have the best jobs on planet Earth. Picking up the good stuff from all over South Florida and dropping it to some of the best restaurants in Miami.  Currently, Farm to Kitchen works with 12 – 15 farms and supplies about 30 restaurants.  Both numbers are steadily growing branching out from Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink to all the TGHG restaurants including The Cypress Room, Harry’s Pizzeria and Restaurant Michael Schwartz.  The couple is careful to expand at the right pace with the right people, and now includes some familiar names as well as new kids on the block from Eating House, 27 Restaurant and Vagabond, to Proper Sausages and Fooq’s.  But today was about the farms, five farms to be exact: Verde Gardens, Teena’s Pride, Knaus Berry, Corona and Bee Heaven all in Homestead — a world away from our home in the Design District.

On the 40 or so minute ride down, we passed farm after farm, but not the type I was expecting.  Fields of palm trees, hedges, and other ornamentals, all neatly arranged in rows fanned out beside us.  These landscaping nurseries were all cool to look at, but, as Chris was quick to remind me, they all could be growing food instead.  Our first stop was Verde Gardens, a 22-acre farm staffed and operated through the Urban Oasis Project whose goal it is to teach formerly homeless families how to run a farm. Every available patch of green is utilized. Chris and I walked through two of the largest plots, and I listened intently as he rattled off the names of all the greens and herbs. We stopped at some for a closer look. I was stuck on the rainbow chard and its richer than rich reds, yellows and oranges. Chris suggested that we take a look at Verde Gardens’ tropical fruits tucked away behind a barn, and sure enough, my mind was blown. A giant banana flower hung inconspicuously in the sky. It was about the size of a football. I had never seen such a thing! As far as I was concerned, bananas grew on trees and were yellow, sometimes green. But this flower, and flowers like it in various stages of growth, were completely exotic to me. On our way out, I met Chuck, one of the farm managers. Chris and Chuck started talking about orders, the impending close to the season and loquats. I quickly Googled ‘loquats’ – but more on that later…

Next up, Teena’s Pride. One thing I noticed, everything is bigger at Teena’s. The Borek family has been operating this 500-acre farm for many generations. There are tomatoes as far as they eye can see, and then some. Every kind of heritage and heirloom tomato occupy rows at least a mile long. While Chris and I were inspecting some pancake-sized nasturtiums, Chef Niven called. He wanted an update on the tomato ‘situation,’ and Chris filled him in, reporting that “they have lots of greens, and there are a few cases with some great color on ‘em, good variety.” And it was done. Chris ordered 30 cases for Niven to be delivered the next morning. There are tomatoes growing in fields and in greenhouses; there are tomatoes on giant trays with their own irrigation system and growing in cooling houses. These tomatoes could survive the apocalypse. Having all this space allows Teena’s to test out crops. They had a few new heirloom varieties in the grow house, Chris explains, “if they make it in the grow house, and people like the taste, then they get moved to the fields and from there to Niven at the restaurant.”

Unlike the other farms, Knaus Berry Farms was busy entertaining the public – and on a Wednesday morning!  We walked into a market area with signs for milk shakes, strawberries, cinnabuns and veggies. There were loads of people walking up and down the u-pick aisles outside. KBF has strawberries for miles, and, as we were told inside, that wasn’t even half of their crop. This place has a cult following, and I’m the newest recruit. The strawberries sat in perfect rows, peeping out from the white plastic sheeting, there to protect them. They are plump, perfectly ripe and bright red. As Chris and I were leaving, we met by the Bald Baker, Thomas Blocher, who runs the bakery at KBF and supervises the creation of hundreds of trays of cinnabuns every day. He recently started blending his own coffee, deftly called “Bald Baker’s Blend”– which we sampled. It is delicious! Chef de cuisine Danny Ramirez is taking the Harry’s Pizzeria kitchen crew on a field trip to Knaus later this month, so more on them to come.

We had to pick up some sugarcane for our booth at the Sprung! event Harry’s and Michael’s Genuine Home Brew participated in last weekend, so Chris and I rode over to Corona Farms / Martha’s U-Pick. Right off of Krome Avenue is this perfectly self-contained stand offering some of the best Southern Hospitality I’ve seen in South Florida since moving here from Charleston, South Carolina. Within moments of our arrival, Chris handed me a coconut with a straw poking out of it. I look up to see him hacking away at another coconut with a machete. A tiny puppy roams around like he owns the place, and he’s got it made. There are bananas on display and every color pepper you could imagine. This stand had bins of tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and a variety of lettuces. The whole place is electrified with color. If you look out behind the stand, you can see the farm, completely green and lush with a sugarcane perimeter. Not only was this convenient, but incredibly beautiful.

Bee Haven Farm was like a secret garden. As we wove our way through tropical trees, Chris plucked leaves and greens for me to try. He crumbled up an allspice leaf in his hands and told me to sniff.  The smell was biting! We walked up to a few rows and Chris stopped me from going any further, as he pointed to the sign ‘BEES AT WORK.’ I saw about 10 filing boxes stacked on top of each other. Yup, they were filled with bees. There were also a few loose chickens wandering around, and more in little coops strategically placed around the farm. Permaculture is a theory of farming that makes full use of all the benefits the crops have to offer. Here was permaculture at work: The chickens graze and provide manure, while the bees pollinate and bounce from plant to plant. The farmers rotate the crops, moving certain flowers to attract different bugs and monitor growing rates. Hidden in this hide away oasis, we found pencil mulberries, black tomatoes, tamarind and loquats.

 

Loquats at Bee Haven Farm

Loquats at Bee Haven Farm

Loquats are a fruit native to the East, often called a Chinese plum or Japanese plum. They are high in sugar and acid and are commonly used to make jam. These new crops are always exciting for the farmers and for Chris, as well. He thinks these would be a big hit for the Farm to Kitchen Buying Club. Every Saturday, people like Jackie trek up to 54th Street to the Farm to Kitchen warehouse to pick up their boxes of fruits, veggies and greens. You can sign up at ali@farmtokitchenmiami.com. Each week, FTK compiles small ($35), medium ($45), large ($55) and extra large ($75) boxes of goodies for families to cook with at home. FTK also offers great add-ons, like chicken and duck eggs, raw local goat’s milk, and avocado honey. The FTK Buying Club was created to soothe frustrated chefs. On his deliveries, Chris had encountered so many chefs who got great produce in the restaurants and yet cooked with lesser products at home. So, Chis started delivering personalized boxes of produce to the chefs with their regular deliveries. When Chris and Ali cook at home, they use ingredients from the farms and their garden, so they believed that if better products were available — more families would want to cook with these great ingredients too.  The Farm to Kitchen Buying Club was born. Now, you can see Chris & Ali every Saturday when you pick up your box of goodies and enjoy the freshest, local ingredients Florida has to offer. Thank you Chris & Farm to Kitchen!  For up-to-date information on our go-to food sources for the restaurants visit our Sourcing pages.

Thank you Chris, Ali, Verde Gardens, Teena's Pride, Knaus Berry Farms, Corona Farms and Bee Haven Farms!

Thank you Chris, Ali, Verde Gardens, Teena’s Pride, Knaus Berry Farms, Corona Farms and Bee Haven Farm!

 

[PHOTOS] [VIDEO] A #SOBEWFF Week in Review with No End in Sight

It’s only Friday, the second official day of South Beach Wine & Food Festival, but for we the people of Genuineland it’s day 6 of a whirlwind that began on Sunday at the beach and has progressed in stages of playtime, beach time, farm time and hard work to where we are now.  Sunday’s The Gramercy Room at The Cypress Room will close us out with a curtsey.

It’s why we love this week every year.  The pleasure, the pain and most of all the people.  An exquisite mix at once dangerous and rewarding.  We leave you now with our medicinal elixir in these heady times, some multimedia to soothe the soul and leave that warm fuzzy feeling inside.  While we continue to climb out of the tall weeds at the Schwartzoffice, stay focused on the best feeds in the biz especially this #SOBEWFF weekend @BarbutoNYC, @chefjwaxman@MGFD_MIA, @ellliesara, @ktchntrvwr, @chefswidow, @Chefsawyer, @marcvetri@jennlouis (did someone say Knaus Berry Farms sticky buns?), @chefaz, @onkappysplate@mikesolomonov, @chefmarcmurphy and @thebillyharris.  #intesity.  Just the way we like it.  Tennis, anyone?

Tuesday’s Eating Italy in Miami  at MGFD with Jeff

Wednesday’s Lincoln Pizzeria at Harry’s with Jenn

Hanging with Harris visits The Raleigh to cook Harvey Cedars Fish Stew with Michael (shot August 2103, live today)

Hanging with Harris visits The Cypress Room with Ryan (shot August 2103, live today)

Hanging with Harris visits Harry’s Pizzeria to make laffa with Mike from Zahav, (shot August 2103, live today)

Kitchen to Farm: A Chef Field Trip to Homestead

The morning started like any field trip I’d ever been on, except that a few of our cars sat waiting in place of a school bus, and instead of a late student holding up the rest of my class, it was a chef stuck in traffic. But that electricity was there, the groggy, early morning low hum of excitement. The gears turning in all of our heads about spending the day in a new environment that we’ve have wondered about, but never seen or experienced. That buzz was as tangible as the broken bits of treats pastry chef Amy had set out for us. And finally so was the chef, so we headed south.

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“You’re not going to believe this road,” forager Chris Padin said to me as we turned off of a paved road and onto a half-paved road, “this is where I pick up the eggs.” I laughed at the irony as we bounced along and imagined how much more bumpy it’d be in the work van with even less suspension. “First time I came here I thought it was a joke,” he smiled, but I’ve been eating in Genuineland long enough to know that those PNS Farm eggs are no joke.

Alice Pena walked out onto her porch and welcomed us, then she directed us around the corner to meet her sweet three-day-old baby chickens. Us girls, and the boys, all cooed and squeaked and swooned. ImageAlice told us a sad story about someone stealing half of her hen house, the result being the chickadees in front of us. Then we walked to the hen house where she told us all about keeping healthy hens and eggs. I learned about the antibodies that shouldn’t be washed off of an egg, and that the little dance chickens do when they scratch at the ground and peck it is how they get that pretty yellow yolk we love, from the protein in the bugs they eat. My favorite fact: she’s never had a sick hen. Talk about TLC! Read more about Alice and her hens here.

Next we headed even farther south to Krome Avenue to meet mother and son Teena and Michael Borek at Borek Farms a.k.a. Teena’s Pride. We couldn’t have had a warmer welcome. The spread that Teena arranged for us was a chef’s wonderland. Purple-orange, red, green, and white peppers, heirloom, cherry, grape, and striped green tomatoes, as well as a plethora of herbs and lettuces — all that had been picked that morning. We dove in noses first, forks second. I tasted the spiciest watercress and the sweetest red peppers that I’ve ever tasted. She introduced us to the two ladies who process all the heirlooms for Michael’s Genuine and Harry’s Pizzeria. And she presented Chris an award for the great work he does for their farm with his company, Farm to Kitchen.

Then Michael took us into the cooler. Steve Martin, the kitchen manager at Harry’s Pizzeria, got to see and taste the first San Marzano tomatoes of the season. “Don’t worry,” Michael said as Steve bit into one, “they’ll be blood red before we pick the ones for you guys.” Prudence Baselais, aka Black, one of the MGFD sous chefs picked up an ear of corn. “Taste that,” Michael ordered. His uncle has corn fields not far from his tomato fields, and that raw corn was the best I’ve ever had. In telling about how good that corn was I’ve heard similar stories about standing in a corn field in late summer tasting the corn. As a born and bread Miami girl, my story is, of course, in a walk-in-cooler in January, still though, that same sweet crunch. So juicy that we all laughed and wiped our faces as we left not a kernel on our respective cobs.

Heading out to the greenhouses was an even greater adventure. Tasting everything from chocolate and pineapple mint, to a hunk of raw sugarcane that Ray, the MGFD line cook doing Sunday’s Stagiaire Supper, actually jumped into the sharp, tall grass to forage. Teena explained about their water conservation program, how the water runs through each plant bed in different and complex ways, before being purified and recycled. We learned that everything there is hand-weeded, and that certain beds are covered in silver plastic because white flies are blinded by it, they won’t fly towards it, they’ll fly up instead. We learned of the challenges of growing heirloom tomatoes in the south Florida heat, and then we saw the “wet wall.” Basically an AC condenser that stretches one whole wall of the greenhouse and has water running over it all the times, keeping the vines cool, and letting them ripen faster, giving us flowers and then fruits sooner.

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“Do they ever fall off the vines?” Juan, a MGFD line cook asked.

“Never,” Michael responded.

Back inside

Teena gave us our mission. It’s called SAFFE – Save American Family Farms from Extension – and it’s simple, just go into your local grocery store and ask the produce manager if they buy local produce. Then go to customer service and request homestead vegetables. Then go home and write corporate and say the same thing. According to Teena there are only four family farms left down here, and two of those don’t have any children.

As we drove to our final stop I looked out the window as plant nursery after plant nursery zoomed by. Chris explained that there are less and less vegetable farms than there were before, because we are out-sold by Mexico. They grow the same things we do because they have the same climate, but they have less regulation for their labor and use pesticides, so they produce more and can underbid us every time. We stopped at a stop sign and a giant plow drove by. Chris said that it could plow the same field in two days with the one man driving it that 50 employees would take two weeks to do. So it would seem everyone’s livelihood is at stake.

Then we met Herb at Knaus Berry Farms, whose enthusiasm for chefs was equaled by his enjoyment of beef, and where the farm’s history is still matched by the age of their fans. In 1956 two brothers opened up to sell produce and baked goods. More than half a century later and the lines are out the door every weekend and holiday. Even in the generation of social media, an old school Knaus Berry Farm strawberry got the Harry’s Pizzeria instagram up to a record 67 likes. Herb married into the family, but he does have a picture somewhere of his father and father-in-law standing next to each other in the 4th grade class of Redlands Senior (now Redlands Elementary). If that’s not family business, as sweet as any, I don’t know what is.

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We drove away from the wide fields and straight rows of the Redlands. I sipped my strawberry milkshake and looked through the pictures I had taken. I thought about Alice’s eggs and Teena’s passion. There is so much to learn on a farm. That much I knew going into it. What I didn’t know was how much I had to learn from four farmers, two chefs, four cooks, and a professional forager, or how much the combination of all of them and the farms would inspire me. Knaus Berry Farms is open daily to customers, and Teena does horticulture tours a few times a week. I recommend the trip down there to everyone. In fact, we are all but requiring front of house and back of house employees to sign up to join Chris on at least one farm run this year. Chris does these ride alongs on Thursdays departing from MGFD at 9:00 a.m. Something about all that farm fresh goodness just makes you want to be better people — and we think better at our jobs — and that’s worth the 40 mile trip from Miami, any day.

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