40–Love | A Taste of the Basics at Ella

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Last night The Genuine Hospitality Group participated Miami’s inaugural Taste of Tennis event to kick off the Miami Open, the annual two weeks of tennis mania on Key Biscayne from March 23-April 5.  With an invite from chef Kerry Heffernan, we brought our e-game to the W South Beach, offering a taste of ella, Michael’s pop-up café coming to the Design District’s Palm Court in April.  Keeping it simple is one of the keys to what makes Chef’s food so good, and he even offers a “Basics” section in his cookbook dedicated to just that.  Tomato jam is one of those versatile pantry staples from which many dishes can be built… like ella’s Parmigiano-Crusted Grilled Cheese.  Special Ops Chef Thomas Tennant griddled and perfectly pressed 40 cut into bite-sized pieces of love for a sporty and suited crowd that couldn’t get enough!  Thomas is a former USTA player and tennis coach who knows his way around the tournament, having been a ball boy for as many years as it has title sponsors.  Lipton, Sony Ericsson, Nasdaq… and now the Miami Open!  Great call Itaú on finally giving the city its naming rights.  It was great to put a face to a pug and meet Geoffrey Anderson of Miami Food Pug and to have some professional sous chefs stop by!   Kerry, an avid fisherman, put out an incredible crudo, and we were surprised to see a lionfish at his station.  Thomas is passionate about eliminating this invasive species in the Cayman Islands through cooking, and apparently there is a population in the Florida Keys ripe for the culling.

The sandwich combines buttered slices of hearty pullman loaves coated in Parmigiano that gets a crispy, flaky crust on the griddle before its stuffing of gruyere, fontina, and caramelized onions melt together with a warm hug from our Breville panini machine.  The tomato jam is the bright, sweet finish to tie it all together.

IMG_5930Heirloom Tomato Jam

Makes 3 cups

4 heirloom tomatoes (2 pounds)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 dozen cipollini onions, peeled, halved lengthwise or quartered depending on size (1 pound)
2 whole cloves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons agave syrup or honey

Bring a pot of water to a boil and prepare an ice bath. Cut a little cross mark on the bottom of the tomatoes. Immerse the tomatoes in the boiling water for about 15 to 30 seconds, until the skin starts to peel away. Using a slotted spoon, remove the tomatoes from the pot and transfer to the ice bath to cool quickly and stop the cooking process. Peel the tomato either with your hands or with a paring knife. Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and set aside. You should have about 3 1/2 cups. Place a large skillet over medium heat and coat with the oil. When the oil gets hazy, add the onions. Cook and stir until the onions soften slightly and get a little bit of color and, about 6 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, cloves, and season with salt and pepper. Cook and stir until the tomatoes start to break down and release their liquid, about 10 minutes. Add the vinegar and agave. Continue to cook, stirring often to prevent burning, until the liquid has evaporated and the chutney is thick, about 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature and pulse a few times in a food processor.  Keeps sealed in a refrigerator for a week, longer if properly canned.

That Token Cayman Charm Takes Home Favourite Restaurant

They’ve done it again!  Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink has been voted Cayman’s favourite restaurant for the third consecutive year at Taste of Cayman.  We chalk it up to our staff’s positive energy, teamwork, and of course genuine food, including Pan-Seared Lionfish with local ackee and seasoned pepper vinaigrette, Slow Roasted Local Goat with local calabaza and long bean salad and Warm Doughnuts with local passion fruit curd.

“We worked super hard this year, and definitely brought our A-Game,” says restaurant manager Camille Ross.  “The dishes we did were definitely more intricate this year than in year’s past.  It was a lot of physical work but it was a lot fun… Food came flying out of our booths and our lines were able to keep flowing all night. Most importantly our spirit was on point- we yelled, cheered and made the most noise of anyone there! People came back to see us many times and we had a lot of feedback on how energetic and happy we were. Many guests are hoping we put the lionfish dish on our menu.  We saw many of our regular guests and hundreds of faces we’ve never seen! Even vacationers kept coming back to chat and buy more. I have nothing but positive things to say!”

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Both savory and sweet booths stayed busy all night, only letting up at 10:30, and chef de cuisine Prudent Baselais also took part in a cooking demo of the lionfish dish on the Bon Vivant stage.  He also judged the amateur cook off that followed afterwards!  Several of our regular guests like Slow Food Leader Alan Markoff said everyone was buzzing about our restaurant the whole night.

Taste is one of those events that is a true expression of what’s local to the island, and is its longest running food and wine festival.  Now hosted in our backyard on Camana Bay’s Festival Green, Taste of Cayman began in the late ’80s with a small number of restaurants from the Cayman Islands Restaurant Association meeting in a field to compete in a Chili Cook Off.   The event is now in its 27th year and has now grown to showcase over 45 restaurants and distributors participating in an open air event that attracts thousands of people.  Our restaurant will be 5 years old this summer, but having the opportunity to recognize the work of our team in the restaurant  never gets old and what better reason to show up than Taste!

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There are a number of awards handed out throughout the night by secret judges for Best Booth, Best Food, Best Drink and more. The most coveted award of the night however is the Cayman’s Favourite Restaurant award which is the only people’s choice award. Upon entry festival attendees will receive a wooden nickel which they will carry with them until they determine the one restaurant they deem deserving of the title! The winning restaurant, as voted by the festival attendees will hold rights to the title Cayman’s Favourite Restaurant and receive a $1,000 cash prize.

So… Drinks on Cayman?  Boom! Next up… February’s Clam Bake!

[RECIPE] These Grilled Lionfish Tacos are Up to the Blue Ribbon Task

Grilled lionfish tacos

Eat them to beat them: Grilled lionfish tacos shot on site, and devoured shortly after by yours truly outside Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink Grand Cayman.

Our friends at Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch are uniting their Blue Ribbon Task Force chefs including Michael around National Taco Day (October 4) and National Seafood Month (October) to raise awareness for sustainable seafood in the most delicious way possible. We most recently covered this topic hugely important the entire TGHG family on our blog with the release of Paul Greenberg’s most recent book, and now we’re back at it again inspired by my week in Grand Cayman, our home away from home where local fish and supporting the marine ecosystem is always top of mind.  Small changes have big impact especially in such a small slice of the Caribbean environment — and we’re talking positive ones here, like the Department of Environment’s lionfish culling program.  The first juvenile Indo-pacific Red Lionfish was removed from a dive site in Little Cayman in 2008 setting in motion a massive public-private partnership lead by DOE and bringing together local residents, dive industry operators, and people like TGHG Special Ops Chef Thomas Tennant in the unique position to influence change thanks to combining a love of SCUBA and skills in the kitchen.  Eat them to beat them we say!  During his 4 year tenure as our Grand Cayman opening chef, Thomas single handedly removed thousands (I wonder if not tens of thousands) of pounds of lionfish at his own spear, not to mention receiving countless deliveries from licensed divers through our service entrance sometimes on a daily basis.  If that drop in the bucket doesn’t count for something on a larger scale, I don’t know what does.

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Thomas returns to the island to host our fall Farm to Table Dinner on October 11, but we’re not waiting for that, taco day, or seafood month to celebrate this legacy that lives on in its simplest and maybe most delicious form every Monday through Saturday during our Happy Hour in Grand Cayman… Grilled Lionfish Tacos!  The recipe below is pretty awesome thanks to its simplicity. A few flavors combining into one juicy bite. The verdantly flecked herb mayo is especially addictive and you don’t need much.  With so many of Sylvester’s foraged avocados on our food bar wall here to deplete, there should be plenty of these going out at Happy Hour. I know I will make my contribution known! Follow both Genuine Instagrams (@MGFD_MIA and @MGFD_GCM) this week for a bigger taste of what’s new on-island. Today we’ll get the best temperature check of what’s in season when the Farmers Market makes its weekly Wednesday pop in our town center of Camana Bay.  Very excited to poke around the stalls with chef de cuisine Prudent Baselais and enjoy some of the ingredients for lunch!

Grilled Lionfish Tacos

Makes 12 tacos

12, 3-ounce lionfish filets, skin on and pin bones removed (you can substitute with a sustainable species like yellowtail snapper in Miami if you can’t find lionfish)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
12 corn tortillas
1 large tomato, diced
1 cup scallions cut on the bias
1 cup picked cilantro leaves
Juice of one lime
¼ cup Herb Mayonnaise (recipe below)
2 ripe avocados, halved and sliced
½ cup shaved radishes
3 limes cut into wedges

Preheat an outdoor gas or charcoal grill until very hot, or put a grill pan over medium-high heat. Drizzle the lionfish filets with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill skin side down for 3 minutes. Leave them alone; the filets will stick to the grill if tried to turn too soon. Once they have developed nice grill marks flip gently with a fish spatula to finish cooking for 1 minute on the other side. Remove from the grill to a platter while you warm the tortillas

Pour 1/2 inch water into the bottom of the steamer, then line the steaming basket with a clean, heavy kitchen towel. Lay the tortillas in the basket. Fold the edges of the towel over the tortillas to cover them, set the lid in place, bring the water to a boil and let boil only for 1 minute, then turn off the fire and let stand, covered, for 15 minutes. If you wish to keep the tortillas hot for up to an hour, slip the steamer into a low oven or reheat the water periodically.

To assemble, toss the tomato, scallion, and cilantro in the lime juice. Spread the herb mayonnaise on the corn tortillas, layering each with a filet, the sliced avocado and salad mix, topping with the shaved radish. Serve with lime wedges.

Herb Mayonnaise

Makes 2 cups

2 cups mayonnaise
¼ cup basil
¼ cup parsley
1 clove garlic
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.

[Recipe] Lionfish Sliders with Scotch Bonnet Aioli & Pickled Vegetables

Lionfish Slider

We’re really digging the summer vibe this week.  Thoughts of sun-struck oceans and good times with good friends wash over Genuineland, from glassy Biscayne waterfront at Paraiso Bay to the royal blue expanse of Caribbean Sea through which genuine teammates are sailing at a clip as 150 Central Park’s summer menus go live on Oasis of the Seas.  To usher in the weekend, we’re kicking off our shoes, jumping in a hammock and cranking the ceiling fan on high to enjoy this spicy lionfish slider recipe from TGHG special ops chef Thomas Tennant.   These puppies have dog days written all over them and are inspired by a recent interview Michael did with Garden & Gun for a story on discovering something worth saving in “trash” fish.  What’s not to love about that angle?

Lionfish Sliders with scotch bonnet aioli, pickled vegetables, avocado, herbs

Makes 12 sliders

1 tablespoons minced garlic
1/3 cup​fresh lemon juice
1 scotch bonnet or habanero pepper, seeds removed
½ cup seasoning or shishito peppers, seeds removed
3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups canola oil
1 ½ cups Pickled Vegetables (recipe follows)
12, 3-ounce lionfish filets, pin bones removed (fresh local snapper works well too!)
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly-ground black pepper to taste
1 cup all purpose flour
Vegetable oil for frying
12 potato rolls
1 cup picked cilantro leaves
1 cup scallions cut on the bias
1 cup baby arugula, washed
3 limes cut into wedges
3 ripe avocados, sliced

Preheat a deep fat fryer to 350 degree Fahrenheit with vegetable oil.

In a food processor, combine the garlic, peppers and lemons juice and puree until smooth, scraping down the sizes of the bowl every few moments. Once pureed, add the egg yolks and salt then run the food processor until the egg yolks have been whipped enough to be well incorporated with the pepper mix. While the food processor is running, combine the two oils and slowly incorporate them into the processor in the thin stream. You want to have an emulsification, so do not go too fast. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Season the lionfish filets with salt and peppers, then dredge in the flour. Fry until golden brown and cooked through. Place on to paper towels to soak any excess oil and season with salt.

To assemble, slice the potato rolls in half and dry toast the cut side on a griddle. Liberally spread the aioli on both cut sides of the bread. In a small mixing bowl, combine the cilantro leaves, scallions and arugula and dress with a strong squeeze of fresh lime juice. Assemble each slider by placing the fried filets on the bottom half of the sauced rolls. Then thinly slice the avocado and place on the lionfish. Top with pickled vegetables and cilantro/arugula mix. Place the top half of the roll on top and secure with a sandwich pick.

Quick Pickled Vegetables

Makes about 2 cups

2 cups unseasoned rice vinegar
½ cup sugar
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 thyme sprig
Suggested vegetables:
1 small red onion sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds and separated into individual rings
2 bell peppers, seeded and julienned
1 carrots, julienned

Combine the vinegar, 1 cup water, sugar, bay leaves, and mustard seeds in a medium nonreactive pot. Slowly bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Put the vegetables in a heatproof nonreactive container and pour the hot liquid on top and toss to evenly coat; the vegetables should be completely submerged in the liquid. Cover and cool to room temperature. Chill before serving. The pickled red vegetables keep for months stored covered in the refrigerator. Be sure to keep them completely submerged in the liquid.

Genuine Cayman “Lionfish” Episode Preview: Safari of the Seafaring Kind, Plus Cooking Up Invasive Species in Miami

Meeting of the aquatic minds: (seated left to right) executive chef Thomas Tennant, Jason Washington (Ambassador Divers,) Michael, and James Gibb (Department of Environment.)

For the past year and a half, chef Thomas Tennant has made it his personal mission to eradicate the invasive population of lionfish off Cayman’s shores by combining his love of scuba diving and cooking.  Through a partnership with Ambassador Divers, the Lionfish Safari was born and with it the opportunity for our customers to get their feet wet, take part in our sourcing of fresh ingredients at the restaurant and enjoy a delicious meal at the end of the day.  Genuine food and drink, Genuine Cayman.

“Our first lionfish tournament was at Taste of Cayman 2011, and we have sponsored about five since then,” Thomas recalls.  “I would say on average I receive 50-60 pounds per week at the restaurant. So that would come out to around 2,860 pounds  since then that we received. Some weeks are good, some are not so good and some are excellent for product.  We love the not so good weeks just as much as the excellent ones — less lionfish in the water!”

In tonight’s episode of Michael’s new series on-island exploring the bounty of local ingredients Cayman has to offer, chef Thomas leads the way to a day out on the water with Jason Washington and his team, and a sweet and savory reward at the end — a big, aromatic bowl of Lionfish Chowder, for which you will find his recipe below.  Those of you in Miami can look forward to sampling lionfish and many other more invasive species caught locally when chef de cuisine Bradley Herron participates in Fertile Earth Foundation’s UnderGROUND Miami event on June 23.  We’ll have more on that on The Genuine Kitchen next month!

Tennant and Schwartz in the mix, chowder-style!

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