In the Lychee Loop: Miami’s Summer Season Grows into the Genuine Menu

MJ shows off .005% of our 600 pound haul, as culinary assistant Dillon Wolff (left) learns the ropes with chef Max Makowski (right) on inventory, forecasting and other important matters in the growth and support of The Genuine Hospitality Group and Michael Schwartz Events.

We’ve been waiting on these for a while now, so we are really excited to get them in today,” MJ Garcia explains.  MGFD’s Pastry Chef and I are having a handoff of sorts at the Genuine Commissary, our company’s prep kitchen facility off Miami’s bridge-stitched intracoastal waterway at 79th Street. The afternoon boasts clear blue skies and the occasional white puff, with evidence of the morning’s monsoon in glints and mirrors in the pavement.  Seemingly sprung from nowhere in a hurry, complete with umbrella-flailing sideways rain, last Monday, June 19 exhibited typical wet season behavior, weather that grower Roland Samimy picked and plodded through on his family’s Homestead groves before making it rain 600 pounds of lychee at the commissary. We can take a hint, anticipate the cue. Summer has arrived in South Florida in its moody torrent of active skies and colorful ingredients.  

I’m here collecting “seconds” Roland left to indulge my affinity for the alien fruit’s annual arrival, and MJ is humoring the ensuing curiosity, offering a peek into the process of how we systematically shed fuschia reptilian skins to reveal sweet-tart flesh at the table in recognizable, but not necessarily transformative, ways. So you can see and therefore know what you’re eating and discover where it comes from.  The objective of the exchange? To better understand the magic that happens when buying power and supply collide to drive creativity and create demand. Maybe change minds. Even behaviors. Because Roland knows all too well that there’s something to parse here, in the why of “seconds,” panicles with maybe a couple perfect specimens amidst a cluster of immature fruit.

“It was a very very dry, warm winter. The flower came out strong and then dried up or blew off before pollination,” he explained over the phone earlier on his way up Florida’s Turnpike.  “Lychee are special, and they’re fickle. They like tropical, and in a sub-tropical climate with more and more variability each year, crops can’t adapt on a dime. It’s become difficult for local farmers. Projections from year to year are hard.  It’s too hard for them to make the numbers, especially with competition from Mexico and Thailand undercutting prices. Put it all together and you have more trouble growing this fruit and making a living.”

Perry Samimy in the family grove at peak of harvest on June 11, 2011.

So a dry spell and wind at the wrong time can kill a season, even a crop for good.  Take the Samimy operation — a labor of love, really, not the family’s livelihood.  They now have one of largest groves in South Florida at 20 acres, and Michael’s been buying from them since before MGFD existed.  We experienced one of our best seasons in 2015, a dramatic bumper crop that yielded 100,000 pounds from the grove’s 1,100 trees.  The Samimy’s 2017 season will produce 1,000 pounds if they’re lucky, with 1/3 of trees actually fruiting, and only the heartier Brewster variety not the usual first-of-the-season plumper, smoother Mauritius.  That’s a decrease of 99% — erratic to say the least. We call it like we see it: lychee is the canary in the coal mine for climate change.

Dr. Jonathan Crane at University of Florida’s Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead explains that lychee was introduced into Florida before 1880 and by the ’50s there was a lot of interest and promotion of planting. With support from the USDA, Florida Department of Agriculture and interest groups like the 130-year old Florida State Horticultural Society comprised of fruit, vegetable and ornamental farmers, groves sprung up across the state, from Winter Haven in Polk County in the north to all the way down to Miami-Dade. The Florida Lychee Growers Association formed in 1952 even touted “You can plant lychee wherever you can plant citrus!” The thinking back then was the crop had a lot of “cold tolerance” but after four freeze events back to back in December ’57 and January ’58 killed most everything north, the crop dwindled to small plantings here and there in center of state mostly adjacent to lakes and about 100 acres or so in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties. Our neck of the woods is currently home to about 1,000 acres.

Making lychee history, a dip into the archives (courtesy Dr. Crane)

“To be politically incorrect, lychee is a great example of global warming,” says Dr. Crane.  “In order to flower reliably, dormant trees have to be exposed to temperatures below 60°F for anywhere from 300 to 600 hours, depending on how cold it gets.  What has been happening in the past 7-8 years is we are getting less and less cool temperatures in Miami-Dade. They aren’t getting sufficient what we call ‘chilling hours’ to induce them to bloom. There is a macro trend at play here.”

What can we do?  What we do best. Feature and get excited about lychee.  And let you know when something’s up with our sources.

“We save the prettiest ones to serve from pastry, simply over ice,” MJ continues.  “What we try to do and can do now thanks to the commissary and specifically our new big walk-in freezer is extend the season by buying in bulk and time releasing the reserves.  Lychee is such a short season, especially this year, and the best way to store them is shell-on frozen.”

Pastry is already highlighting the fresh product turning out the smooth-as-can-be lychee-coconut-vodka sorbet popular from last year. It debuted at brunch last Sunday in a refreshing sundae with its delicate melt meeting hibiscus syrup and a double whammy of fresh lychee on top. MJ describes it as the perfect canvas for lychee, “subtle, fragrant and fresh.”  They loaded ella with a batch of popsicles yesterday.

Chef de Cuisine Tim Piazza has plenty cooking beginning this week. On Friday we tasted Yellowfin Tuna Crudo with lychee, serrano, pink peppercorn, basil, and lime from the MGFD raw bar and then followed along as he put together Crispy Pork Belly & Lychee with coconut milk, herbs, chile, and cashews.  Both super delicious and such different yet compelling expressions of the same ingredient!  A lightly cured shrimp and lychee dish was a hit last year at dinner, so we’re hoping it will be back or perhaps a variation.

Phoenix: Bacardi Superior, St. Germain, lychee, grenadine, lemon, cranberry

The MGFD bar always does a great job of maximizing yield, capturing luscious juice for cocktails like Phoenix with Bacardi Superior, St. Germain, grenadine, lemon and cranberry.  TGHG Beverage Manager Amanda Fraga loves lychee for its unique flavor. There’s always a Lychee Martini available, special because it’s made with fresh lychee juice, not the typical canned variety you might be used to, and the guest’s choice of vodka. The sky’s the limit from there since it plays so well with other fruit flavors, as well as a wide range of spirits.

Stay in the lychee loop on our restaurant menus throughout the summer with the hashtag #genuinelychee.  Keep your eyes peeled for other tree fruits, like nectarines, mangos and cherries cropping up everywhere.  It’s going to be a fruitful summer no matter what!

The Genuine Kitchen’s backstory on the Samimy family groves, the local lychee crop, and its embrace in our restaurants can be found here.  I also interviewed Chef for the first time for a piece on the Miami New Times food blog here, as the first lychee harvest of 2009 rolled in.

[RECIPE] Vietnamese Fruit Roll-Up | Mango Summer Roll

Shrimp and Mang

We want to eat light in the summer and there’s no better way to do so than a roll of its namesake. Rice paper rolls or Gỏi cuốn in Vietnamese from where the dish emanates traditionally consists of pork, prawn, vegetables, bún (rice vermicelli), and other ingredients wrapped in wet Vietnamese bánh tráng rice paper).  They are served at room temperature (or cooled) and are not deep fried or cooked on the outside. TGHG executive chef Bradley Herron first fell in love with Vietnamese food when he took a trip to Vietnam in 2005.

“The summer roll is Vietnamese cuisine in a nutshell.  The key is the balance of crisp vegetables and herbs with the really intense, umami flavors of the protein and then the soft, chewy texture of the rice noodles. They’re not really a pain in the ass to make, it’s just a little challenging when you have a busy restaurant,” Brad explains. “I make them at home all the time. My go-to mix protein wise, it’s whatever. Leftover burgers, slice it up, warm it up under the broiler or sautée pan to crisp it up. I always roast a chicken at home for the family, so you can pull the leftovers. Shrimp paste is the best. You Robot Coupe raw shrimp with fish sauce and cane sugar, scallions… Set logs of it over the charcoal grill and just slice them up!”

Brad explains the trick to rehydrating the rice paper discs is room temperature water. You’re not soaking it… It’s more of a dip and wiggle, then put the textured side up on the cutting board so that the smooth side is on the outside when you roll.

“I went to the village where they make them,” Brad continues. “You see all these shacks with little ladies squatted over steaming vats covered in canvas. They spread the rice mixture over like a crepe and then dry them on bamboo mats. That’s where the texture comes from.”

These steamy months in South Florida recall the Vietnamese climate.  So make some summer rolls, dip in nước chấm and enjoy it!  The recipe below incorporates mango but you can do any mix of protein or vegetarian fillings if you want. Maybe even try a mix of green and ripe mango.  Lychee and lump crab is a winning Schwartz combination, too.

Shrimp and Mango Summer Rolls

Serves 8

1 package cellophane noodles
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
16 (8 inch) rich paper rounds
1 head butter lettuce, leaves separated
½ cup mint leaves
½ cup basil leaves
½ cup picked cilantro
1 pound cooked small shrimp
1 cup shredded carrot
1 cup mung bean sprouts
1 large mango, peeled & thinly sliced
Nuoc Cham for dipping (recipe below)

In a large bowl, cover noodles with boiling water and soak 15 minutes. Drain, pat dry, ad season with rice vinegar, salt and pepper. Place a cloth napkin on a work surface. Fill a shallow baking pan with warm water. Submerge a rice paper sheet in the water for 10 seconds, and place on the towel. Repeat with another rice paper and then place just below the first one, overlapping by half. Arrange a piece of lettuce on the rice papers toward the bottom, leaving a 1-inch border on each side. Arrange some mint leaves, basil, cilantro, an eight of the shrimp, shredded carrot, bean sprouts, small amount of noodles, and a small amount of the mango slices. Starting with the bottom, fold over the mixture and fold in the sides. Roll it up, slightly pulling toward you to create a tight “burrito.” Place on a platter and cover with a dampened paper towel. Continue rolling until all 8 rolls are complete. Cut each roll in half or thirds and serve on a plate with a small dish of sauce.

nước chấm

Makes one cup

¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons agave syrup
1 teaspoon red chili flakes

Combine all ingredients in a bowl with 2 tablespoons water; mix until combined and serve.

[RECIPE] Savoring the Fruits of Summer, One Stage at a Time


Niven Patel is at home in the farmland.  The local ingredients Farm to Kitchen’s Chris Padin drops on Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink’s doorstep are more than familiar, they are our chef de cuisine’s neighbors.  With his wife Shivani and pup Coco, Niven has lived in Homestead since 2010.  They are the proud owners of a new home with a backyard full of tropical fruit trees — 18 lychee, four mango and five avocados.  There’s also one huge tree he always forgets the name of.

“Eventually I want to plant some boxes,” he shared with me one morning last week, under the stairs at table 11.  “I just started doing passionfruit on my fence. You take clippings from another tree and plant it. And I have Turkish melons. Our server Rochelle gave me the seeds.”

Niven’s approach to summer fruit both at home and in the restaurant is a practical one.  When you look at a fruit’s entire life cycle, a whole new world opens up.

Grilled Mahi sandwich with green mango relish, fresno chili aioli, red onion, butter lettuce on a brioche bun

Grilled Mahi sandwich with green mango relish, fresno chili aioli, red onion, butter lettuce on a brioche bun

“Sometimes we take a fruit that is picked a little early, so we pickle it and put it in a sandwich with lamb, or grilled mahi,” he continued. “I think with fruit, right, it’s usually about making sure it is perfectly ripe to be at the center of a dish. Like the best peaches or mangos. And then when it gets little over-ripe, we cook it into a marmalade and chutney.  Nothing goes to waste. And you wouldn’t want to take an underripe peach and make a marmalade with it. Common sense. The main focus of what we do here is make the fruit shine… More like fruit-with-some-stuff, not stuff-with-some-fruit.”

Niven grew up in northern Florida, in Jacksonville, where the family had two backyard peach trees. Nearby, University of Florida‘s extensive horticultural sciences program began breeding stone fruit in 1952 with the goal of taking advantage of Florida’s climate, land, and market window to produce some of the earliest fruit in the U. S.  Florida’s subtropical environment is also unique, in that fruit can be harvested shortly after bloom (in some cases as short as 60 days), and there is a long post-harvest period of tree growth. Homestead is its Tropical Fruit Management Program base.

“The University has campuses around the state to see what can and can’t grow,” said Niven.  “It gets too cold for mangoes up north. It’s too hot down here to grow peaches. I’ve been really interested in what they’ve learned.  Right now I’m trying to figure out what was going on with my lychees so I’ve been watching a lot of their YouTubes.”

A quick glance of his specials, now daily-printed on our lunch menu, is evidence that the mental switch to summer, the season of fruit, is underway in the kitchen.  First we started getting Florida peaches in, which have been great this year. They are about a week away from being done and then we’ll switch to Georgia and California.  Around the same time, the Florida blueberries starting showing up. Yes, Florida blueberries. Right now we are just beginning to see the first lychee and green mango.

Niven's yard! Chef Niven's backyard mangos, the first (green) harvest“I love pickling green mango,” the chef continued. “It’s great on crudos. The best application in my opinion. I have so many! My dad and mom were just in town and love it. We I picked over 100 pounds of mangos from the trees, and they don’t even look like they were touched! We pickle and jar them up for the whole year. And harvesting is smarter that way, in stages, so one morning you don’t wake up and you have so many mangos you don’t know what to do with them all!”

Niven says a good tip for the next phase when the mangos are sort of green but ripening a little is to slice them, air dry them for a little bit before salting them with a little smoked paprika and then sun dry them for two days… It’s a great snack. Mango leather, the slow food way.  For a light meal, try making this unique lychee-studded ceviche at home.  We just haven’t been able to get enough of it at the restaurant ever since Niven introduced lunch’s new appetizer section couple of weeks ago.  Sometime days it comes with snapper (like the photo above,) other days grouper.  He’s making and using fresh coconut milk, but has offered a simple home use alternative in the recipe below, also featuring delicious Florida shrimp.  Savor it while it lasts!

Shrimp & Lychee Ceviche with Coconut, Ginger & Lime 

Serves 4

1 pound Florida Royal Red or Key West Pink shrimp
1/2 dozen fresh lychees, pitted and halved
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
1/2 small red onion, shaved
Juice of three limes
Kosher salt and freshly-cracked black pepper to taste
1/2 cup Ginger Coconut Milk (see recipe below)

Over high heat, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a rolling boil. Add the shrimp, poaching for 1 minute, drain and set aside to cool.  In a large bowl add the cooled shrimp, lychee, bell pepper, cilantro, onion, lime juice, and salt and pepper. Toss in the ginger coconut milk until well-coated and juicy. Serve immediately!

Ginger Coconut Milk

1 can coconut milk
2 tablespoons agave
1 whole serrano pepper, grated
1 small thumb of ginger, grated

Place a small saucepan over low heat and steep coconut milk, agave, serrano pepper and ginger for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit for another 20 minutes.  Strain the liquid through a chinois or fine strainer, thin with 1/2 cup water, and let cool completely. Keeps covered in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.


Thank God It’s….LYCHEE Season!!!

photo (47)I don’t remember the first lychee I ever ate. I believe I was much too young, but as far back as I do remember my mom and I were drying and sprouting the pits, trying to grow a lychee tree. They’re not so easy to grow, we learned, so while I’m screaming ‘Thank God it’s lychee season’ from the rooftops, I’m also thanking Genuineland’s lucky stars for one Roland Samimy who keeps us well stocked, and well informed as to how we can expect this lychee season to go.  His report went just like this:

Compared to last year (which was an absolute disaster) this year is much better.  There will certainly be more than enough to meet your needs, however, it is still a less than average crop.  If you recall, we have two varieties (Mauritius and Brewster).  Mauritius fruited, Brewster’s, nada!  So right off the bat it is half a crop.  Same goes for the rest of the growers.  Got to love mother nature.  It is a weather thing.  My best hypothesis is that since the Brewsters lag behind the Mauritius by a few weeks, the Mauritius flowered and got pollinated before getting hit by a cold snap or wind or a combination of both that likley hit the grove when the Brewster flowers were at their most vulnerable.  As such, poof, no Brewster crop.  Plus there is the issue of the bees.  Bee populations are way down.  That is a problem for all agriculture in general not just lychees.  The bummer is that lychees are hard enough to grow as it is without these issues.  So here we are.  Waiting for things to ripen up !!

And ripen, they have! Just two days ago I laid my eyes on the first lychees of the season fresh from the Redlands in the MGFD walk-in, and I swear I squealed like a little girl. I can’t help it. I see a lychee and get that same feeling I did as a kid at Publix with my mom when we first saw lychees on the shelf: 1) That it’s summertime and school’s almost out! And 2) it’s almost my birthday! Then, there’s that juicy pop of breaking the skin and the cool crunch of the milky white fruit, so sweet and fresh, as sweet as the sight of them is to me, I love them that much. And I’m not the only one.

I grapped a couple and shoved them in my pocket for my mom, who I was going to see that evening – a little thank you for the lifelong lychee love.  Those lychees in my pocket brought up all sorts of similar fondness from everyone I passed (who couldn’t help but tell me I had lychees in my pocket). From the bar to the kitchen to the managers upstairs it seems whether you’re a Miami native or a recent transplant, everyone is screaming TGILS!!!! So, here are a few ways these summer treats are popping up on our various menus. Come in and get ’em while we got ’em!

photo (48)MGFD:

On the menu: wreck fish ceviche with avocado, citrus, papaya AND lychee and cilantro
From the pastry station: Coconut lychee sorbet
From the bar: Lychee Market Special – Lychee puree, muddled mint, simple syrup, double cross AND a lychee martini

Harry’s Pizzeria is implementing a Lychee Farmer Fizz today to run through the weekend!

And last but not least, Roel has yet to reveal how, but lychees will be finding their way on to the Tasting Menu tonight at The Cypress Room.

None of this is to be missed. TGIF! And TGILS!

[VIDEO] Family Trees: Fresh, Locally-Grown Lychees from Grove to Ship

150 Central Park chef de cuisine Luciano Bonci walks the JLS Lychee Farms grove in Homestead with owner/farmers Roland Samimy (right) and Harry Miller (left.)

Michael’s summer menus have been underway at 150 Central Park aboard Oasis of the Seas since June 2, with new local products cropping up on dishes from Florida Royal Red Shrimp sourced from Port Canaveral’s Wild Ocean Seafood in a local lychee salad with Vietnamese flavors, to Lychee “Tres Leches” with Homestead goat farmer Hani Khouri’s goat milk sherbet and biscotti crumbles.  And as you can tell, local lychees are everywhere!  We also have a new chef de cuisine at the helm, Luciano Bonci, as MGFD alum Jamie Seyba returns to our Miami kitchen after a stellar tour of duty.  Luciano is originally from the U.K. and had an early start in the restaurant industry working weekends at his uncle’s Italian restaurant from the age of 14.  He  graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in Culinary and Patisserie Arts, and before joining the Royal Caribbean team a couple of years ago, worked in restaurants in London, as well as at the three Michelin Star restaurant The Fat Duck.  His love of both modernist cuisine and classic cooking makes him a great fit to continue the work Jamie did to make Michael’s fresh, simple and pure food come to life in the upscale setting of 150 Central Park.

The “ditch witch” in 1992 making rows for baby lychee trees. It takes 5-6 years before they can bear their first fruit!

To get ready for this transition, Luciano trained at Michael’s Genuine in April where he worked closely with chef de cuisine Bradley Herron, and he also had the opportunity to take a trip down to Homestead to check out the fruit of the summer crop still ripening on the tree. Click the image above to learn about the grove’s family tree and what goes into getting the fruit to the table!