Chef Derek Dammann is Like a Great Bar. He Owns a Restaurant with One, Too.

 

About an hour after I hang up from my interview with Derek Dammann, he sends me some images to illustrate this post. There is no pristine beauty of Baked Oysters with Mushroom and Marmite, now iconic at the chef’s beloved five-year-old Québécois gastropub, Maison Publique — the dish he mentioned over the phone that began as half-serious, half-joke until they realized it was really fucking good.  Also not included is a table full of Sichuan dishes from that place back home in Vancouver that doesn’t look like much but serves some of the best Asian food the city’s immigrant nooks and crannies have to offer.  No.  He has sent me two images.  One is of a wood burning stove for heating not cooking — and the other, a flood-lit house and shed fronting a wood disappearing into the night.  Leading to it, a pathway has been plowed four feet deep and is soft with footsteps fresh from the evening’s snowfall.  For someone for whom affability seems to come more naturally and fluidly than most, who makes a living playing host to both friends and strangers daily, Dammann has chosen to live of all places out in the woods.  “This is home,” he writes, and suddenly I realize he has shared all I need to know in this one text message.  I can relate.

He, wife Christina and six-year-old son Felix call the Laurentian Mountains home.  They are majestic, primal and not exactly the obvious choice for a man who has built his reputation on creating atmosphere and community at his popular restaurant ensconced in the residential Le Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood of Montreal, just north of the park and mount for which the city is named.  As a young chef, Dammann set off to London to work for Jamie Oliver, and these quiet neighborhood streets remind him of his little corner there.  The commute is 45 minutes to an hour of rolling, fir-lined roads. Thinking time.  He wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Laurentian Mountains run through southern Quebec. They consist of Precambrian rocks over 540 million years old, making these soft peaks among the oldest in the world.(credit: Tourism Laurentians)

Eating at the bar and the sense of welcome it can cultivate in a restaurant is something important to us at Michael’s Genuine®, a feeling and approach to hospitality that Dammann shares.  When we knocked down the back bar in 2014 to make room for the now familiar horseshoe there today, it changed the entire dynamic of the dining room.  Everything opened up to the hearth and the energy shift was palpable.

“I love eating at the bar. It’s less serious and more convivial,” he explains.  “It takes a lot of pressure off —if you’re on a date, there’s other people to talk to.  Things come faster… Drinks come faster…. There should be lots of little things to look at. All the little details.  We added angled mirrors above the bar, and they reflect where we are, the street lamps and cars crawling in the snow.”

When he bought the place, there was nothing there except dirty carpets.  They ripped everything out and built the whole restaurant based around the bar.  They distressed it, made it look really old and lived in.  An enthusiast and practitioner of the national pastime, Dammann made sure there was a TV strategically placed so he could watch hockey from the pass.

“It’s something you think about when you get open. You feel out the space, where the best seats are in the restaurant,” he continues.  “Bar 1, 2 and 3 in the corner by the open kitchen were saved for walk-ins in the beginning. No one really wanted them at first. Now they’re the most sought-after in the house. There are people that hem and haw about sitting at the bar.  Then there are those that the bar speaks to. I’m one of those people. It says, ‘you’re going to have a good time tonight.'”

Next Thursday’s dinner for South Beach Wine & Food Festival will be his first time in Florida, but something tells us he’ll feel at home.  He tells of meeting Michael for the first time as his booth neighbor at one of the Alex’s Lemonade Stand chef events last year. They hit it off immediately.

“It’s one of those things that people say,” he notes. “‘You should come and do a dinner’ — and then you don’t hear from them.  But three weeks later, I got a call.”

In addition to the Marmitine oysters on the reception menu on February 22, he’s doing Smoked Mackerel with anchovy and lemon, a nod to his travels in Italy and affinity for the country of his mom’s heritage.

Spaghetti all’ubriaco.

“There are things in the flavor profiles you like that you either grow up with or you discover,” Dammann reflects.  “My grandmother’s house always had a lot of certain things — good salami, homemade pasta… It always stuck with me, the complex simplicity of it.  You can have the simplest spaghetti and tomato sauce and if you finish it with amazing olive oil, it kind of changes everything.  Canada is a big country. We don’t have white truffles, but we have insane pine mushrooms… They all go to Japan, they’re that special… We have 95% of the flour going to Italy for pasta. Lentils going to France, mustard sent to Dijon only to be turned around and sold back to us… It’s kind of crazy. This is a country full of prairies and rich resources.  Massive space for farming… You can stereotype the cuisine here, but we have a rich, hyper-regional history.”

The thing I find out about this chef is that, like a great bar, he’s disarming the moment you get acquainted.  It’s comfortable right out of the gate.  He’s also a good listener and answers questions thoughtfully, like he’s hearing them for the first time.  It’s like you’ve been friends for years. You want to take a seat, settle in and have a pint. He admits when he drinks beer, though, it’s really rare.

“It’s going to be a shitty after-hockey beer.  I just want something cold on tap and don’t care about the next new craft beer. I have people that actually care about that,” he says. “Maybe I’m crotchety, but I know what I like.”

Felix asked Dad to throw him in the lake.

He’s always been in love with the region his family now calls home — and the lake, Lac Barron, in particular.  He has fond memories of summers at a family cabin back home.  He always told himself that he wanted to live that lifestyle.  Now he wakes up some mornings to wild turkeys in the backyard. And there are plans for the place, rebuilding the shed, for one, this summer. He’ll fashion a wood stove inside so he can hang out in there when it’s minus 20 outside.  It’s a little piece of heaven he calls home, and that’s something we can toast a shitty beer to no matter what the weather.

Want a piece?  Dinner with Dammann, Kapur and Schwartz is almost sold out, but click here for tickets while you still can.

Chef Ravi Kapur Has One Serious Poke Face

Ravi Kapur has strong feelings about poke. As he should.

“In Hawaii it’s kind of… Well, it’s really a treat,” Ravi explains. “It’s not this mass-consumed, everyday thing necessarily, because really poke should be pretty expensive if you’re using high quality fish. For me growing up, it’s a celebratory thing.”

At now 3 year-old Liholiho Yacht Club in San Francisco, this Oahu-born chef not only takes inspiration from his Hawaiian-Chinese-Indian roots, he takes them quite seriously.   Right off the bat this was pretty clear, even as we stole just few minutes in between phone tag on Wednesday.  There’s a sense of responsibility that informs his approach.  I have neither been to Hawaii nor eaten in his restaurant, but I have read Kapur is a chef-owner known for his cool, collected demeanor in the kitchen.  Schwartz had a great meal there. I get the feeling this attitude is an expression of the strength of his intention, to cook with principle and represent his culture correctly and with confidence.

Fresh fish, the best fish. From @liholihoyachtclub’s Instagram.

This means something to Kapur, that he stand for something and that his expression is one true to his identity as a Hawaiian.  We can relate to this — MS also stands for something, and akin to that.  It’s about quality and doing it right, or not at all.  This is in part why I began our conversation with poke. To poke a nerve.  With the relentless stream of DIY, paint-by-numbers, flavor-of-the-moment poke shops UberEatsing on my Miami doorstep, it’s also hard to ignore.

“The most important element for me is that the fish is extremely fresh and you let that flavor shine without covering it up with too many seasonings,” he continues. “The traditional version would not have soy sauce.  It would be Hawaiian salt, and sweet onion, and inamona or ground kukui nut.

From there he explains it can be embellished, which is fine, with a measured hand, as with most things. Seaweed, sure.  Still no seasoning though. You take this highly perishable product and then need to mask it when it’s inferior.  Often, when it’s about preserving meat or fish, something common all over the world to extend a product’s lifespan — typically out of necessity — it can be quite good.  But it’s transformed.  It’s no longer the thing it was.  For true poke, if you are using good quality there’s just no way it even can be mass produced — which is basically the benchmark for what my exposure has been to date, fast casual-style.  It becomes more about what you are putting on it, than what it is.

“I popped in one day to one of these places, because I’m interested in how they operate, how it flows,” Ravi explains.  “I understand the model, how this came to exist, but I’ll never do it because it’s in direct conflict to what I believe poke is.  I can’t wrap my head around culturally appropriating things for profit.  You won’t find sesame oil in traditional poke. I use some, but for me it’s always going to be all about the fish.”

The fish is Ahi traditionally, but now you can find all types, like Striped Marlin and large bill fish. It’s more sustainable too.  Ravi admits he just got back from Maui, and even there, there is a range of quality. Previously frozen… unknown origins at the supermarket. The place he goes to now, Kaohu store, will run you about $17, 18, 19  a pound.

“To me I taste the difference,” he adds.  “And you can see the fish.  It’s undressed.”

I don’t know about you, but I need my own #alohafloorselfie moment.

Ravi won’t know what species will greet him when he walks into Michael’s Genuine® on Thursday February 22, but he knows it will be fresh and that will produce the best first course on the plate whether it’s Cobia, Golden Tile or Little Tuny.  And there’s pork too, another ingredient that connects our food cultures.

“Absolutely. It’s pretty much pork all the time,” Ravi says.  “In the late 1800s, ranching formed a big part of the economy but beef is more expensive.  Pork is for everyone and it can be great and flavorful – it just depends on the pig and who’s raising it.  I’m doing something off the shoulder.  I like roasting those cuts and still having a little bite to it, so you can taste the meat. Some accents, of course, like chili honey rub for a little sweetness and spice.  I don’t think I told anybody, but I’m also bringing something else with me.”

We’re not giving that one away.  You, co-guest chef Derek Damman and hosts Michael and Tim will just have to squirm.  Now isn’t that cause for celebration? And some poke!  Find out for yourself.  For tickets and menu, visit sobefest.org/michaels.

Introducing Genuine Pizza™ | Passionate About Our Favorite Food

Here’s to the notion we can always try harder, do more, make it nicer, work smarter, dough more precisely, fine tune the process, and be better at being genuine. Change can be scary, but we think same is scarier.  Introducing the evolution of our favorite spot for pizza, with a nod to where it all began.  Please join us in welcoming Genuine Pizza to the dance floor.  We are truly passionate about our favorite food!

This evolution has been years in the making, to see and see through an opportunity to bring more genuine pizza into the world, and we are thrilled to announce today that Harry’s Holdings, LLC. has secured a $2.5MM investment from the Florida Opportunity Fund to support the expansion of the Genuine Pizza concept.  We will unveil the first location at the Aventura Mall in November, featuring new restaurant design, branding and signage, while maintaining the popular and familiar current menu. Existing Harry’s Pizzeria locations will stay as Harry’s, but will eventually transition as we all get to know our new home.

“The new Genuine Pizza brand is not just a nod to Chef Schwartz’s flagship Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink, but also a much more appropriate articulation of our pizzeria’s mission and approach. Our use of the word Genuine is meant to portray a sincere and honest approach. Whether it is our ingredients, recipes and execution, flavor combinations or our hospitality, we strive to be Genuine in everything we do,” says Harry’s Holdings CEO Sunil Bhatt. “We are thrilled at the reception our new pizzerias in Miami’s Design District, Coconut Grove and Downtown Dadeland have received, and with the support of the Florida Opportunity Fund, we have a great opportunity to open many new Genuine Pizza locations over the next several years. For many of us, pizza is our favorite food and it is an honor and a privilege to share our interpretation more widely.”

The Florida Opportunity Fund investment will back Genuine Pizza’s rollout to 18 locations over the next few years, including Aventura (November), Atlanta (December), Cleveland and Miami Beach (2018), and Sunrise (2019). “We are excited to work with a world-class management team to bring the Genuine Pizza experience to more people in Florida and around the country,” said Jennifer Dunham, a Partner with Florida First Partners, investment advisor to the Florida Opportunity Fund.

Genuine Pizza is guided by a few important pillars: honest ingredients from trusted sources that care and make the best products; chef-curated, simple topping combinations that work great together, from someone who knows and cares; a deliberate process for doing things thoughtfully; an enthusiastic and passionate team who loves the food and approach to hospitality; a tireless effort to never settle, not only innovating with new menu items, but looking at how we can do everything better; and a sincerity and lack of pretension.


The new restaurant interior by Miami-based craft and construction firm McKenzie features light woods and simple accents like custom yellow and grey Cuban tile, orange chairs, and the yellow-tiled Marra Forni oven. The environment invites guests to experience the attention to detail first hand, at a pizza bar fronting the open kitchen and a glass-faced dough room at the entrance where the recipe is mixed, kneaded and proofed daily. The new logo design incorporates the word Genuine in script typeface with an ear of wheat at the end, to emphasize a main ingredient in the daily handmade dough.

For more information, please visit genuinepizza.com and follow on social media @genuinepizza!

Get Your Claws On Stone Crab Week at Michael’s Genuine®

It’s time to get cracking! Stonies are back and so is our week of living large at Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink, because that’s just what we do in Miami this time of year.  And we have our genie in a bottle, sommelier and The Genuine Hospitality Group beverage manager Amanda Fraga to thank.

To celebrate the arrival of one of this season’s most anticipated local ingredients, for each pound of large Florida Stone Crabs from Monday, October 23 to Sunday, October 29, choose any — ANY — bottle of wine on what I believe to be one of the truly most exciting, dynamic and exceptional lists around for the table for half off.  All bottles are fair game, available at lunch, afternoon, dinner and brunch, all week long!  From sparkling to creamy, it all pairs as far as we are concerned.  Pop in and join us on a Design District stroll for afternoon menu or happy hour, or book a reservation for lunch dinner or brunch in advance at reservations@michaelsgenuine.com or 305 573 5550. From sparkling to red and all the rosé in between, treat yo self in advance of the trick!

Make a Fall Evening in the Miami Design District with Music & Michael’s Genuine®

Compliments to the chef.  And of the Miami Design District!  As we head into a new season here in South Florida, our menu at Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink experiences a little more than daily changes.  Chef de Cuisine Tim Piazza is working in everything from Butternut and Delicata squash, to Honeycrisp apples and Brussels Sprouts and building new dishes around them.  With weekly complimentary concerts in Palm Court, now is the time to get a taste of autumn and make a night of it in the neighborhood.

The Miami Design District kicks off its Performance Series Presented by Knight Foundation this Friday, October 13 with Latin Grammy Nominated and Billboard Latin Music Award Winners, Il Volo.  MGFD gets in the spirit with Coco Loco  ($10) coconut water, rum, pineapple, housemade grenadine, lime and Luxardo, served out of its freshly tapped, green coconut.  Just look for the coconut-strewn bar in front of Ella, where you can also find a selection of wine, beer, water and yes, fresh coconut water, too.  See the schedule posted here, and look forward to a new act each week (Fridays, 6PM, Palm Court 140 NE 39th Street), with the Miami Symphony Orchestra back monthly.  Street, Palm Court Garage and Valet Parking available.   Here are how the leaves fall on the menu (new cocktails at the MGFD bar with Beverage Manager Amanda Fraga and desserts by pastry chef MJ Garcia will be covered in separate posts over the next week!):

Braised Rabbit Leg with roasted cipollini onion, bacon, mustard, whole wheat crepe

“The funny thing is, of course, we live in Miami so it still feels like summer outside but we want to feel the change despite that,” says Piazza.  “The goal is to create dishes that are full of all those ingredients and flavors we love this time of year, but that aren’t too rich or heavy handed.  This what we do best in a nutshell — balance.”

In that case, he’s struck it.  Wood Oven Roasted Sweet Potato becomes a salad with the addition of sprouted lentils, pretty tokyo turnips, peppery upland cress, and the nutty acid of tahini sauce.  A dusting of Aleppo chile gives it that zesty pop. We all look forward to apples turning up, and the pick of the grove for the chefs is the Honeycrisp for its perfect harmony of sweet and tart.  Piazza highlights its crunchy texture tossing it shaved with aromatic fennel in Apple & Fennel Salad, red onion, sunflower seeds, radish, quinoa, greens, goat cheese and mustard vinaigrette.  Luscious Skirt Steak hits refresh with celery, almonds, dates, horseradish crema and sherry.  Click here for a reservation or call 305.573.5550.