Niman Ranch Asks Chef Bradley Herron Some Questions. We Are All Ears.

Brad with Chef in Iowa in September, getting the Niman Ranch slow roasted pork shoulder ready.

Although the word chef isn’t in his title, Bradley Herron embodies what it means to be a cook at The Genuine Hospitality Group. Our Director of Culinary began as line cook at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in 2009 and now oversees all the chefs and menus in the company’s 10 restaurants and Michael Schwartz Events catering.

His role is multi-faceted and providing continuity and oversight of sourcing is key — from dry and paper goods to perishable product, including a constant re-evaluation of how we can do better on quality and cost while serving Michael’s vision and culture.  It’s a tall order.  Part of this process is cultivating longstanding relationships with suppliers like Niman Ranch.  In follow up to September’s visit to Iowa for the Hog Farmer Appreciation Dinner, the team posted an interview with Brad we wanted to share here — a small but important way we can recognize the person behind hard work and dedication not always visible but essential to the function and spirit of our kitchens and hospitality at the table.  We appreciate how Brad to clearly explains why things are done in certain ways versus others.  Most importantly, we count on him for his pragmatic insight on what it means to be creative as a cook — and a photo bomb or two, especially when he’s the subject!

Q&A With Chef Bradley Herron
from The Niman Ranch Blog

Q: Where did you grow up?
Southern California

Q: What inspired you to become a chef?
It’s my only career choice. I started when I was 14 and liked the way things work in the restaurant – High energy, fast pace, different every day. So, when I was a senior in high school, I had three restaurant jobs and decided to go to culinary school at the California Le Cordon Bleu to become a chef.

At Osteria in Philly, celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Q: How did you hear about Niman Ranch?
Back in southern California, my first restaurant job used Niman Ranch beef and pork. When I came to Miami, it was a name that everyone knew and it resonated with customers. When you get product from Niman it’s always great.

Q: What inspired you to care about sustainably and humanely raised beef, pork and lamb and, in turn, support family farmers?
It’s the right move and kind of the norm now. It’s about our children and our children’s children. It’s easier to do now because there is a lot more awareness, especially in California. But the quality is better and you feel better about it because it’s something you believe in while helping farmers.

2010, Slow Food Miami’s Ark of Taste Dinner

Q: Do your customers care about where you source your ingredients? Why do you think this is the case?
Yes and no. We brought Niman Ranch into one of the cruise ships we consult for and no one seemed to care. In Miami at Michael’s Genuine, our farm to table restaurants, people ask. Our reputation is built on transparent sourcing and people trust us more. If you are in California, everyone asks!

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten?
I get asked that question often, but I don’t have that scripted yet. We’ve been on an 80% growth rate for the last few years and opening a lot more restaurants. I see myself being in a similar environment doing similar things. For me, if I don’t like something, I’m going to change it and do something else. But I like what I’m doing and I’m going to keep doing that.

Cooking in the back of ella for a pop up dinner in 2015.

Q: What is your most memorable experience with a Niman Ranch product?
It was recent. It was when I went to the hog farmer appreciation dinner in Des Moines. I went with Chef Michael Schwartz, and at the end of the dinner, I spoke in front of everyone – all 600 people, about the importance of what the farmers do and how they raise their animals with such care and compassion. The farm tour was great and I have a lot of special memories from that weekend.

2016, getting ready to open Fi’lia by Michael Schwartz in Miami.

Q: What person would you most like to cook for?
My grandma Nana, who is no longer around. When I was young, she was always there with me cooking. I was probably around three to four years old and I have memories of her and the food we made together.

Q: What did you have for dinner last night?
It was Monday, so every Monday, religiously, I have a whole roasted chicken with sweet potatoes and a salad. It’s a staple to start the work week and it’s good to have roast chicken in the fridge. My wife doesn’t cook so I set her up with a big batch of things like brown rice or roasted vegetables on Monday night. She can fend for herself when I’m in the restaurant all week.

Q: What is your favorite kitchen equipment or gadget?
The iPhone. There are so many ways that the iPhone has revolutionized cooking and everything in general. It’s an important tool nowadays. If you think about every dilemma you have in the kitchen, the iPhone can solve it. For me, if someone tells me to cook something that I’ve never cooked, I usually Google it and if you watch enough videos, you can be pretty good at cooking something the first time.

At Michael’s Genuine as TGHG executive chef.

Q: Are there any foods you don’t like?
Poorly made food. Anything can be good, but if something is poorly made, it’s always going to be bad.

Q: What do you love most about your job as a chef?
It’s hard to pick just one. I guess, being where I am now, I have a lot of younger, next generation cooks and chefs coming through the ranks. Teaching them and showing them the ropes is probably the most rewarding thing. We operate 10-11 restaurants and will open five more in the next six months, I’ve probably opened 22-23 restaurants in the last nine years. So, there are a lot of chefs and cooks that I work with. It’s a pretty cool thing to teach someone something and be able to look back and say, “I helped them do that.”

Q: If you were to open a new restaurant, what style of food would you pick?
Simple foods that change daily.

Q: If you weren’t a chef, what would you do for a living?
A farmer however cooking is all I know and all I want to do, so that’s hard.

Q: Most embarrassing cooking moment?
When I was first starting out, I think I was 15, I got a real restaurant job in a hotel with real chefs. One had me break down lobsters and asked if I knew how to do it. I didn’t, so he showed me in like 12 seconds, then he gave me 20 of them. He came back after 3 hours and I was still on the second one and it was completely butchered and a huge mess. That would probably be my most embarrassing cooking moment.

[Video] Gone Fishing for Florida Stone Crab Season

It all began with a hunt for a frog leg source in 2006 when Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink was a set of plans and dreams. Some 12 years later, fisherman George Figueroa of Trigger Seafood is Michael’s source for everything under the South Florida sun including these Everglades treats, from local spiny lobster to his company’s namesake triggerfish when we’re lucky.  Like most long lasting relationships, things grow and evolve.  You see each other when you can — sometimes more often than others, but it’s always like yesterday and there’s always an opportunity for a spontaneous adventure.  When George happened to be by the office last week to pick up a check, he asked if I wanted to join on the boat Sunday for the 2018 Florida Stone Crab season harvest.  Frog gigging?  Sure, Michael has donned the headlamp under full moonlight.  Wild boar hunting? He and culinary director Bradley Herron joined George on the swamp buggy.  But after all this time, it would be our first time pulling traps — and certainly not the last!

Unlike recreational opportunities, our fisherman has a commercially-regulated (for sustainability) license where he may legally harvest both claws — if they are legal in size and the crab continues to feed (as many frisky ones we encountered today without claws were doing in the traps.) The crabs’ natural predators in the bay including triggerfish, dolphin, turtles, and octopus actively prey on both clawed and clawless specimens. The reality is we encountered pilfered and stolen traps all day long, which is bad for everyone, especially the health of our fishery.

Stone Crab season is one of those give-ins. Not taken for granted but to a certain degree expected.  Nothing should ever be that way, and we are grateful to have had the opportunity to realize it through this past weekend’s experience.  George’s office is like that.  It appears to be a constant — the crystalline water of Biscayne Bay, the blue sky embracing its National Park, the delicious seafood.

Scratch the shimmer though, and the squalls, the tropical changes, the pirate’s-life-for-me blood coursing thick and hungry in all of us down in these wild parts rise to the surface.  That’s the thing about buried treasure.  It makes us all go a little crazy. Go rogue in the rush of discovery and payday in glorious sweet meat.  But what will you pull up?  Has someone gotten there, to your licensed traps, first? The unpredictability of it all runs deep, and that’s the object lesson we took away with our 65-pound claw haul. Protection and regulation can only do so much for our natural resources.  It takes a little more work than that.  It takes respect, and education even when it’s not always easy on the eyes is a fine place to start.

Thank you @jorge_trigger_seafood for showing us the #stonecrab ropes, sharing insight into the challenges of managing this fishery, and always telling it like it is. Keep it real and come along for the ride with us on the video above. When you enjoy some claws at MGFD or Amara at Paraiso there will be new meaning and respect to contemplate — how they got to the table and in some cases why they’re absent from it.

 

Bowled Over By Inspiration? For Chef Bradley Herron, It’s Right Under Your Nose.

Tuna Bowl, constructed.

Ever made a “garbage salad”?  The Genuine Hospitality Group’s Culinary Director Bradley Herron has.  Head scratch?  It’s not what you’re thinking.  Or maybe it is?

Perhaps you’ve had this moment, too, standing in front of a refrigerator looking for something good to eat and the landscape is bleak — a few lonely remains, a couple of scallions here and a half a lemon there, the bundle of parsley looking more like a bushel, and mismatched jars with innards haggard like the end of the DMV line.  It’s the look of resignation.  But this is not what everyone sees in what’s left on shelves or hidden in the pantry. If you’re Brad, you just need a stainless mixing bowl and boom! You are the envy of the office with special requests for lunch.

“Cleaning house.  It’s how we like to do things here over the course of a week, and it’s how the tuna bowl happened.” Brad explains to me on the line at Michael’s Genuine last Friday. “I saw this bag of wild rice sitting around waiting to die and thought about what we could make with it.  It starts with what you have, not always what you can order, and goes from there.  We can supplement with a few special things and make something really delicious. Cooking creatively is usually always about cooking smart.”

Vegetarian’s delight — Grain Bowl with sprouts, calabaza, radish, avocado, sambal

Lunch’s Tuna Bowl, and its Grain Bowl counterpart at dinner, snuck up on the menu over the past couple of weeks and have been a big hit at the office and in the dining room.  On Friday, fresh yellowfin came very finely chopped with seasonings including sambal, an Indonesian chile sauce we love for its intensity of flavor (mostly due to fish sauce).  The bowl is then constructed with a foundation of mixed grains including wild rice, red quinoa and farro onto which sliced cucumbers and radishes, nice looking hydroponic arugula, shaved white onions, bean sprouts and alfalfa, butter lettuce and a hulking half scoop of cubed avocado are packed. A favorite Vietnamese dressing, also fish sauce based, nuoc cham, is drizzled liberally.  Last week, the Tuna Bowl popped on Instagram with tail feathers of green and purple on display in baby fire sorrel.

“Yea, and it’ll have different things next week, too,” Brad continues.  “It’s a different way of looking at the recipe development process — maybe even backwards from the perspective of someone who is used to looking up recipes in a book and shopping for ingredients to conceive a menu.  But it makes for an efficient and creative kitchen, and there’s no reason why cross utilization shouldn’t apply to the home cook looking to eliminate waste and maximize flavor. Lots of cost savings, too.”

Teach a man to load the ingredient wall — left to right — from ripe, to ripening. This process brings back of house and front of house together to make the dining room stand for something (beautiful) and function properly for cooks in need of ingredients as the tickets come in.

What initially piqued my interested in Brad’s bowls was the idea of what makes for a good one. There is a formula, and it’s not how your corner “poke” shop does it DIY, a recipe for over doing it. Simplicity and restraint, sure, but really it’s about one thing — balance. At Michael’s Genuine it produces successful menus from the practicality and practice of cross utilization and is the essential notion all of our Genuine kitchens are built on. This is why the bowl canvas is so apt.  For our cooks, this idea informs the roadmap for every single dish.  It’s about the interplay of texture, color, flavor and temperature to create contrast and, if not thoughtfully considered, is what can make or break even a technically perfect one.

Look for more bowl variations to come, as well as what’s new for Miami Spice beginning August 1, posted daily @michaelsgenuine and where we now have a video of the tuna bowl assembly.

Bowls on fire at MGFD. What combo is up next?

An All American Summer at Michael’s Genuine® Begins with Burgers & Brats for Fourth of July Week & Miami Spice

Lychees arrived and mangos are beginning to hit now, but the true sign of summer is when monster calabaza of all shapes, sizes and coats of paint roll in, a jaunty color guard roll for Michael’s Genuine ingredient wall.  Well, they’re here, and so are two opportunities to take advantage of the season at our flagship: Fourth of July Week specials and Miami Spice.

Jaunty alright.

Burgers & Brats for Fourth of July Week — From Monday, July 2 to Sunday, July 8 for lunch and dinner only, Chef de Cuisine Tim Piazza is bringing back his cheeseburger of 2017 National Burger Month fame and adding a dog companion.  The All American Double Cheeseburger includes 2, 4oz patties, American cheese, bacon, shredded lettuce, sliced tomato and pickles on a Martin’s potato roll for $22.  In the dog department we have Bratwurst with sauerkraut and mustard on a Martin’s potato bun for $16 with choice or fries or greens.  At dinner, it’s plated with grilled sourdough.  We fancy.

Miami Spice — From August 1 to September 30, enjoy weekly-changing 3-course prix fixe menus. MGFD will offer lunch for $23 Monday through Thursday and dinner for $39 Sunday through Thursday, including supplements from our regular menu at special prices for those who partake in this annual city-driven restaurant promotion. Highlights include Crispy Okra with pimento cheese, Steak Salad with kimchi, butter lettuce and peanuts, and Marinated Cherry Tartine with roasted shallot, fresh ricotta and thyme. For lunch, it’s really just about the return of the Falafel Wrap. Having gone down the Instagram rabbit hole to no avail, we take solace in beholding her soon once again for all the world to see and enjoy.

 

Fairytale Eggplant & the Novel of South Florida’s Growing Season Charms

Beautiful Fairytale Eggplant from Mother Earth Miami

Michael’s Genuine® chef de cuisine Tim Piazza has his hands in a box of artichokes.  Peeling them, especially baby ones, is not exactly a stimulating activity, but Tim is wearing one of his wide-eyed smiles, the one that makes him look a little crazy.  Spring is here, and he is clearly in the zone.

“Last night Mother Earth harvested like 50 pounds of greens in the dark with little headlights, because that’s the best time to harvest greens — at night when the temperature cools down,” Tim explains.  “Katia just grows like the nicest, coolest stuff.”

Mother Earth Miami, sprouting from Litter River Cooperative’s Farmer Incubator Program, is a new source for us this season, with Tim bringing in vegetables and greens like turnip, carrot, spigariello kale and fairytale eggplant. This kind of organic growth in the local farming community is a definite reason to get excited. And to make Eggplant Tomato Curry.

IMG_4475

Eggplant Tomato Curry

The combination of Indian spices and local ingredients has proven to be a hit, maximizing the flavor potential of a curry.  Roasted eggplant is sautéed with cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, coriander, cumin, black pepper, lemon pepper, fenugreek, and fennel seed, served at room temperature with lightly-marinated chickpeas, some cilantro and a freshly-made cucumber raita served with a side of fresh pita.

“It’s cool to work with people who care about what they’re doing and are trying new things,” Tim continues. “Getting good ingredients helps us elevate the simplicity of what we do and these relationships are essential to the process.”

Katia last year at a pre-opening wine tasting for staff at Amara.

Ms. Bechara, a wine rep by trade raised in Colombia found she had a green thumb and founded Mother Earth Miami in November 2015.  The move began in her backyard after participating in various small farmer workshops with experienced leaders like Margie Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm in Homestead and John Gentzel of J&P Apiary.

“It was the best canvas for my budding farming career,” says Bechara of her impromptu home project.

She volunteered for urban farmer Muriel Olivares in 2013, to learn the ropes from one of the best who started small.  Olivares chose her last spring to participate in the incubator. Designed to educate and give urban farmers starting out that extra boost for success, it provides them with a plot of land and shared farm tools, as well as classes.  It’s the ultimate small business resource when you deal in seeds and soil.

“I consider Muriel, and Tiffany Noe, my mentors,” says Bechara.

image5-1

Gabi (left) and Katia working together

Her current business partner and friend, Gabi Serra, was a plot neighbor in the program.  Born and raised in Venezuela, Serra’s focus on the herbalism side of farming brings great balance to Mother Earth’s proposition. They also grow edible flowers, herbs, and medicinals like calendula, nasturtiums, and moringa.

“Gabi and I love working together and we have so many aspirations to help the Miami community,” say Berchara.

At its peak, South Florida’s growing season always brings fresh, local ingredients to our doorstep thanks to new farms like Mother Earth.  Their passion is contagious and brings new ideas to the kitchen.   But it’s the mainstays that keep the flagship humming.  With its 11th anniversary this week, Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink continues to be the nucleus of activity for seasonal change, a north star for our restaurant group, setting the tone and the bar for our chefs. If you want to get a taste of what’s happening now in the fields and who is growing what you’re eating, you need look no further that Tim’s menu.

“So it’s really coming in now from everywhere… the tomatoes from Borek are obviously a big thing for us. The run is pretty long from the end of last year but they’re peaking right now, along with the kale and eggplant,” he says. “With a restaurant that moves so much, we have to stay on our toes and utilize the farm products we order in many different ways you know; in a pasta, on a pizza, with a salad, maybe showcase it in a dish of its own like we are doing with the eggplant.”

There’s always a method to the madness. But that madness is familiar to those in our line of work.

IMG_4483

Tomatoes from Teena’s Pride

Working with farmers is an ever-changing, ongoing process that he’s constantly adapting to. He’s currently working with 5 or 6 farms, with familiar names such as Michael Borek’s Teena’s Pride, who we receive beautiful heirloom tomatoes from, amongst other things, every season.

When asked what he was most excited to work with ingredient-wise this season, he simply shrugged with a baffled look on his face.  Always working with what he receives and changing things up, or using standard products in new ways — it is hard for him to narrow it down.

“As a chef, you are excited about everything.”