Love & Learn | MJ’s Seasonally Sweet & Relentlessly Prolific Pastry Program

Snapshot of now via #MGFDpastry

Snapshot of now via #MGFDpastry on Instagram. They’ve been busy.

MJ spending some stage time with master baker Tomas Strulovic.

MJ being a sponge for all things bakery, staging with True Loaf’s Tomas Strulovic.

There’s no “i” in pastry, and Maria Jose “MJ” Garcia will be the first one to tell you.  We last checked in with our pastry chef at Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink to learn about her department’s regular role in the ella display case — namely the café’s daily donut.  Today’s angle zooms out to capture the scope of what’s going on these days at Michael’s Genuine (a lot), and how — in addition to the invaluable supportive role it plays within our growing organization — pastry is driving much of the research and development in our flagship kitchen.

MJ maintains that to become really good at what you do, you have to have really good team that works hard together to grow, referring to the chemistry and commitment of pastry assistants Alexandra Sarria (lead) and Chelsea Hillier, with their support staff.  “We can always get 10 times better, as we mature as cooks,” she explains. “But these girls have challenged themselves really hard and trusted me with their careers. They have the foundation; they respect their roots and sometimes that’s all you need.”

Always learn

Always learning new techniques (for our benefit! Thanks MJ!)

You first need to know that MJ grew up in kitchens — her father owned eight restaurants from Venezuela to Miami — so it became a place where she felt most comfortable.  The family is originally from Galicia, Spain and spending several months out of the year abroad in her youth set MJ on a path where travel and the experience of other cultures, especially the European way of life, played a formative role.  She studied philosophy and then started teaching, saving to pay her way through culinary school, her ultimate passion. It would propel her to the U.S. from Venezuela in search of the level of gastronomy and environment necessary to develop her craft and gain experience working for the best.

Moving to Miami in 2010, MJ enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu and began researching local restaurants and chefs. Self described as “obsessive” when it comes to details, she was drawn to pastry because of the precision and technique it requires. “I had more confidence, enjoyed the control of flavors and understood the chemistry,” she explains. “The different components and how they interact and work together is so specific as compared to the culinary part of the kitchen.”

She had heard of Michael Schwartz, his pioneering style of food focused around local ingredients in season at flagship neighborhood bistro Michael’s Genuine.  So MJ just decided one day to show up on the restaurant’s doorstep, and it paid off.  She would do anything to be in that kitchen and ended up staying on as an intern for six months under the guidance of then acclaimed James Beard nominated pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith. In fact, she completed another internship, this time the one she needed for school credit, at South Beach’s Raleigh Hotel.

Looking back on her influences and how they shape her approach today, MJ contends the simple, traditional desserts that she experienced in Spain, Italy and France — those born from recipes perfected over time — are her benchmark as a pastry chef.  MJ thinks and develops desserts in terms of “food flow”,  how she describes cooking with the seasons, that biological clock that makes so many food cultures across Europe tick.  She also wants the sweets developed for the menu to be delicate, just sweet enough and most importantly not over-complicated.  Her dad was the kind of person who would drive miles to get the perfect bread.  She recognized and admired that in Michael and also early on in the Michael’s Genuine kitchen under then chef de cuisine Bradley Herron — the importance of sourcing — to look for quality or the person who does it the best.  “We just want to do one thing well with each dessert using good quality ingredients — not a lot of things and not over the top.”

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Miami winter on a plate: Almond Absinthe Cake from January 5, 2016

She points to Almond Absinthe Cake with Florida strawberries and tangerine curd, a dessert that went on last winter as encapsulating her approach.  “It respects seasonality of South Florida with freshness, combined with this nut flour-based cake which is traditional to the region where my dad is from. And a subtle hint of sweet licorice flavor reminds me of my teenage years!”

The seasons also perform another function for Genuine pastry — creating a feeder system and momentum for new menu items.  There’s a lot of planning that goes into the process, about a month ahead, sometimes more. She’ll get the team together to sit down and talk about what’s coming in, sharing ideas and then testing them, putting things out as specials to see what’s working and what’s not in the dining room. Big seasonal crops for South Florida – like citrus for instance – are long and abundant, so MJ particularly flags this annual challenge in advance as an opportunity to keep things interesting. “We can’t enter a season guessing,” she asserts.

Vegetarian ice cream! Vanilla Kulfi with citrus, ginger, rosewater and pistachios

Vegetarian ice cream as beautiful to eat as it is to look at! Vanilla Kulfi with citrus, ginger, rosewater and pistachios, from March.

mgfd-new-dessert-sectionsAs for her style, she’s always followed her instincts, an approach that has proved fruitful in life and in the kitchen with her husband and chef de cuisine at Cypress Tavern, Max Makowski.  “As a chef, you have a passport to do whatever you want and seek out new opportunities to learn.”  They’ve never been afraid of change and taking chances, following their guts to learn whether it be in Seattle or Denver, where MJ moved for two years before returning to Genuine in her current position. They decided to get to married and Max had established himself in the Rocky Mountain capital as a Sous Chef.  Then their curious, inquisitive and beautiful daughter Mia arrived (now two years old and very patient of Mom’s phone interview time!)  MJ was ready to try something different and found it in a vegan bakery. “It’s one more step of thought process,” she explains.  “Interchanging dairy elements that work in pastry for something vegan that behaves in the same way… That was interesting to me. You just have to work out the puzzle.”

Stay updated on the latest specials at the #MGFDpastry feed, and click here for the dessert menu.  We dare you to find a repeat in the mosaics above!

MGFD Brunch at 5 Years | Homage to Hedy’s Sweets

Five years ago, a typical Sunday morning at Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink (“MGFD”) was a time for our chefs to prepare for the evening service and plan for the upcoming week, quietly without distraction. But then October 25, 2009 rolled around and Sundays were never the same again. Today, once 11:00am hits the clock, MGFD is a vibrant and colorful scene of savory and sweet. Tables are adorned with a variety of small plates mingling with cocktails, wines, and beers at once. It is a playful and nostalgic affair, a frenzy of energy and creativity, and Hedy and Michael would not have it any other way.

Hedy explains that when Michael developed Brunch at MGFD, he wanted a different concept, where guests could enjoy a number of different plates, without any set rules. “It is whatever you feel like…”  It was a hit out of the gate, attracting the attention of then New York Times food critic Frank Bruni and has evolved into more than we ever could have imagined — a fun and interactive meal stretching the imagination of both our customers and our team in the restaurant that puts it together each week. We’ll cover the savory side of the menu next, but today we begin in keeping with Hedy’s mantra: “Eat dessert first!”

At the top of the Sweets section appear Hedy’s Childhood Treats. These items are meant to bring back childhood memories and can often be found in Hedy’s cookbook, Baking Out Loud: Fun Desserts with Big Flavors. Items like overstuffed o’s, s’mores and chocolate caramel peanut bars show the playfulness and accessibility of the menu. As much as they attract children, they are meant for big kids, us. Because Hedy’s goal was to bring out the “oohs and aahs” out of us, and boy does she!

The remainder of the menu will leave you equally flabbergasted. The classics such as the pop t’s — which are Hedy’s take on the still relevant as ever original, on-the-go handheld breakfast pie — and the sticky bun, have new flavors weekly. They are in short, a grow-up version of your old time favorites. By grown- up, we mean improved of course. Exponential improvement. Some dishes are too bold to fathom, like the tequila watermelon-popsicle, or the macaron ice cream sandwich, or the peanut butter pie in a jar overflowing with caramel. Literally overflowing. Ugh! Hedy dares to play with both savory and sweet in general, particularly in her sticky buns, such as the bacon, cream cheese and peanut butter sticky bun. It leaves you to lick you fingers shamelessly at the table and turn an average Sunday morning meal, into your most anticipated moment of the week. Seriously. Some guests join us religiously for brunch and Hedy’s sweets are one of the reasons why they are committed to our brunchbell. Yes that’s what we call it!

Why the obsession? Our pastry team bakes with heart. Hedy and her associates change the Sweets menu in its entirety, weekly, with updates reflected on the michaelsgenuine.com website by crack of dawn Sunday. Although some preparation may be made in advance, or mise en place, all sweets are baked on Sunday morning. Hedy shares, “ I like to keep challenging myself, have fun and inspire my team. I don’t take myself too seriously and want to keep it playful”. That passion is evident from the choice of items on the menu, but most importantly the flavors. Hedy values multi dimensional dishes, especially with the desserts. She would hate for a guest to merely have two bites, which is why she plays with savory for balance. In her iconic and ever evolving cookie, junk in-da-trunk ®, for example, Hedy mixes cookie dough with pretzels, potato chips, peanut butter, and candy bars, but tops it with sea salt, “… to give your taste buds a break”, she reveals. This is a sweet marathon, not a race!

Hedy likes to inspire, but is also inspired by her energetic team, including Devin Braddock, who takes great pride in spearheading putting out the #brunchbell under the direction of pastry Sous-Chef, Patty Lopez. Devin also enjoys playing with the line between sweet and savory, such as hot pepper jam, and she loves our brunch’s core idea, nostalgia. Preparation for brunch sweets begins as early as Monday, when the team assembles a rough draft of the menu, which evolves during the week. It is the perfect opportunity for originality to emerge. And as the week develops, each dish “…molds into something more beautiful and more creative”, making brunch equally exciting for Devin and for you. The A team also includes Dallas Wynne, a Harry’s Pizzeria alum.

Brunch at MGFD comes together due to the participation of the entire team. Pastry helps the savory side by making a crumpet batter, while the servers, managers and support staff review the logistics for an effective brunch. It is a tough service to tackle, but quite a fun one. It can also be a friendly competition between sweet and savory, as Sous-Chef, Jason Arroyo, crosses the boundaries with a savory French toast for example; whereas Head Line Cook, Manuel Arredondo, brings out his own creativity to mirror Devin’s bold dishes, with maple bacon pancakes. If you haven’t experienced this underrated game yet, hustle because the bell rings at 11:00am every Sunday, and as of October 12, lasts until 3:00pm.

[RECIPE] Sweet Summer Sundaes Using Perfect Peaches

Ella Schwartz joins us this summer for three weeks as brand intern. She’ll be a senior at Ransom Everglades in the fall, rows crew and studies photography. Follow her on Instagram @ellaschwartzz and stay glued to our company handles where she’ll also be contributing during her stay with us. IMG_8932 Summer is here. The sun is shining and the heat is unbearably hot. But worry no more! You’re not the only one who will roast this season. The Roasted Peach Sundae combines fresh, juicy peaches with creamy yogurt sherbet and crunchy oatmeal pecan streusel, while keeping it light and sweet for these hot summer days. I went behind the scenes at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, where this delicious summer sweet is new to our dessert menu, to find out how it’s made. 10:30 | The kitchen was bustling with excitement. I walk to the pastry station where spices are stacked high and the Kitchen Aid is spinning rigorously. “Step into my office,” pastry chef Patty Lopez jokes as she turns off the mixer and brings what looks and smells like a delicious granola to her counter. As she chops pecans to add into the granola looking mixture, which I soon find out is oatmeal pecan streusel, she explains the elements of the sundae: the star of the show — the peaches, the light yet creamy sherbet, and the crunchy, nutty streusel. The key to roasting perfect peaches, I learn, is to make sure they are firm and not yet ripe. This way, they don’t fall apart when you roast them and they retain their freshness. But under-ripe peaches are not the only measure taken to ensure the firmness of the peach. Patty carefully pits the fruit with a melon baller and is cautious to provide minimum bruising. She also warns to only place the peaches into the sugar and spice mixture right before putting them in the oven. If not, the sugars will make the peaches mushy, a word banned from this recipe’s vocabulary. Only a short minute after putting them into the blazing hot wood-burning oven, I start to see the skin char and blacken under the flames. Out of the oven. Flip. Wine to deglaze. Back into the oven. The tops of the peaches bubble uncontrollably as I look into the fire, wide eyed. Out of the oven. The peaches are removed from the pan immediately to stop cooking and then cut into beautifully-charred quarters. I know what you’re thinking. What happens to that beautiful, flavorful peachy wine reduction leftover?! Into the oven once more for a couple minutes, and it becomes a ooey gooey caramel to end this dessert right. The streusel is also baked in the hearth and broken up into just the right sized crumbles to begin the assembly of this highly anticipated sundae. Streusel, then ice cream, peach quarter, ice cream, peach quarter, streusel, caramel, basil to garnish. 11:30 | “It’s all yours,” Patty says. As I take a bite my dreams come true. It’s perfectly perfect. The yogurt sherbet keeps it light, while still adding a creamy aspect, reminding me of peaches and cream. The streusel’s crunch is perfect and the nuts go perfectly with the peaches. The honey adds just enough sweetness while the char on the peach isn’t overwhelming but just right. The peach is still firm yet soft and tender. All I can say is, peach perfection in a bowl.

 Roasted Peach Sundae
serves 8

4 peaches halved and pitted
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
¾ cup dry white wine
1 quart Yogurt Sherbet (see recipe below)
3 cups Oatmeal Pecan Streusel (see recipe below)

Pre-heat oven to 450° F.

Mix sugars and spices in a half hotel pan or baking dish. Spread along the bottom of the pan evenly and place peaches cut side down in the sugar. Place in oven for 3-4 minutes, or until the skin of the peach starts to lightly char. Pull out and deglaze the sugars with the dry white wine. Flip the peaches and spoon the liquid over the tops, then place back in the oven and allow to roast for another 3-4 minutes, or until the tops are bubbling. The peaches should be soft on the outside, but firm on the inside. Remove from the pan to cool on a platter. Cut each half in half. Assemble sundae alternating two peach quarters, two scoops of yogurt sherbet, and a handful of streusel.

Yogurt Sherbet

yields 1 quart

2 cups greek yogurt
½ cup simple syrup
¼ cup lemon juice
1 ½ cups honey
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon vanilla paste

Whisk all of your ingredients together in a large bowl and churn in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions or until the churned product resembles a frozen yogurt. Store in airtight container in the freezer.

Oatmeal Pecan Streusel

yields 3 cups

1 cup oats
½ cup whole-wheat flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup chopped pecans
3 ounces cold butter

Preheat oven to 350° F.

In a medium bowl combine oats, flours, sugars, cinnamon, and pecans. Using your hands, work the butter into the dry mix, pinching with your fingers until the mixture is crumbly. Lay out on a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Crumble finished streusel and store in a cool dry place. Keeps for about a week.