Ghee Whiz, It’s Niven’s Rancho Patel Pizzeria Menu!

December is upon us which means two weeks from today Rancho Patel Pizzeria pops at Harry’s in the Design District.   Chef de cuisine Niven Patel of Michael’s Genuine is pulling out all the stops for his dinner including featuring his backyard harvest for this menu, which we’re sharing first now here.  One look at @chefniven’s Instagram feed, and it’s clearer than a misty Homestead farm morning that the freshest, and likely first locally-sourced Indian meal you’ve probably ever had is in store.

Rancho Patel Pizzeria

“It’s going to be awesome. I am so pumped!” says Niven. “When we cook at home we don’t really think of it this way, but a fresh approach to Indian food is kind of a game changer.  It’s perfect timing.  I’ll have a lot of stuff that will be ready for the dinner!  We’ll be picking chard, purple pac choi, carrots, turmeric, ginger and eight ball squash, to name a few!”

Book your ticket to Rancho Patel Pizzeria now here before we sell out! Tuesday, December 15 at 7:00 p.m. Niven’s evening unfolds with welcome cocktail, passed snacks, four courses including dessert, and some Eric Larkee beverage selections to mix and match or stick with all night. Tax and gratuity, and that special brand of Niven hospitality are included for $110,  with a jar of homemade ghee to take home. What holiday treat!

Responsible for the kitchen at Michael’s flagship restaurant, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink going on 3 years, Niven is a genuine chef at heart. His approach to Rancho Patel Pizzeria is to share his uniquely fresh take on authentic Indian cuisine from his home in Homestead and family traditions.

Field Report: A Spring Farm Run in The Redland

On Sundays and Wednesdays at 9:00AM an email is sent out to some of the best chefs and produce junkies in Miami.  I was lucky it was a Wednesday when I found myself poking around the walk-in cooler at Farm to Kitchen HQ.  While owner Chris Padin finished up the morning’s transmission, I became acquainted with the fridge, a snapshot of spring’s arrival in South Florida.  There were passion fruit the size of ostrich eggs, a box of rosy-rooted watermelon radishes and a crate of bright green sapote, the kind of gems that conceal the real treasures just beneath their skins — sweet tart seeds jeweled bright orange, pink and green rings to make even Saturn jealous, and sweet flesh tasting of chocolate custard with the color and texture to match.  Mesmerizing.  Losing the feeling in my fingers was my cue to exit.

Chris had just hit send as he explained, “I update the email blast twice a week. It lists the farms, their products, price and classification. Then, the chefs have about a day to call me with their orders.” I peeked and counted about 10 farms with a long list of veggies, dairy products, greens, herbs and fruits.  Chris and partner Aleli Lauria-Padin operate Farm to Kitchen, and I think they have the best jobs on planet Earth. Picking up the good stuff from all over South Florida and dropping it to some of the best restaurants in Miami.  Currently, Farm to Kitchen works with 12 – 15 farms and supplies about 30 restaurants.  Both numbers are steadily growing branching out from Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink to all the TGHG restaurants including The Cypress Room, Harry’s Pizzeria and Restaurant Michael Schwartz.  The couple is careful to expand at the right pace with the right people, and now includes some familiar names as well as new kids on the block from Eating House, 27 Restaurant and Vagabond, to Proper Sausages and Fooq’s.  But today was about the farms, five farms to be exact: Verde Gardens, Teena’s Pride, Knaus Berry, Corona and Bee Heaven all in Homestead — a world away from our home in the Design District.

On the 40 or so minute ride down, we passed farm after farm, but not the type I was expecting.  Fields of palm trees, hedges, and other ornamentals, all neatly arranged in rows fanned out beside us.  These landscaping nurseries were all cool to look at, but, as Chris was quick to remind me, they all could be growing food instead.  Our first stop was Verde Gardens, a 22-acre farm staffed and operated through the Urban Oasis Project whose goal it is to teach formerly homeless families how to run a farm. Every available patch of green is utilized. Chris and I walked through two of the largest plots, and I listened intently as he rattled off the names of all the greens and herbs. We stopped at some for a closer look. I was stuck on the rainbow chard and its richer than rich reds, yellows and oranges. Chris suggested that we take a look at Verde Gardens’ tropical fruits tucked away behind a barn, and sure enough, my mind was blown. A giant banana flower hung inconspicuously in the sky. It was about the size of a football. I had never seen such a thing! As far as I was concerned, bananas grew on trees and were yellow, sometimes green. But this flower, and flowers like it in various stages of growth, were completely exotic to me. On our way out, I met Chuck, one of the farm managers. Chris and Chuck started talking about orders, the impending close to the season and loquats. I quickly Googled ‘loquats’ – but more on that later…

Next up, Teena’s Pride. One thing I noticed, everything is bigger at Teena’s. The Borek family has been operating this 500-acre farm for many generations. There are tomatoes as far as they eye can see, and then some. Every kind of heritage and heirloom tomato occupy rows at least a mile long. While Chris and I were inspecting some pancake-sized nasturtiums, Chef Niven called. He wanted an update on the tomato ‘situation,’ and Chris filled him in, reporting that “they have lots of greens, and there are a few cases with some great color on ‘em, good variety.” And it was done. Chris ordered 30 cases for Niven to be delivered the next morning. There are tomatoes growing in fields and in greenhouses; there are tomatoes on giant trays with their own irrigation system and growing in cooling houses. These tomatoes could survive the apocalypse. Having all this space allows Teena’s to test out crops. They had a few new heirloom varieties in the grow house, Chris explains, “if they make it in the grow house, and people like the taste, then they get moved to the fields and from there to Niven at the restaurant.”

Unlike the other farms, Knaus Berry Farms was busy entertaining the public – and on a Wednesday morning!  We walked into a market area with signs for milk shakes, strawberries, cinnabuns and veggies. There were loads of people walking up and down the u-pick aisles outside. KBF has strawberries for miles, and, as we were told inside, that wasn’t even half of their crop. This place has a cult following, and I’m the newest recruit. The strawberries sat in perfect rows, peeping out from the white plastic sheeting, there to protect them. They are plump, perfectly ripe and bright red. As Chris and I were leaving, we met by the Bald Baker, Thomas Blocher, who runs the bakery at KBF and supervises the creation of hundreds of trays of cinnabuns every day. He recently started blending his own coffee, deftly called “Bald Baker’s Blend”– which we sampled. It is delicious! Chef de cuisine Danny Ramirez is taking the Harry’s Pizzeria kitchen crew on a field trip to Knaus later this month, so more on them to come.

We had to pick up some sugarcane for our booth at the Sprung! event Harry’s and Michael’s Genuine Home Brew participated in last weekend, so Chris and I rode over to Corona Farms / Martha’s U-Pick. Right off of Krome Avenue is this perfectly self-contained stand offering some of the best Southern Hospitality I’ve seen in South Florida since moving here from Charleston, South Carolina. Within moments of our arrival, Chris handed me a coconut with a straw poking out of it. I look up to see him hacking away at another coconut with a machete. A tiny puppy roams around like he owns the place, and he’s got it made. There are bananas on display and every color pepper you could imagine. This stand had bins of tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and a variety of lettuces. The whole place is electrified with color. If you look out behind the stand, you can see the farm, completely green and lush with a sugarcane perimeter. Not only was this convenient, but incredibly beautiful.

Bee Haven Farm was like a secret garden. As we wove our way through tropical trees, Chris plucked leaves and greens for me to try. He crumbled up an allspice leaf in his hands and told me to sniff.  The smell was biting! We walked up to a few rows and Chris stopped me from going any further, as he pointed to the sign ‘BEES AT WORK.’ I saw about 10 filing boxes stacked on top of each other. Yup, they were filled with bees. There were also a few loose chickens wandering around, and more in little coops strategically placed around the farm. Permaculture is a theory of farming that makes full use of all the benefits the crops have to offer. Here was permaculture at work: The chickens graze and provide manure, while the bees pollinate and bounce from plant to plant. The farmers rotate the crops, moving certain flowers to attract different bugs and monitor growing rates. Hidden in this hide away oasis, we found pencil mulberries, black tomatoes, tamarind and loquats.

 

Loquats at Bee Haven Farm

Loquats at Bee Haven Farm

Loquats are a fruit native to the East, often called a Chinese plum or Japanese plum. They are high in sugar and acid and are commonly used to make jam. These new crops are always exciting for the farmers and for Chris, as well. He thinks these would be a big hit for the Farm to Kitchen Buying Club. Every Saturday, people like Jackie trek up to 54th Street to the Farm to Kitchen warehouse to pick up their boxes of fruits, veggies and greens. You can sign up at ali@farmtokitchenmiami.com. Each week, FTK compiles small ($35), medium ($45), large ($55) and extra large ($75) boxes of goodies for families to cook with at home. FTK also offers great add-ons, like chicken and duck eggs, raw local goat’s milk, and avocado honey. The FTK Buying Club was created to soothe frustrated chefs. On his deliveries, Chris had encountered so many chefs who got great produce in the restaurants and yet cooked with lesser products at home. So, Chis started delivering personalized boxes of produce to the chefs with their regular deliveries. When Chris and Ali cook at home, they use ingredients from the farms and their garden, so they believed that if better products were available — more families would want to cook with these great ingredients too.  The Farm to Kitchen Buying Club was born. Now, you can see Chris & Ali every Saturday when you pick up your box of goodies and enjoy the freshest, local ingredients Florida has to offer. Thank you Chris & Farm to Kitchen!  For up-to-date information on our go-to food sources for the restaurants visit our Sourcing pages.

Thank you Chris, Ali, Verde Gardens, Teena's Pride, Knaus Berry Farms, Corona Farms and Bee Haven Farms!

Thank you Chris, Ali, Verde Gardens, Teena’s Pride, Knaus Berry Farms, Corona Farms and Bee Haven Farm!

 

Perennial Favorite: Farmer Michael Borek and The Cypress Room Tackle the Raring-to-Go Everglades Tomato

Everglades Tomato_Borek

IT’S A JUNGLE OUT THERE: Everglades tomatoes on the vine at Teena’s Pride, Homestead, FL.

Slow Food Miami’s Ark of Taste Benefit Dinner nominates a new ingredient each year to the organization’s national catalog of over 200 delicious foods in danger of extinction – threatened by industrial standardization, the regulations of large-scale distribution and environmental damage. This year The Cypress Room is representing The Genuine Hospitality Group to celebrate a fruit close to our hearts.  Just when we thought we’d seen every tomato possible, enter one that grows wild in our own backyard — the Everglades tomato — ripe for the picking thanks to the efforts of Teena’s Pride in Homestead to grow them.  The farm raised the seminole pumpkin of 2011’s Ark of Taste dinner.

“Deciding to do the event in January this year was key so we could embrace our main growing season down here, especially since tomatoes are at their peak.” Michael says.  “Tomatoes have always been really important and special to us at the restaurants. As a chef it’s fun to have a new heirloom variety to work with, and I think, like usual, Michael Borek was happy for the challenge of growing something new, as well!” Continue reading

Follow the Forager: Growing Season Forecast is Bright on South Florida Farms with Chris Padin & His New Farm-to-Kitchen Instagram

photo-10What’s better than having a forager? A forager who uses Instagram!  That’s what we are lucky enough to have, now that Chris Padin has added an account for Farm to Kitchen, his small local product distribution business.  We rely on Chris for amazing eggs, beets, heirloom tomatoes, and more found on his twice-weekly, morning Homestead farm runs and then delivered those same afternoons to our chefs’ doorsteps in the Design District. This turn around is so fast and so fresh, that sometimes product hasn’t been out of the ground more than 5 hours before it shows up on our plates.  As you can see, Chris is off to a prolific start, as is the growing season:

[The crazy weather] actually worked in our favor. The cool nights and hot days speed up the process on a lot of things.  All of the growers are very happy. It seems like it will be a great season. [With the Instagram] I’m trying to let everyone know where all of their product is coming from.

Most of the farms pictured below, and their products, should be familiar to those of you who read the blog and know our menus well, except for maybe one.  You may recall Green Dean Richardson’s snake gourds from back in the day, but it’s been a while since we ordered from him. Chris reconnected with Dean yesterday, and says he is very enthusiastic about his crop this year, and that he is thrilled that we reached out to him. Look for Dean’s mustard greens, mixed basil tops, swiss chard, and mixed radishes to show up on the menu soon.  Who knew Chris such a great eye for photography, too?  It’s going to be a great season!

A Winter Grove in Central Park

The place to be on a cool winter's afternoon.

Right now you’re thinking Central Park is the last place you’d want to be today. A frost-bitten landscape of white, studded black with bare branches trembling in winter’s icy exhale.  Well it’s Day 3 of our Eastern Caribbean sailing aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, and our seaside doppelganger of this New York icon is awash in sunlight at 75 F, with butterflies surfing a heady breeze from the north northeast.  Preparing for tonight’s dinner service at 150 Central Park where the Winter Grove menu is in full swing, Michael is with Jamie and his cooks Conmelia, Feng, Adrian, and Sadeki in the galley, with its own sunshine from Michael Borek’s heirloom tomatoes, ripe and running with juices.  Chef sliced up some for the servers to taste, just like he would do for the front of house at MGFD.

Getting to know 'looms...

Just some flakes of Maldon sea salt, a sprinkle of freshly-cracked black pepper, and of course a glistening pool of  Lucini Italia extra-virgin olive oil.   It’s the only way to try a tomato this good and to really understand the freshness of the product and why we are making a point to source from south Florida farms.  These heirlooms will become a silky tomato-bread soup with a grilled fontina cheese and short rib sandwich resting in the middle, making croutons everywhere cower in inadequacy!  It’s my favorite dish of Winter Grove which also includes Borek’s spring onions, baby vegetables like patty pan squash and heirloom carrots; Swank Farms radishes, arugula and beets with their greens; and even Guinness with dessert – a decadent chocolate caramel tart – from wine genius (and director) Eric Larkee.  We hope he recovers just as famously as this pairing from his cold and joins the ship tomorrow when we port in Saint Thomas. In the meantime, please enjoy my photos posted here from the past few days of being onboard and observing the chefs pull together and train the staff on this first menu.  Our next report will be on the Shade House menu which transitions on Wednesday, in motion picture format like the first Officer’s Log I did with Jamie for Greenhouse, one of our fall season menus.