It’s good for you, I promise!

Alright, for those of you that have been following this fledgling journey thus far, this will be a bit of a departure. I am actually out of difficult customers for the time being about whom to bitch. But don’t fret, I’m certain they are just around the corner waiting for me to put down my guard. This entry is going to be a bit more informative. Call it soul searching  if you like. I’ll be dancing back and forth a bit between what I prepare for you to enjoy in the restaurant and what I feed (or rather fed) my own big ass to achieve the splendid form I sport about from day-to-day.

The idea came to me one day this week while enjoying my fourth day in a row of ritual beatings from my trainer Nate at Bally’s. You see my friend Nate, muscle-bound, mean little, 7% body fat having muppet that he is, loves to dole out a fabulous beating at least four times a week on my pudgy sad form. Truth be told, Nate is the only person, trainer or otherwise, that has been able to inspire me to stick to three solid months of hardcore workouts. I fuckin’ hate him. Actually, that’s not true either, he is, for all intents and purposes, a great guy that is saving my life. Enough about Nate and Bally’s. (at least until they sign on as an advertiser) This blog entry is about food, the food we all consume everyday. You see, I have countless guests each week that are concerned about the calorie content or preparation of a dish not to mention it’s sodium, carb and fat content. I am always happy to discuss these things with them.

Opening up a dialogue always seems to be the best way to put people at ease. I have always had the gift of being able to speak with authority on subjects about which I have a great deal of knowledge. The problem is I also have the gift of speaking with the same authority on subjects about which I know NOTHING. Now there is, on occasion, a subject brought to the table about which I know everything, I am simply the authority. To be clear, there is but one such subject and that is my restaurant and its cuisine. The hitch in the giddy-up is when I am asked about nutrition content on said cuisine. Don’t get me wrong, I do in fact, know all there is to know about every aspect of the food that comes from my kitchen. I purchase it, I receive it, I supervise the preparation and it comes through either mine or my Chef de Cuisine’s hands before reaching your table. About this there can be no debate. The question is….why am I so fucking fat!??!

If you know so much about cuisine and nutrition why have you not followed your own advice you might wonder. Well the short answer is, as my old man used to say to me, “Do as I say not as I do!”  This quote is in bold print for a reason. If you knew the old man you would not question the reason. You would simply do what I did. Say “okay Pops” and then under your breath say “You’re a dick with ears, what the hell do you know?”  ‘WHAT DID YOU SAY?!” “Nothing Dad….”  As it turns out he was correct about my eating habits. Still a dick with ears, but correct. The facts are that  my menu is not largely organic nor is it low-fat or low carb for that matter. It is however, tasty on every level. I am not claiming to be a health spa. I can however, promise this, everything on the menu is prepared from scratch and with great care to achieve balance not only in flavor but in nutrition.

I saw a segment on the WGN news this week that featured fair food. The new big seller in the south is deep-fried butter on a stick. Are you kidding me? Now it is clear from seeing and talking with me that my body has not exactly been my temple for the past ohh…..35 years, give or take a year. That said, come on, who the hell is eating deep-fried butter on a stick? Well there was a line of people in a variety of shapes and sizes waiting with drool on their soon to be dead, blue lips waiting for this chest grabber. My advice to them is bite the tip off of the golden brown batter that holds the melted butter center in place. Pour the hot liquid butter on the head of the asshole in line behind you and then, proceed to jam the sharp end of the stick directly into their heart. Remove and repeat this motion thirty to sixty times depending on how many layers of fat are to be penetrated. For me it would be closer to sixty.

I misspoke earlier. I now have two subjects about which I can speak with complete authority AND be correct. The second one is that I know for a fact that not one of those silly people waiting in line to launch a fat missile directly into their hearts asked “What’s the fat and calorie content of the fried butter on a stick?” Why? because if anyone had, the rest of the group around them would have risen up and beaten them for asking such a question and ruining their heart attack of an experience. In short ladies and gentlemen, I would never be so irresponsible as to serve or even offer a meal that would exceed your daily recommended intake of any of the key nutritional categories.

The truth is, we all have to be responsible for ourselves. I absolutely encourage any and all questions about the meal I am about to serve you. I love talking food in the dining room, it’s my passion. But please, keep in mind, one should never ask a question if the answer they receive will be a burden to them. So I guess what I’m trying to say is this, enjoy your meal in my restaurant. It’s wholesome and prepared with complete integrity on every level. The next day, give me a call and I will introduce you to Nate. Then we can both proceed to throw frozen sticks of butter at him. As he runs for safety, we can grab the butter, batter it, deep fry it and eat it as we clutch our chests, smile and flip him the bird…..Little bastard! Just kidding Nate, see you at Bally’s on Monday buddy.***

 ***In all seriousness, Nate is really my trainer and since I have been working with him I have dropped nearly 80 pounds and my body fat has gone down 8%. I will be happy to introduce anyone that would like to have a true professional work with them.  My goal is another 80 pounds by the first of the year. I think I have a chance if I stay away from the fried butter!                         Thanks Nate!!!

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The price we pay……..

The title raises the question, “The price we pay for what?”  To begin, I want to speak to the cost of product in its raw state when it arrives at the restaurant vs what price is applied for the menu cost. They are worlds apart! If you suspect that the prices in restaurants are jacked up through the roof, I’m here to tell you, that you are 100% correct. Am I apologizing for this you ask? No. I would like to give you a bit of insight about the restaurant BUSINESS. Notice I emphasize the word business, please allow me to explain. Many people patronize a restaurant and become upset when they see a price on the menu and start to do a little quickie math in their heads.

Let me paint a picture for you about a recent tableside discussion I was drawn into with a first time guest. “Chef, may we speak with you for a moment please?” Of course, I’m all ears, how can I help you? “Well to be honest, my wife and I have gone over your menu and looks lovely but wildly over-priced.” In what regard, can you be a bit more specific? I replied knowing full well where this conversation was going and that the beast was about to be awakened. Fuck, I hate the beast. Why do people keep asking to speak with him? He is such a dick! I can barely control him when I’m calm and now I get the chance to introduce him to “the junior restaurant owners of America” who have pricing questions. Silly, silly, silly. Someone should have warned them, but alas, it’s too late, The cage is open and in these two unsuspecting folks wander. Time to batten down the hatches as the fun ensues. “We have dined all over the world as well as in countless fine restaurants in this country and we consider ourselves well-informed guests.” (Hmm, self-praise much?) I respond by asking, That’s wonderful, what is the connection between that statement and my menu prices? At this point the beast is still calm but very much on alert. “Your pricing structure… (Pricing structure?! the beast asks in a low grumbling voice) seems out of sync with the type of cuisine you offer. In fact, the prices seem unfair. We cook at home two or three times a week, and we prepare similar items to those on your menu.

Well now we are off and running, here comes the beast! I switch places with my inner friend and sit back to watch the festivities as the conversation shifts into a new gear. May I ask, do you ever get BUSY at home? What time is the rush? When does your ticket line and pick-up window fill up to capacity as more tables roll in? Does your dishwasher show up on time or do you pay $20 per hour in overtime to your cooks to clean the kitchen? (all of them semi-sober for that matter) What do you do, may I ask, at home while duplicating my cuisine, if the valet rams a guest’s BMW into the back fence in the alley? Do your busboys break china that costs a hundred bucks a throw and then hide the broken pieces? Have the fuel surcharges for each and every one of your suppliers doubled in the past year at home? How big, by the way is your staff at home? How have the costs of workman’s comp insurance effected your cooking prowess? Has the cost of dish detergent/pot and pan soap and cleaning supplies doubled over the past year? Have all of your incoming food and beverage invoices increased at least 20% this year alone?  Has your dining room and basement flooded to the point of losing the carpet upstairs and water heater downstairs twice in a week? Did you still manage to open on time without missing a step by paying 120 hours of overtime to Your staff?

We did! I have the finest staff in the world. I thank God for their dedication and loyalty ever day!  At this point we (the beast and I) need to take a breath. I also want to allow time for my eyes to roll back over in my head so I can see the look of sheer awe on the faces of the couple we were speaking with. I promise you, when I say beast I do not mean to imply that I raised my voice or was in any way disrespectful to this couple. I simply had to share with them to apease their morbid curiosity about my business and the choices I need to make to be able to stick around and remain profitable. Yes, I know full well that the word profitable is not held in high regard. Especially if the profit, God forbid, is derived from money spent by the general public. However, we all need to realize that this is a business and it must, on every level be treated as such or it will cease to exist. Case in point, how many restaurants have you watched open and close in Chicago in the past 5 years? Look closely, it numbers close to 100. Do you know why? Passion and total disregard for fiscal responsibility. Passion trumps responsible every day of the week for a Chef. Please understand, I count MYSELF on the top of this list of ding-a-lings. In fact, I could, after four of these major financial fuck-ups, call myself a ding-a-ling COACH! (Remember Les Deux Gros, Cochon Sauvage, Le Francais part 4, and most recently Wally and Agador’s) All of which were great concepts and on paper worked well, each with product I was and still am very proud to have served. The missing ingredient to complete these formulas however was…………fiscal responsability! I drove my poor brother fucking batty at the first two, our partner, jerk off that he was, batty with the third and myself into rehab with the last one. Well shit, I must have something to show for these little stumbles. Actually I do, bruises to my ego, my relationships, my credit and my liver! So going forward, expect to pay what it’s worth guys not what you see it going for on sale at Costco. Unless that is, you would like to rent my space and hire my staff to prepare it for you. In that case we are all yours. Their current boss is a real dick! I’m sure they would love to have a break from him….

In the Words of the Immortal Fog Horn Leg Horn: “I says what I means and I means what I says!”

This is just my fourth entry in “blog world” and already I’ve spurred on great controversy. It seems my colorful use of language has encouraged many readers to, in a myriad of gutteral almost primal responses, voice their opinion about said entries. I have to admit, I am not the least bit surprised. It’s quite common and often times correct to assume that the use of slang, profanity, sexual innuendo and the like would suggest the users inability to express themselves.

I think I can go as far as to say that most would tend to agree with this point.. Well……not me. In fact, I very strongly believe there is great strength in all types of language. All of the negative stigmas about the use of profanity aside, I see it as punctuation, a way to drive a point home with vivid and specific intent – think: George Carlin, Chris Rock, Richard Pryor – (not that I am comparing myself to these fantastic comedians)  The way I use these words is, in no way, gratuitous, actually, truth be told they are sprinkled about to illicit a response. “Is this guy really serious?” “He’s just trying to be controversial” “He must be out for a book deal or something” I hate to break it to you folks but the restaurant business is not all kittens and rainbows. If it is kittens and rainbows that you seek when reading this blog then I have some bad news for you, it’s not going to happen. I write about what happens to me in my day-to-day dealings with my guests, my staff, and my suppliers, There are a ton of blogs out there that litter the page with the regurgitation of what the author would have you believe is their “Passion” for cuisine. I am here to tell you that this is all a variation on the same theme. I will admit to you I actually started out to be just that–another Chef proudly proclaiming what a wonderful cook I am and asking you to drink that kool-aid. But why? Why would I want this blog to be like countless others? This is a place you can go to hear the real stories about the restaurant business and all the good, bad and ugly happenings within.

Trust me, I could expound endlessly on how many happy customers I am LUCKY enough to be able to feed on a daily basis. I will ask you this, do you care? I wouldn’t if I were you, the reader. After all, that’s my job for the love of God! If I had to run around telling everyone how good I was would you not begin to believe that I, myself, was not so sure. It is exhaustively boring to read someone babble on about their God-given talent and how fortunate you all are to be allowed to experience it. Give me a break please! Talk about an over exaggerated sense of self-worth.

This blog is here to showcase my shortcomings as well as my passions not simply for cooking but for the restaurant business as a whole. If you want kittens and rainbows go to a pet store at the end of a thunderstorm and pray for sun. (Before I get a bunch of emails from animal rights activists please let me state that I get all of my pets from the Anti-Cruelty society) Getting back to the original point of the use of profanity… In the world in which we live, can anyone honestly say they are shocked by my use of language?  I think it may be closer to the truth to say that in the age of the internet with all of its forums, chat rooms and feedback sites, that we all have a “Soap Box” upon which we can voice our opinions unfiltered in any way. Except, that is, when the court of popular opinion chimes in. Well not me! I refuse to bend to such a court’s opinion. In fact, I will run as hard as I can in the opposite direction.  A customer behaves poorly, either abusing my staff or spoiling the experience of eating in a civilized restaurant for their fellow patrons and I will react harshly. I always have and I always will.

Please understand, I LOVE AND RESPECT MY CUSTOMERS! You are the lifeblood of my restaurant. I cannot begin to express how unbelievably flattered I am to this very day that 120 people will actually take the time and make the effort to come and enjoy my cooking on a Saturday evening. It is truly a blessing. With the amount of restaurants there are to choose from today and after nearly 15 years of owning and operating my own establishments, to be selected as your dining destination for the evening is a privilege. That being said, can you now understand and relate to the fact that the actions I take against those that are out to lessen your experience in some way are on your behalf? That’s right. It’s not about me anymore. I am the oldest 41 year-old man you will ever see, I have little to prove to anyone but you, my customers. So please, cut a brother some slack if I drop the F-bomb here and there or rail the occasional savage dim-witted, would be trouble maker that happens to be out for the sole purpose of stirring up the bottom. If these folks happen into my establishment with those types of intentions then they get what they get. I am actually proud of the fact that I will not allow them to disrupt your dinner! (Or mine for that matter).

Now, for the sake of disclosure, if foul language is offensive to you STOP READING…… HERE!

For those of you that get a chuckle out of my colorful use of profanity rest assured. Another one of those fuckin’ entries is just around the bend!!!!   See, I knew you were going to read on anyway just to see what I would say. Now you get the point, sometimes it’s fun just to see what the author has to say. Unfair you say? We were tricked! Well write your own blog and you will be free to substitute “silly pants” for “fuckhead” anytime you like.  See, now that was gratuitous……. Tee-Hee!

Really guys?

Okay, here I sit on another Sunday morning at 6 am (one of the lovely benefits of new sobriety, a subject of a future blog to be certain) following a blessedly busy Saturday evening service.  I have coffee in one hand and a whole grain English muffin in the other. I’m staring at a blank screen and reflecting on how I’ve tossed and turned over this subject matter for three nights and now, for better or for worse, it’s time to purge.

Now let me begin by explaining, I have been reviewed numerous times over the eighteen years since I’ve taken the helm as “Chef” of my own kitchens. These reviews come from multiple sources, magazines, news papers, television, online forums, chatrooms etc… For twelve of those 18 years I have been fortunate enough to work for myself. As it turns out by the way, working for myself  has been as good for the industry as it has been for me. It’s become quite clear over the years that I am much better at asking for forgivness rather than permission on nearly every front. It seems this is not the best quality with which to lead when attempting to work for others. I have also come to discover that this is not a quality held in high esteem by my 2 ex-fiances, my ex-wife and literally dozens of ex-girlfriends. Who knew?

Anyway, moving on. I will begin by saying, before I get 120 responses telling me I have thin skin, that I should just suck it up, count myself lucky to be in a position to even be written about and so on. To these perspective responses I have a only this to say, Shut your face! You may also be asking yourself at this point, where is all the profanity and blue language I read in the last entry? Sit tight, you will soon be rewarded. In the interest of fair play I will share the review that got under my skin word for word:

My wife and I dined at Restaurant Michael for the first time last weekend. Not that it really mattered, but the Maitre d’ was very professional and poised, the staff all quite well trained and curtious. The Chef was extremely friendly and welcoming however, the food was just a bit above average. I will speak only to the dishes I had that evening. As an entree I had the Grilled Quail stuffed with foie gras & truffle risotto with natural game jus topped with a sauteed quail egg. The quail was perfectly cooked and succulent in every way but simply put, one dimentional in its flavor profile. I also had the tuna Nicoise as an appetizer, also perfectly cooked, rare seared tuna arranged around some greens with some other random items. Once again, for the price point of this restaurant, far too simple and lacking in flavor profile. Desserts were great. For those that prefer comfort food that delivers on execution but falls short on “POP” this place will suit them well.  3 out of 5 stars. 

Well Shit! Where do I begin? Clearly this mo-mo must have bumped his noggin before walking into the restaurant. When did a professional Maitre d, well trained staff and friendly Chef/Proprietor become a “not that it mattered”? These components, in my less than humble opinion, are now and always have been kinda important, don’t ya think? Lets move on to this balloon head’s critique of the one dimentional cuisine, I will focus on the quail as my skull will implode if I have to speak to “random items” in the tuna dish. We will move on to the words “flavor profile” our friend here is clearly a student of reality TV restaurant programs. Please, for the love of God, do me a favor, don’t use the words flavor profile when describing a dish unless you are indeed a food critic or a research and development Chef. It hurts my fucking ears to hear it. You see ladies and gentlemen, it seems the age of “I can be an expert on every subject with the help of a simple google search” has spawned a slew of wanna be Chefs. This is, quite frankly, a bit of an insult.

Do I sit back in the dentist chair and say “ahh yes, perhaps I will perform my own root canal next time. I mean it seems easy enough, after all, I do brush my own teeth at home.”

NO, I DO NOT! Why you ask? Because these people are professionals, that’s why they make it look effortless and easy.  Back to the food.

The one dimentional quail of which our boy spoke is actually incredibly complex. A semi-boneless, marinated quail that is grilled rare, filled with risotto that has been studded with black truffle and nuggets of foie gras is not so easy to prepare. It is roasted at service and placed on a bed of cabbage and duck confit, chanterelle mushrooms and roasted game jus. The whole affair is topped with a sunnyside up quail egg that when broken, becomes a component of the sauce. Yes, I know, you likely had this for lunch twice last week.

The lacking in flavor profile dish I just described was at one point a menu item at Restaurant Paul Bocuse. to which I am paying homage. You may have heard of him. I am in no way comparing myself to Bocuse. This is a man that has forgotten more about cooking than I will ever know. I prepare these dishes to keep the memory of such cooking alive. I cook them with respect. This is clearly a term that my penis-headed little friend is not familar with. Perhaps the waiter should deliver the dish to the table with a sparkler in each ear, dancing a little soft shoe number while suspending it over steaming pine needles so our over-stimulated friend can enjoy the nuance of the forest aroma which was at one point, the home of this perfectly cooked and succulent, albeit one dimentional bird. What the fuck?#!#

I have a better idea, I will deliver the dish myself to my new, very enlightend foodie buddy. We can sit and discuss the the importance of his work and I can ask him what chat room I can join to critique his sexual performance with his wife, who by the way, has fallen in love with my Chef coat and outrageous bravado! Lets face it pal, you want to be me so bad you can taste it, literally. The problem is you can’t be me so in turn you bash what you cannot possibly understand. Good luck with that. Oh by the way, I would never steal your wife away from you. After all, I am a gentleman!  Okay, in all seriousness, to those of you that choose to go online with your opinions, please take a second to think about what you are doing and the effects it may have. Please understand, your comments and critiques are of great value to us as restaurant owners. They allow us to grow and evolve as Chefs and business people. But realize this, the words you choose to paint the picture should indeed be as  carefully selected as the ingredients that make up my recipes. They may very well effect someone’s livelyhood. Not to mention the fact that there may be a chatroom developing as we speak that will focus on your work and passions. Be careful what you wish for, you just may get it……..

The customer is always right?!??!!??!!?

Sometimes in the restaurant business things happen that make you stop and think, “I could NEVER make this shit up!”

 The following just  happened and I’m still reeling everytime I think about it.

 A woman calls up for a reservation, wanting to use her coupon from a well known company that rhymes with the word. Wonderful, that’s why I sent them out. Now, we only take “Coupons” before 6pm and after 8pm on Friday and Saturday evenings, always have, always will. This rule was actually sent to every participant as an amendment from the very company that issued it! 

Said woman calls on a Saturday night looking for a reservation that evening. Dan, my trusted Maitre d’, took the call and explained the “coupon” rules we had set forth in our deal, saying  she could not come in at 6:30 and that we were over booked. He said it over and over and this woman still barked at him on the phone saying, “I’ll come in whenever the fuck I want, I have a “COUPON!” Now anyone that knows me will attest that this is not the best way to get what you want from me. Dan remained cordial and gave in saying, “Okay if you can get here by 6:15 we will squeeze you in but you might have to wait a little bit.” She took the reservation and hung up in mid-sentence.

At 6:50 that evening, this woman and her Napoleonic, scumbag husband pop in, poorly dressed and a bit drunk and this is what ensued – Dan SAID, “We expected you nearly 45 minutes ago, I’m sorry but we had to give your table away. We tried to call the number we had for you but it went right to voice mail.”  “WHAT! yelled the woman, bitch that she was, so loud that the entire restaurant was staring at her! Dan came to the kitchen to tell me of the comotion and I had to come out! When I’m in the middle of a full house, on a Saturday night and we’re short one man in the kitchen, it’s unsettling to have to come out to address a man-child and his savage wife kicking and screaming in MY FUCKING DINING ROOM!

“Sir, how can I help you?” I asked. “You will seat us now! We had a reservation! “Sir, I understand that we tried to accomodate you and in return you show up 45 minutes late for the agreed upon reservation AND your wife had the audacity to swear and yell at my manager over the phone earlier today. “I do not like the fact that you are disrupting an otherwise lovely dining room with your silly behavior and I now refuse to seat you, good night” I turned to head back to the kitchen and this asshole spit on my back! It is only by the grace of God and the fear in Dans eyes that this rotten little motherfucker lived to see fresh air again.

I took $60 out of my pocket, threw it at him and told him he could stick his coupon up his ass.. I am 6’1, 330 pounds and and this guy was maybe 5 feet tall and a buck twenty soaking wet. He was lucky I caught a glimpse of all the wide-eyed guests in the dining room. I, quite out out of charactor mind you, decided to take the high road and allowed this prick to live to fuck with other restaurant owners.

 (I apologize to all my fellow restaurant owners for releasing this animal back into the wild.)

They left in a huge huff threatning of course to ruin me. (Give me a fucking break. These ding-a-lings have to lineup behind the people that want to ruin me.) As they stumbled out, the entire restaurant began clapping  in unison. I promply apologized to each table individually and poured champagne for everyone in the house. We also issued $25 gift certificates to each couple. These neofites cost me a bunch of money that night but everyone loved that I stood up for my staff and the restaurant. After all, there’s a limit to the shit I can take and these idiots tap danced all over that line.

After throwing the happy couple out, Dan, in his infinite wisdom asked : “Michael, what if he’s in the  Mafia or something?” “I laughed out loud and pointed out, “He’s driving a beat up, shit box BMW and he has a coupon! Are you serious? Like I said, you can’t make this stuff up!”

Is Cooking a Magic Show? I Think Not….

I am new to this blogging thing, but I think it’s an excellent way for me to reach out to a global community of chefs, restauranteurs, culinary students and lovers of food, like myself. While I am not new to is cooking. I started as a child in my grandfather’s little kitchen on Chicago’s North side and I had the priviledge of of graduating many years ago from the Culinary Institute of  America in upstate New York (CIA). You can read the short version of my story in the About section of this blog.

I figure if I am going to take the time to work on this blog in the little spare time I have, I want it to be a conversation, one that continues to teach me and perhaps those who read it as well. So don’t be shy in giving me your thoughts. I want to hear your feedback. I do not care if you live a block from Restaurant Michael here in Winnetka, IL, or if you live half way around the world. In fact, I welcome everyone who loves anything and everything having to do with cooking to join in the conversation…which brings me to the first topic for this blog.

I recently had a chat with an old friend who is closely tied to the restaurant business  It went something like this:

ML:  After many years of cooking for others and owning my own restaurants for even longer, I am getting sick and tired of seeing young chefs cycle through restaurant “trends” which represent a certain area of expertise.

HG: That seems to be a big trend now, one minute they are experts in Spanish food, the next it’s French.

ML: AND THAT is when I get crazy!  These guys have the audacity to fuck with my wheelhouse? I have spent my whole life specializing in classic French cuisine and they think because they can get a lot of investor money and open a place they suddenl become experts in French cuisine. Give me a break! These chefs need to tread lightly!

HG:Yeah, there was this article quoting a chef saying he had to fly to New York to get a certain kind of fish because no one served it locally. I got so incensed I wrote a letter to the editor because there were at least 10 places that served it in Chicago and the suburbs. It was ridiculous. He needed to be called out on that and there were many other comments just like mine.

ML: I know what you are talking about and I think that is part of the problem especially then chefs mislead the public about what is or is not available. It makes readers think he’ll be the only serving a certain dish or featuring a certain product – that is bullshit especially when someone like ME has been doing it all these years.  When Jean Banchet closed Le Francais, I was the only one left doing classic French cuisine. There are other fabulous French restaurants, but I am talking strictly classic French. AND we do it with all the bells and whistles–3 courses for a $49.50!  Unheard of!

HG: I think that with the advent of The Food Network shows, people think that cooking is akin to a magic show.

ML: That is exactly what I talking about. It’s should NOT be a magic show!  I liken it to a surgeon who studies one thing his whole life and does it to the best of his ability. I’m taking issue with chefs who think food is simply theater and cook whatever they deem the “trend du jour.” It took me 5-6 years after I graduated culinary school to even appreciate all the many nuances and stylings of French cuisine. I am still learning today for God’s sake! Every day spent in my kitchen I learn something new and hopefully those I hire to work in my kitchen are as well.

HG: Well I have personally spoken to many people who have worked for you Michael and although they say you are a tough boss in there, several have told me that they are better chefs for it today. You know, all we are really talking about is food!

ML: RIGHT! Restaurants are getting away from the fact that this is about cooking and simply that.  Food is not a damn science experiment. The fact that people want to be entertained while you dine is wrong. I simply want to feed people. I am happy when I feed people, can you tell by my size?  I love food and I want to share those tastes with those that walk through my doors . I am so passionate about this!

HG: Without a doubt you are! The funny thing is that in these trendy restaurants the food takes a backstage to the scene you know? I personally am so tired of every new place being about pigs, bacon and pork products! Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t want to eat cheeks, asses, tails, goat butt, who knows what this shit is anymore? It sounds disgusting!  If you look at all the best chefs in recent history, their food was simple and it still stands up today; people like Alice Waters, Julia Child, Jacques Pepin – even Emerill – it’s not all scientific and complicated. It’s classic and darn it, it tastes amazing!

ML: I think the trend will morph back my way. We are busier then we have ever been since we opened and now I am expanding the restaurant by a third because of it, so something I am doing must be right! At the end of the day I believe that people who pay you good money to feed them, want food that tastes good and maybe they like the fact that I come into the dining room night after night to see how everyone is enjoying the food. I am thinking that that will always be an important part of fine dining.

HG: I think others would agree with you on that one! I know it is important to me. I love when a chef comes out of the kitchen to chat with his/her guests. It makes it very personal. As you always have said, you touch every plate that leaves the kitchen and I think when you come out and put a hand on someone’s shoulder and ask how they enjoying their meal – that goes a long way. Do you feel that from your guests?

ML: I sure do and I would love to hear from others on how that affects where they dine. Is it important? I sure hope so because I am going to continue being me and I am doing what comes natural!