I had the pleasure of reviewing one of Chef Michael’s cookbooks. He is creative and talented. I thought you would enjoy this press release.
MIAMI, FL, March 10, 2011 /24-7PressRelease/ — Interview with Chef Michael Bennett….
1. Chef Michael Bennett – where do you get your culinary inspiration?
Life around me…..
Remembering the times when I was fortunate enough to live and work in the Caribbean. I always build new recipes upon what I have learn in the past. It is my grounding. Always looking for some new twist on reliable favorites is my passion. Especially when we are talking about seafood. It is so clean tasting, healthy and everyone loves it cooked in a Caribb-ican way.
Caribb-ican= is restructuring or developing a new twist on recipes that have a basis of ingredients that are common to us in the United States but, I tweak the finesse or find that certain “tropically-inspired” taste to get an old classic dish that flair that you are use to seeing around South Florida.
I always use the teaching of my previous mentors and build upon them. I can really go back decades and go through all the chefs that have schooled me in the proper ways of the kitchen but, there have only been a handful that I respect enough to mimic – when it comes to recipe development.
2. When did you realize that cooking was your passion?
I nine years old.
I got my brothers together on a Sunday and decided to cook my parents a breakfast. Never picking up a pot or pan before in my life, I just decided it was time that my 5 and 7 year old brothers and I do something nice for our parents. It was like a little kitchen brigade. I had my 5 year old brother responsible for the toast and the seven year old brother responsible for the coffee. Of course I cooked the eggs. I learned an important thing about clarified butter over the next couple Sundays of breakfast making. Always low heat and use butter that has been clarified when cooking eggs, scrambled or not.
This went on for years. Not every Sunday but quite often. I had found that cooking came easy to me and later the science of cooking was revealed to me in college while I was pursuing a degree in Pharmacology. I want to play the mad scientist mixing up chemicals, etc… you get the picture. What I learned was from my chemistry schooling was a better understanding about the process and reactions of cooking and how food reacts to cooking.
I always worked in kitchen from early teens. It was always easy for me. My family was in the business so I just found it to be a calling that served the purpose of putting a couple bucks in my pocket.
It wasn’t until later that the addiction – of a kitchen lifestyle – brought me to realize I could never be a 9 to 5′er and sit behind a desk or work in a office….BORING!
I needed the rush of that crazy dinner hour pace in my life. I lived for and looked forward to the stress and the action on a fast pace line where we were doing 700- 1000 cover a day. Call me crazy!
3. What is your favorite item on your Bimini Boatyard menu?
At Bimini Boatyard the Dominican Grouper. It is the best fish – Black Grouper, with my most versatile (and well liked) sauce – Mango “Coulis-grette”. The sturdy yet pliable fillet flakes of grouper are shielded from the heat of the oven with the moisture of the mango sauce and then add the “Crunch” of deep fried plantains and roasted almonds. A natural Caribbean combination. The kicker is that on top that I place an ounce or so of lump blue crab, which makes it an even better selling point to my customers.
The entire presentation is set atop a Paella flavored saffron risotto and surrounded with a beurre blanc that is flavored with passionfruit and studded with Brie cheese. It is a taste like no other dish. Tropically enhanced Spanish Caribbean ingredients that transform an American favorite seafood item into a new classic when it is paired together with the French Caribbean-inspired accompanying sauce.
4. You’ve published two cookbooks to date, where did your inspiration come from to write them?
My life in the Caribbean and as a chef in Miami’s fine dining restaurants for two decades.
I love my experiences of life – in both parts – of this sentence. One of almost glamor and fame inducing gratuitous posturing and the other of minimalist exoticness – yet laid back simplicity.
I think my time in the Caribbean reminded me as to what and why simplicity is so important in cuisine. It taught me that by nature foods should and do occur in the right portions to each other. Like mangoes. Mangoes are meant to be sweet and sassy. They need to be paired with foods that are a little dull – let’s say. They counter balance one another to build symmetric harmony. It is the Yin and Yang cooking effect that I try to teach all the people I work with.
Simplicity doesn’t mean boring, it means balance to me. What would sweet and sometimes sassy flavor of ripe tomatoes be without the zip of garlic and the floral nature of basil?
5. It’s your last day on earth, what would your final meal be?
Death by Chocolate!
I learned early on, desserts are meant to be a little naughty. I make a DBC cake that is covered in layers of bad-for-you stuff. It starts with butter, than heavy cream then five different liquors, then add condensed milk and a ton of French chocolate that is poured over the cake in three dense layers.
Of course this is poured atop on a deeply satisfying chocolate cake that has been moisturized by more melted butter and the five liquors once again.
6. Who is the one person you would love to cook with and why?
Julia Child. – Respect!
You truly have to respect the life she led and the amount of people she affected.
Growing up in Miami, I was just five, my Mom and I would sit in front of the black and white TV and watch her show. Mom was a fan and so I became one as well.
She didn’t really try to cook like Julia, she enjoyed the entertainment of Julia’s show. I had a chance to meet Julia at a celebration for her 80th birthday at Norman Van Akens restaurant in Miami. And I will tell you, I was not as nervous proposing to my wife as I was going to Julia’s table and getting a chance to talk to such a honorable legend.
I met her husband outside, having a smoke, which led into a long discussion about her recent travels as he told me all about her. I felt a little more at ease, but to this day I still think about how nervous I was.
7. What is your one guilty pleasure food?
8.What was the last restaurant you ate at?
Well that’s funny. I usually don’t go out to eat anymore. When my kids were still young and at home we went out to eat three or four times a week in Miami’s better restaurants. Now it is more satisfying having dinner at home prepared by my wife.
Places I have been are the who’s who of South Florida dinning. To name one makes me feel as though I am discounting the others and I don’t want to expunge any of the significant dinners I have had in the past.
I can tell you, my tastes for simple home-style restaurants (and sushi) has dramatically increased over the past year.
9. Who would you most like to cook for? And why?
I love cooking for everyone. It is the feeling you get when someone tries your food, tastes the art that you have prepared and says that they enjoy it. That is why I do so many cooking demonstrations. I love to please people. It is really satisfying to me.
I love the one on one face time. I like doing smaller cooking demos, like at William Sonoma or Barnes and Noble – when I was promoting my first cookbook. People that are really interested in what you are teaching are the most generous with appraisals and will tell you why they liked the food or how it has please them.
10. It’s your day off, what do you do for fun?
I work on the computer – social networking or finishing my third book.
I am addicted to the computer and the ease of gaining more knowledge about the world around me. I am an information junkie. I don’t think I could go more then three days without my laptop or iPhone. I had a problem last year where I had to return my computer to get another. I waited three days for the next to be shipped to me and I was in agony the whole time.
Article originally appeared in South Florida Food and Wine blog
Michael Bennett is a well-known award winning (Chef of the Year-1995) South Florida chef whose clients are a Who’s Who of Media and Sports personalities. He earned critical culinary kudos as the Executive chef for the 26 year, local culinary tour d’ force – Left Bank restaurant. Under his auspices he brought “Best of” (Zagat Survey), Four Stars (AAA) and Four Diamonds (Mobil) to their 20 plus year era of three star rating. He has affiliations with several culinary and food-related organizations. Chef Michael regularly lectures on South Florida’s “Caribb-ican” cuisine.
About The Professional Image, inc.
The Professional Image was founded in 1991 and as a “budding” Chef/Author service provider for chefs and soon to be authors – that helps to publish food related articles and books on a regional and national basis. TPI provides chef/authors with direct and personal access to quick, quality orientated publication in trade paperback, custom leather-bound, and full-color formats.
The Professional Image only publishes Cookbooks.
Creative Director/Art Director/Designer:
Food Stylists: Michael Bennett
Editor-in-Chief: Eileen Clark