Q & A with Michael Mina
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Chef/Restaurateur Michael Mina was in DC Monday preparing a “goodbye to winter” menu at his restaurant, Bourbon Steak, alongside executive chef Joe Palma. We snapped them after the meal, which featured five courses expertly paired with wine, including citrus ash cured kampachi, black garlic BBQ lamb neck, and grilled Spanish octopus. Michael’s group is behind 26 restaurants across eight US cities. We nabbed him for a quick Q & A.
Q: Your food philosophy is to build balanced dishes that include fat in the flavor profile (like this dish of butter poached shrimp and NY Strip). Why should Americans not be afraid of fat?
A: You have to understand how to use it; it’s not a reward. Look at it as something to use in moderation. That’s why you won’t see me serving tonkotsu ramen at The Ramen Bar [in San Francisco]. It calls for 4oz of pork fat.
Q: Chef Palma has done a bang-up job since he came on almost a year ago. What do you look for in an executive chef?
A: 22 things, actually. But, to name a few: An ability to cook and teach people because as executive chef, you’re the coach and the quarterback; a shared philosophy of global and balanced food; and the ability to befriend people and build lasting relationships.
Q: Where does fine dining stand today?
A: It’s reinventing itself. How to describe it is nebulous. Is it the check amount? The level of service? For example, I can go to a corner Thai restaurant and pay $15-$20 and receive world-class service. It’s getting redefined right now.
Q: How do you like your steak?
A: When I’m eating Japanese-style Wagyu, like A5, I like it medium and served alongside some acid, like ponzu sauce.