Most Miamians are familiar with Barton G. Weiss, the former professional ice skater, costume designer, and professional caterer who opened his first restaurant, Barton G. The Restaurant, in 2002 on South Beach. The combination of jaw-dropping visuals with fine dining blew minds and wallets wide open. It also led to more ventures: the Adrienne Arsht Center restaurant, Prelude by Barton G., and Il Sole, housed in the former Versace mansion. Now, the famed restaurateur and event concept designer is expanding his empire to the masses with the release of his first cookbook.
The Big Dish, a collection of recipes meant to "dazzle and amaze," is filled with tips on how to create highly stylized, highly detailed culinary presentations for your own events. Continuing the philosophy of his acclaimed dining experiences, the book focuses on celebrating the act of eating. Chapters include The Extraordinary Ordinary, which details how to spruce up classics (Shepard's Pie Parfaits); Double Take on the Plate, which features foods in disguise (Marshmallow Pizza); and You Can Play with Your Food, an ode to the tastes of childhood (Cookie Paintbrushes). The book also contains many cocktails and food constructions found on Barton G.'s restaurant menus.
Whether readers plan to tackle these complex creations or leave the work to professionals, The Big Dish sure is pleasing to look at. Weiss talked to us about the book, the food, and his future endeavors.
New Times: What inspired you to create this book? Who's it written for?
Barton G. Weiss: I've been wanting to put together a book for years but I didn't want to just put a plain cookbook out there. I wanted to be original and different. Over the past 11 or 12 years, I've been coming up with dishes, ideas, and presentations. People seem to really enjoy it, to the point where they would love to have something that they saw but can't remember. So we've not only given them a picture essay, but really valuable and great recipes. I think restaurants will use it; I think the home cook will use it. I think it's really broad in what it covers. People can take the inspiration that's put forth and enhance it and change it.
When you go to a dinner party, everybody wants to remember something. In this case, the food is the star. My idea was to come up with flavors and ideas that are recognizable, and then could be completely turned upside down. You'll notice that in the book, through all the pictures, there's a lot of creativity and great effort to make that "wow."
What are your favorite recipes from the book?
We take something like a rugelach, and the recipe is completely different than any I've ever seen. The Lobster Pop-Tarts, which is what we're known for, and we did lobster tater tots - those are my favorites. And the original one, my big inspiration, was the Voodoo Shrimp.
Several recipes are inspired by fun things kids like to eat. What did you love to eat growing up?
Well, macaroni and cheese was all I ate. That was the mainstay of my diet -- any starch was really my favorite. The Lobster Macaroni and Cheese (recipe) is nice. As a kid it wasn't lobster, it was shrimp. Everybody as they grow up wants to connect to the food, that's my feeling. You go out, you want to know what food you're eating so that you have something to compare it to. A lot of these recipes are years and years old and have been tweaked, but it's not so far out there that people won't understand.
A fairly recent development in the restaurant business is how much diners are on their phones, taking photos of the food. What's it like in your restaurants?
When I first set up the restaurant, it was very tight and enclosed. I had a method to my madness, just because I wanted a lot of interaction. At the restaurant, all you see are cameras flashing, people posing with their food, and the food becomes a picture they send out...But I think the book will help them to remember.
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Barton G. The Restaurant is opening in Los Angeles this June. How will it differ from the Miami location?
It will be like Miami but the ingredients will change. There's a wide array of produce and lot of fish we're looking to Hawaii to provide, so that's something a little different. It'll be on the lighter side, but it still will have fried food and historic tastes you remember from growing up.