Michael Mina on Chefs Needing Social Skills, Miami's Strip Steak
Michael Mina: Strip star.
Photo by Brandon David Demonbreun
Pretend for a moment you're chef de cuisine at one of Michael Mina's 22 restaurants and want to add something to the menu. You must first face the "Recipe Exchange."
You conceptualize, execute, and sell the dish as a special for three days. Still like it? Good. Next, you upload a picture of it, the recipe (with measurements in grams), and its financial performance to the Mina Group's internal network, which is already abuzz with more than 32,000 recipes and 3,000 videos.
Then Mina, an Egyptian-born chef who built a culinary empire with partner and once-mulleted tennis legend Andre Agassi, sends his endorsement or changes. You have one week to produce an instructional video that the chef or any of his lieutenants can follow. It's then analyzed, scrutinized, tasted, and tinkered with until Mina and his most trusted advisers give it a nod or the ax.
"Not only do I see it, every chef in the company sees it," Mina tells New Times.
Such a system might explain why Mina, who earned his stripes in San Francisco and solidified them in 2006 when his eponymous restaurant there earned two Michelin stars, is the rare carpetbagger chef who's made more than a splash in Miami.
While big-name toques slip in and out of town faster than a summer storm, Mina's Bourbon Steak in Aventura has for six years been a local mainstay, thanks in no small part to its unabashed deployment of fat in its many beautiful forms.
All meats are poached in it before grilling — steaks in butter, lamb in olive oil, and pork in bacon lard. They're paired with a gluttonous trio of duck fat fries — truffled, peppered with smoked paprika, and showered in herbs — each with its own dip.
Late last year, Mina flaunted another hit with his chic rathskeller Michael Mina 74 in the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. There, chef de cuisine Thomas Griese dutifully reproduces Mina classics such as the intensely aromatic lobster potpie and ahi tuna tartare with sesame oil and hot peppers. There is also jerk-spiced quail paired with grilled foie gras. Mina's ode to Miami is a caja china-inspired trio offering belly, tenderloin, and a pork-stuffed spring roll. Ravaged revelers can grab a Cuban sandwich off 74's late-night menu even if they're too wasted to realize it's stuffed with foie gras and costs $22.
But during dinner, a copper pot covered with an inflated golden pastry crust is presented like the queen's jewels before a crisp-suited manager pierces the butter balloon, releasing its black-truffle perfume. The $85 dish is then spooned onto individual plates. The sticker shock is worth it.
Mina nearly brushes aside these culinary coups. He knows people love his food, but he's humble about it and rightly focused on what perpetuates his success.
"I've had people who were amazing cooks, mind-blowing cooks, that I would never hire because they didn't have the social skills," he says.
Early in his career he wrote a list of 20 or so attributes he wanted in each of his kitchen leaders. Today, hopefuls spend at least six months toiling in one of Mina's restaurants to see if they can swing it.
"I want people who are dynamic and who can go out to the table and talk to the guest."
At this point in the game, hiring isn't something he can take lightly. There are too many restaurants bearing his name for such a risk.
His third Miami restaurant, Strip Steak, will open later this year in place of Gotham Steak at the Fontainebleau. It's the restaurant's second appearance following its launch at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, and a chance for Mina to score a Miami hat trick. The odds look good.
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