After a successful opening week at his new restaurant the Dutch, chef Andrew Carmellini stepped out of the kitchen for a bit and headed to the Miami Book Fair Saturday to talk about his other new project, American Flavor.
In his second cookbook, Carmellini describes his journey as an American chef, including tales of his extensive road-tripping across the United States and discovering "the cultural medley that constitutes American cooking." This book was made to be used. Carmellini even went as far as to ensure the binding allows the book to lie flat on the counter while you cook. Featuring some dishes from his restaurants, such as the Asian White Boy Ribs served at the Dutch, American Flavor is a collection of recipes as diverse as the culinary landscape of America itself.
We caught up with Carmellini, who grew up frequently visiting his family in South Florida, to talk about the new book and his childhood pie-baking lessons with grandma in Little River.
New Times: In the book you explore the culinary landscape of the US. How do you define American cuisine?
Andrew Carmellini: It's such a tough question, and it's what I wanted to try and do in the book. I guess in a sense it's a snapshot of my America, things that I grew up eating being half-Italian and half-Polish. It's road-inspired and also what I would call "roots cooking," which is kind of like what your or my grandparents used to cook. It's a very personal rendition of what it is to be an American chef.
Both of your cookbooks contain very personal dishes you enjoy cooking at home. Does this reflect your cooking style in your restaurants?
I did American Flavor the same way I did [my first book] Urban Italian -- my wife co-wrote the book with me. It's not meant to be a coffee table book, it's a book to get wine stains on. The way to capture that was for me to cook everything at my house, and then she's writing as we are cooking. So there's no giving the recipes to a sous chef and then sending them to a recipe tester and calling it a day. So, it's a very real book, and I want people really cooking from it, as opposed to looking at it and salivating from it.
How has South Florida influenced your cooking?
It's kind of cliché, but both my grandmothers were big influences in my cooking. The house where my father was born was in Little River, and I always couldn't wait to get there. She had a triple-wide lot with grapefruit trees, sapodillas, and little Cuban bananas. It was really a taste of the tropics.
My grandmother, who was Italian, was cooking all kinds of Southern food because she had lived there for 30 or 40 years. She making was biscuits and her own pies, and so it was kind of like getting the Italian side, but also getting the Southern side at the same time because she grew up in a part of Miami that was more "the South" than it is today. Besides the warm weather, there was also always great food around.
It must have been a challenge encompassing "American flavor" in one cookbook. How did you go about choosing recipes and organizing them within the book?
We just started cooking--it was eventually about a year of cooking. I'm spoiled because Union Square is right down the street from where I live [in NYC], so we'd go to the market and pick up some things. We'd have a cupboard full of ingredients, and it was just about recreating a taste we had somewhere else or a recipe that had a particular story attached to it. It's a personal collection of my journey to be an American chef, or more like an American cook, really, because it's not so much about chefdom as it is about cooking.
The book features stories and your favorite finds from your road trips thru America. How did you decide on the road trip theme?
I like stories and narratives, and its kind of a framework to talk about travelling and my growing up and becoming a chef. It's not necessarily a road food book, like where to get the cheapest eats or the biggest hamburger--it's more about food and travel and what that means, and what that means in America. So it was just me talking and my wife putting everything together into one longer story to tell my story of being an American chef.
Tell us about one of your favorite Florida road trips.
I love the area around Deland, it's the lake region around the Ocala National Forest between Orlando and Jacksonville. It's such an amazing area--they have all the springs there, and I think its one of the most beautiful areas in Florida.
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What local ingredients are you most looking forward to using at the restaurant?
I have a recipe in the book for a Florida avocado salad with red-fleshed Florida oranges, and I do a version with many more ingredients [at the Dutch]. My aunt lives in Coral Gables, and we'd always go to Casablanca to pick up some pink shrimp, so I hope to start using those. We're also going to have wahoo and cobia on the menu. We used to ride our bikes over to Key Biscayne where the sport fisherman were to pick up some fish, so I want to have all those same things that I grew up eating when I came down here on the menu. And it's nice to have opposite seasons here--we went to Teena's [Pride Farm] a couple weeks ago and heirloom tomatoes are about to come into season. That's amazing because up north we're cooking with butternut squash and pumpkins right now.
What's your favorite guilty pleasure restaurant in Miami?
Sitting at a picnic table at Garcia's and eating stone crabs and grouper chowder.