You claim your restaurant is organic but, really, with the incredibly high cost of organics and the limited supply of fresh, local organic produce, it's nearly impossible to have an reasonably priced, entirely organic eatery in Miami, no? How much of your inventory is really organic and local?
I like to say that we were 80 to 90 percent [local]. How organic are we? I'd like to say 75 percent. But our wine list is 100 percent organic.
Is Miami to blame?
When we get the cold season, it really hits us with fish. When the winter hits, the vegetables aren't happening.
What especially would you like to get around here?
Baby vegetables. But with a hotel our size, they can't supply a big guy like us. I'm constantly trying to source out local purveyors. I got introduced to a person who strictly grows tomatoes in Redlands -- I'll meet her at my house.
Do you suspect all these local restaurants that consider themselves farm-to-table are legit?
I think, for the most part, most of the people who are trying to do this thing are going full-fledged. For a lot of people, it's a way of life for them. Michael [Schwartz], he's got the chicken outside laying the eggs.
I hit your brunch a few weeks ago and, honestly, I'd say the price was very fair, especially considering what your food costs probably are.
I don't make a ton of money on brunch. It's a chance to show the property off. A lot of people come every Sunday.
I asked your omelette guy how he likes working with you and he said he learns something from you every day.
The guys see me. I'm a working chef. I'm knife-in-hand. I get to bump elbows with them every day.
I hear you are involved in local charities. Which ones?
I belong to AIWF and I something every quarter. I [recently] went to Whole Foods to a cooking class with kids supporting a girls' high school in South Miami of underprivileged kids from broken homes. [I took] them on a tour of Whole Foods and we created an organic dish.
Isn't it kind of cruel to show underprivileged children items at Whole Foods? I mean, I can barely afford to shop there...
Whole Foods [worked] with me to show them ways around what they are eating now and what they can eat at a similar price. A price range they can afford.
I also belong to Common Threads. And I also belong to a group with Michelle Bernstein, Kris Wessel, and Michael Schwartz. It's part of Michelle Obama's salad bars in schools program. We adopted Beach High. I go once a month and I do a cooking demo in their kitchen, either transforming one of their recipes or creating one of my own that fits FDA regulations so we can teach kids how to eat healthier. We're gonna do vending machine foods.
Do you think there's a trend toward people eating healthier?
I think it's growing. When we do these outside events we meet a lot of people, especially kids, who are so uneducated with this. When we do Common Threads, for instance, the kids are 8 to 12. I've met kids who don't eat vegetables. Their favorite meal is a Whopper. They take the lettuce and tomato and throw it away.
Beach High, for instance... we did a whole wheat pizza, one with cheese and one with veggies. The kids were loving it!
I'm trying to touch people who don't have knowledge and spread the word a little bit.
Okay, how 'bout some quick questions? Ingredient you most dislike.
Avocado. I'm not a lover of avocados. I don't like the texture.
Most overused menu item in America?
The stuffed burger thing, I think, is done. We were doing that a while ago. Before I was doing healthy cooking, I was doing a stuffed foie gras burger with Maytag bleu cheese. Hello! It was, like, 12,000 calories.
What's your favorite Essensia menu item?
The short rib is probably my favorite dish. It's got a lot to do with the quality of beef and the preparation. It's cooked with a lot of love. Takes about six hours to cook. It's grass-fed beef, it's local. And it falls apart--you don't need teeth to eat it.
Your last meal on Earth would be...
A veal chop with wild mushroom risotto and shaved truffles.
Did I hear you'll be cooking some big-time dinners soon?
In March we're doing Dinner in Paradise. It's going to be me, Michael Schwartz and Dewey LoSasso from The Forge. We're sold out already. [Editor's note: The trio will be cooking on March 27.]
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And Conscious Bite Out in April?
One of the girls that started it, we worked together at Pearl. They're thinking of doing a dinner here. It may be a four- or five-course menu. It will definitely be as local and as organic as we can get.
Stay tuned! Monday we'll have his recipe for Essensia's Organic Orchid Petal Salad. Yuuuummmm!