Gotham's New Chef Todd Miller On Steakhouses, Succotash, and Mormons

As Short Order learned late yesterday, Todd Miller has been hired as chef de cuisine at Gotham Steak in the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. Chef Miller is currently "in the kitchen performing," but he's really just getting started. "We'll be rolling out new dishes over the next week and a half or so. It's going to be in stages," he explains. "I want the staff to know exactly what they're serving, and it's hard to teach so many new things all at the same time." Miller's debut will likely first be felt in ten days, with the debut of Gotham's Miami Spice program. The released menu is currently being altered to reflect Miller's coming on board (we'll have the new MS menu soon enough).

We spoke by phone with the chef yesterday and discussed ribeye, churrasco, Utah, and funeral potatoes.

New Times: You worked at Barclay Prime (a steakhouse in Philadelphia), STK in New York, Los Angeles, and Miami, and now Gotham Steak. So what is it about steakhouses that you like so much?

Todd Miller: You know what's so funny about that? There is nothing that I like about steakhouses (laughs).... But for me there's the old steakhouse from 20 years ago, and then the new steakhouse. The new steakhouse has healthy, fresh-forward food. It's not overly starched. I don't like to over-convolute anything. I like the ingredients to speak for themselves...For instance, for a tomato dish I might add a variation to go along with it, maybe a fresh basil leaf, and below it there may be basil oil, and below that there may be another basil element -- but at the end of the day it's going to be tomato and basil. When I go out to eat I look at the food and it's often one-dimensional or two-dimensional. I try to aspire to make my food three-dimensional.

As with most of your contemporaries, you're touting a back-to-the-basics philosophy...

There's nothing like taking a carrot and pulling it from the earth, rinsing it off in water, putting it your mouth and crunching the carrot and tasting that carrot for what it really is. A lot of people will blanch those carrots and then all the hot water goes down the drain with the minerals and flavor and everything. I try to come up with ways that when you cook the carrots they still have that fresh flavor to them, where they almost taste like they're just from the earth. That's kind of what I mean by three-dimensional -- the fresh chlorophyll flavors of it, the sweetness of it, and that carrot essence of what it is.

And then there are the steaks.

I really do enjoy the vibe of a steakhouse. How can you not love steak? It's so delicious. When it's cooked perfect you have that char and texture and everything about it is -- it's not hard to cook a perfect steak. But at the same time, within that steakhouse I don't see why you can't get that perfectly composed seafood dish, that amazing crudo dish, or a salad that will turn your head upside down. I want Gotham to be recognized for those things also.

What can we expect to see on the revised menu?

Alfred and I really love the very seasonal and fresh elements of the food and what's out there. Summer is here and corn is one thing, tomatoes another, and peas -- you're going to see all of those on the menu. For example, something very simple that we see all over the place is corn succotash. I like to put other things into the succotash to change the feel and the textures. So there's going to be something with scallops and a succotash.

We're looking at a few other things, like different types of steaks, different types of cuts. They could be a little more shareable, maybe a little bit smaller on one end and a little bit larger on the other end. Smaller, nuanced changes, too. When it comes to something as simple as garnishing a steak, at a lot of places you'll find the little sticks in them or something to indicate you're getting a medium rare steak. I've never been a fan of those. In the past I've marked steaks using natural vegetable purees, or pickled shallots fortified with reduced red wine, something along those lines. So I'll go over this and other ideas next week (with Portale) and whatever he likes, we're going to implement.

What do you order when dining at a steakhouse?

I'm a ribeye guy. I cooked for Morimoto multiple times at Barclay Prime, and he'd come in and literally want his steak charred on the outside for a minute-and-a-half, turn it for another minute-and-a-half...and when sliced it would still be ice cold in the middle. That's not the way I like to eat the ribeye. I like it nicely charred, and a medium rare plus.

Which cut of steak offers the best bang-for-the-buck?

A lot of people say it's chewy, but I think the churrasco -- or the skirt steak -- is amazing. It's incredibly marbled and incredibly flavored and it's one of the lower-priced pieces of meat.

Any major differences between Gotham and STK?

It's night and day. You can't compare the two. With STK, come Miami Spice it was very rough. Here, I've come into an operation where it's an oiled machine, and it's going to be very exciting. People are going to be able to see some of the new dishes we're talking about.

Anything from your native Utah that you just can't get here in South Florida?

A lot of churches and Mormons.

We actually meant food-wise.

Funeral potatoes. Within the Mormon religion, whenever someone passes or whatever everyone will go to the church for the function and they'll have funeral potatoes, which are like hash browns that have cheese and all kinds of stuff all around it. I think they have them in other places, but it was in Utah that I first had experiences with them.

Will we be seeing these on the Gotham menu anytime soon?

No, not anytime soon, unless we put some fresh truffles on it, taleggio, maybe something like that.

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