Pastry Chef at Michael’s Genuine Talks Desserts and Incorporating the Seasons

By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large

Dessert remains a favorite even for grownups. Roughly one third of guests order dessert when dining out. So it’s safe to say that many consumers can’t resist a sweet after dinner treat, especially when it’s in a mini portioned dessert.

Like appetizers and entrees, desserts are (and have always been) often dependent on the seasons. More restaurants are determining their menu solely based on the ingredients in season. Fall favorites like pumpkin and apple have already started to appear all over menus.

A restaurant known for its cuisine that is “homemade, unpretentious, delectable, with an emphasis on great local ingredients” is Michael’s Genuine. This Miami gem is repeatedly on the Foodable Top 25 restaurants.

We decided to get in the kitchen with Maria Jose (MJ) Garcia, the executive pastry chef at Michael’s Genuine to find out what ingredients she enjoys to work with, fan-favorites at MG, and what advice she has for aspiring pastry chefs.  

Foodable: What do you love the most about being a pastry chef?

Chef MJ: There’s a few things. I love working with my team, teaching and grooming. Watching them grow as individuals, I enjoy that the most. Challenging ourselves. Learning how to use our different backgrounds and having fun.

🍎🍎🍎 apple pie with salted caramel gelato 😋😋 #mgfdpastry #mgfddessert #applepie #yummy

A photo posted by Michael's Genuine®Food & Drink (@michaelsgenuine) on

Then also, getting to see people eat something and love it.

Foodable: What are your favorite ingredients to work with?

Chef MJ: I like licorice. I also like to work with things that remind me of my childhood or places I have been. When I am cooking, I like to reminisce the things of my childhood. At the end of the day, when people eat they want to reminisce the things they used to enjoy when they were little.

On a seasonal level, winter would be strawberries, oranges or anything citrus. In the summer, I love to work with stone fruit. In the fall, obviously apple. But, I also love quince (membrillo in Spanish) because the region where I am from, quince is a prominent fruit we see often with cheese platters. In a week or two weeks from now, we will be able to get quince.

Foodable: What are your favorite fall season desserts to prepare? 

Chef MJ: Apple is that versatile ingredient that you can go extremely homey with, like homemade apple pies. But, quince is something I would love to work with more. It’s different for everyone. One of my assistants, loves persimmons and the other one loves pomegranate. 

Foodable: What are the most popular desserts at Michael’s Genuine?

Chef MJ: It varies. Obviously, you have your chocolate-holics that will always go for the chocolate dessert. Chefs Brad’s favorite is the Rosemary Pine Nut Tarte, it’s elegant, mild and very much an adult dessert. Then you have the Apple Fritters, which is my favorite. It’s that fried item that just reminds me of my childhood.

Foodable: If you could only pick five ingredients to make a dessert, what would they be?

Chef MJ: Orange, strawberry, olive oil, almonds and vanilla. Nuts, in particular, always enhance, give flavor and give texture.

Vanilla Pound Cake 🍫🍫🍫 chocolate glaze #thisismgfd #mgfdbrunch

A photo posted by Michael's Genuine®Food & Drink (@michaelsgenuine) on

Foodable: What advice do you have for amateur pastry chefs just starting out?

Chef MJ: You’re going to burn a lot of cake and that’s okay! Keep being persistent. This industry requires a lot of work, work on yourself. Have the strength to be humble and keep working. Just make sure everything that you do is up to your standards and never compromising.

Someone becomes really good at something when they do it a lot of times. I have burnt a hundred cakes in order to make a really good cake. That’s how you make yourself better, if you keep challenging yourself every day.

Foodable: What are some of the dessert trends you are seeing emerge?

Chef MJ: We follow seasonality. American cuisine gives you a big spectrum to work with, you could go Italian, American, French. In terms of trends, I am seeing these California-style bakeries where it is all about method and well-executed desserts, even if it is just a pie. California/ the west coast has set a standard and there are a lot of restaurants that are seasonal now.

It’s interesting to see all these bakeries rising, especially in Florida, like True Loaf with the best bread ever. You see these bakeries that follow that seasonality and that method of doing things perfectly. But, the trend I see the most is sourcing out the best ingredients. 

Sneak Peek: Bar Raval, a Barcelona-Inspired Bar in Toronto

In a recent “On Foodable Side Dish” episode, we gave viewers a behind-the-scenes look into the intricate design work at Bar Raval in Toronto, an establishment helmed by the acclaimed chef Grant van Gameren. Here, we dive deeper into the operational side of Bar Raval with Robin Goodfellow, bartender and partner.

“We wanted the space to be just like the experience, very organic,” said Goodfellow. “We’ve heard people say it looks like the inside of a tree’s heart.”

In this “Across the Bar” preview, get a sneak peek of what Goodfellow has in store for us behind the bar, including a drink inspired by Robin Williams, called One-Hour Photo. “I made this drink on the day that Robin Williams died, so I thought I’d name it after his weirdest movie.”

A Taste of Mediterranean at Boston’s Oleana

“We cook Mediterranean food, but with a huge focus on Eastern Mediterranean, particularly Turkish,” says James Beard Award-winning chef Ana Sortun, chef and owner at Oleana. The restaurant, located in Cambridge, Mass., is in its 15th year, a clear indication of its success.

Known for its inventive cuisine, Oleana’s menu features dishes like octopus and potatoes bravas with smoked aioli and Turkish spices; Vermont quail kebob with Baharat spice, barberries, and pistachio; and duck with spring dug parsnips, walnut tabouleh, and smoke honey labne. But it seems Sortun is most excited right now about lamb. And spices.

“Spices and lamb, to me, go naturally hand in hand. They really bring depth and richness to dishes without making them heavy. And they’re a perfect match.”

There are three lamb dishes on Oleana’s menu at time of publish: a lamb and grape leaf tart with cumin, orange, orzo, and spicy feta; lamb shoulder with chickpea, fried artichokes, turmeric, and cilantro; and a moussaka (lamb and eggplant pie) with tahini, fava beans, and fried peas.

Check out the sneak peek above, and stay tuned for the full “Table 42” episode, coming soon!

Get a Taste of Linwood Essentials in Toronto

“The idea for a lot of the cocktails I freestyle come down to a simple ratio: strong, sweet, sour, herbacious,” says Jake Valianes, owner and bar manager at Linwood Essentials in Toronto.

And, like most good drinks, each cocktail has a story. But at Linwood Essentials, these stories are not elusive; in fact, they’re sometimes clipped onto the side of the drink. “Cocktails should be fun,” he adds. “We want people to experience a different style of drinking here.”

Check out a sneak peek of this “Across the Bar” above, and stay tuned for the full episode, coming soon!

Check Out the Insane Design Work at Toronto’s Bar Raval

A restaurant would not be successful or complete without good food. A bar would not be successful or complete without good drinks. But just as important is the ambiance: how does the space make someone feel? Ambiance can be communicated through a lot of channels, one of them being design. And no place strikes this as evidently as Bar Raval in Toronto.

Alex Josephson has made this connection of feeling and architecture his life. As co-founder of Partisans, a Toronto-based architecture and design studio, Josephson and his team “primarily make the improbable possible.” He says, “We believe in the political power of architecture.”

Partisan’s partnership with Bar Raval was a serendipitous one, and Josephson compares the woodwork of this project to a 3D tattoo. “These are like our children, these projects,” Josephson says. “And I think the best clients give you enough freedom, but they really know what they want.”

Stay tuned to catch the full “On Foodable Side Dish” episode, coming soon!