The Tasting Panel magazine

September 2010

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Page 69 of 112

SPOTLIGHT ON Trends From Celebrity Chefs Michael Mina and Rick Bayless story and photos by Richard Carleton Hacker T At the newly expanded oak-fire grill at XIV, Chef Michael Mina lends a hand in preparing his Colorado lamb chops. here are cooks, there are chefs and there are celebrity chefs. But today, even this hard-won title has been made even more demanding by a challeng- ing economy. Here’s how two of America’s most celebrated celebrity chefs have adapted for continuing success. Although he was born in Cairo, Egypt, multiple award-winning Chef Michael Mina has redefined American cuisine with his Mina Group’s 17 restaurants. Aside from his ability to assemble a close-knit family of employees, the personable Chef Mina is involved with every aspect of operations, from the way food is prepared and pre- sented to how customers are greeted by hosts. Recently, his elegant comfort food was redefined by altering menus but keeping favorites, like his Maine lobster pot pie, black mussel soufflé, and heirloom beet salad. “We’ve always been very seasonal and product-driven on the dishes, but we’ve expanded the menu as well as the price ranges,” Mina says. “And they are more recognizable, so while the wording may be simplistic, when you get the dish, it’s layered with flavors. For example, at XIV [in West Hollywood, CA] we expanded the oak-fire cooking. At Stonehill Tavern [at the St. Regis Resort, Monarch Beach, CA] we’ve gone more into the direction of a real tavern with tavern fare, providing approachability in terms of price point and simplicity, and a little less complicated with the food, in both prep and on the consumer end. Our goal is to hit a larger demographic, people who want great food but don’t want the fussiness of fine dining.” Changes aren’t only in the kitchen. This October, Michael Mina’s restaurant in San Francisco’s St. Francis Hotel will move to the former Aqua location where he was acclaimed Rising Star Chef of the Year in 1997, served as Executive Chef from 1993 to 2002 and was awarded Best California Chef in 2002 by the James Beard Foundation. Rick Bayless, another multiple James Beard Chef rick Bayless, seen outside his red-o kitchen, has completely changed America’s perception of Mexican cooking. award–winning chef (Best American Chef: Midwest 1991, National Chef of the Year 1995 and Humanitarian of the year 1998, among other accolades) introduced authentic cuisine that forever changed the image of Mexican food in America. Born in Oklahoma, he moved to Mexico and wrote Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking From The Heart of Mexico (William Morrow, 1987) a book New York Times critic Craig Claiborne hailed as the “greatest contribution to the Mexican table imaginable.” Today, Chef Bayless oversees Chicago’s iconic Frontera Grill, specializing in con- temporary regional Mexican cooking, and Topolobampo, Chicago’s hottest Mexican dining spot where tequila is the primary drink, as well as his latest waiting-line sensation, Red-O in West Hollywood, a culture-shock away from the Midwest. “I really wanted to bring the flavors of Frontera to Los Angeles,” he says. “I wanted to do my food, the food I am comfortable doing. The menu concept for Red-O is all about sharing and tasting. It has adventurous items and also items that everyone will recognize. For the Topolobampo menu I wanted the food to represent fine dining restau- rants in Mexico City. For the Red-O menu, I thought I would bring similar flavors that I do in Frontera Grill, flavors from all over Mexico, Veracruz style ceviches, Oaxacan mole, slow-cooked pork from the Yucatan.” september 2010 / the tasting panel / 69

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