Passenger Pick of the Month
Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink
Ever since Michael's Genuine Food & Drink first opened in Camana Bay in the summer of 2010, diners have craved its refreshing combination of laid-back atmosphere and seriously good food. In February 2015 they won the overall top pick in the Taste of Cayman, for the third year in a row! As this month's Passenger Pick of the Month, we wanted to learn more about the story behind Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, so recently we caught up with Executive Chef, Thomas Tennant.
PP: Thomas, when you won Taste of Cayman for the third year in a row, were you surprised?
TT: Surprised? Sure! Honored and humbled? Yes! It's gratifying to have our team's hard work pay off. The feeling of winning was not only shared by the people who work at the restaurant but also with the restaurant purveyors; the hard working people that grow our produce, the fishermen that catch our fish, and the farmers that put as much heart and soul into their work as we do.
PP: You all really did a great job this year. We especially loved the refreshing enthusiasm of your team. And the Lionfish sliders were awesome! As divers ourselves, we really appreciate that entre, not only for how good it tastes, but also for helping to reduce the lionfish population.
TT: We first became involved with lionfish when Jason Washington of Ambassador Divers and Bradley Johnson of the Department of Environment asked Michael's Genuine to promote the consumption of lionfish by cooking it at the Taste of Cayman back in 2011. They're delicious and very versatile. I don't think we will ever run out of ways to serve them. The slider is pretty popular. Escabeche and chowder too.
PP: They do taste great. Tell us more about the role Michael's Genuine Food & Drink is playing in reducing the Lionfish problem in Cayman's waters.
TT: As a chef there is nothing better than having a great-tasting product that is readily available. When we can help improve the health of the local marine environment at the same time it's icing on the cake. We purchase as much lionfish as we can. The dive community knows this by now, which is great. My personal role as a dive master is to cull them as much as I can and work to generate interest in the practice whenever possible.
PP: Good stuff. Tell us what makes Michael's Genuine Food & Drink so unique from other restaurants on the island?
TT: Michael's Genuine Food & Drink is special thanks to Michael Schwartz's "fresh, simple, pure" approach to food and drink. We keep the quality high, because we believe good food starts with good food. We start with the best ingredients we can get and don't hide them with complicated preparations in the kitchen. It's about the ingredients and letting them shine. Our menu brings this focused approach to the table in different ways, from the simplicity of a pan-roasted half 'poulet rouge' heritage breed chicken with garlic mashed potatoes to island-inspired wood roasted breadfruit salad with local tomatoes and locally-caught snapper ceviche with seasonal fruit.
PP: Sounds delicious! What is "farm to table" and how has Michael's Genuine Food & Drink contributed to the Farm to Table movement on Island?
TT: The most important aspect of what we do is sourcing great product. And that begins with knowing your source and having relationships with the people responsible for growing the food. When you work this way, these people and their stories also have a seat at the dinner table with the customer. So at the end of the day, the concept of 'farm to table' is more like farmer, fisherman, rancher, gardener, backyard mango-harvester to table. We hope by supporting great sources we have generated some awareness and demand for good, honest food that extends outside the walls of our restaurant, so they can continue to do what they do best and more people can benefit across the island.
PP: Tell us a little about the Desserts at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink.
TT: Hedy Goldsmith is the mastermind behind our wonderful desserts. She is the executive pastry chef of The Genuine Hospitality Group, as well as James Beard 'Outstanding Pastry Chef' finalist and an author of Baking Out Loud: Fun Desserts with Big Flavors. Hedy has a knack for creating instant classics that are anything from ordinary, like her pie-in-a-jar in myriad flavor combinations, homemade childhood treats like oreos and snickers bars, and then there are the incredible ice creams! At Sunday brunch, Hedy's sweet section is where her creativity goes wild in the best way, from stuffed French toast to bacon toffee sticky buns.
PP: What is your favorite dish to make?
TT: My personal favorite dish to make is gnocchi with homemade ricotta, but I do enjoy the flavors of the Caribbean, so we create dishes that showcase those flavors.
PP: Where did you grow up and where did you cut your culinary teeth?
TT: I grew up in Miami, FL and began my career in the kitchen at 16 at the South Beach Resort in Miami Beach, and have been in the kitchen ever since. I graduated in 2006 from the University of Delaware with a Bachelor of Science in Hotel & Restaurant Management. While at UD, I studied abroad in Switzerland, achieving a Hotelfachschule Hoch Diploma, a secondary Hotel Management degree. I returned to Miami and worked at such establishments as the Riviera Country Club and the Wyndam Grand Bay Resort, before attending Johnson & Wales in September 2006, followed by a three month externship to Jamaica in June 2007.
PP: Thomas, tell us the story on how you joined the Michael Genuine team in Cayman?
TT: It's a great story. After eating at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in Miami in September 2007, I walked back to the kitchen, knocked on the door, and asked Chef Michael Schwartz for a job! He hired me and I've been with Michael's Genuine ever since. I became the Executive Chef here in Grand Cayman when we opened in the summer of 2010.
PP: What do you like to do when you get a day off in GCM?
TT: Dive the over 200 dive sites in Grand Cayman and hunt for lionfish. Got to keep those reefs clean! As well as hang out with friends on the wonderful beaches and I enjoy visiting the farms across the island when possible.
PP: Tell us about Michael's Genuine Home Brew.
TT: We cook the food we like to eat, so Michael wanted to create a style of beer we like to drink. It was important that it go with a wide variety of dishes. Our menu changes constantly, so we needed a beer that would complement many different foods and flavors. After months of recipe testing, we discovered Florida grown brown rice and sugarcane were ideal ingredients for delicious beer. Michael's Genuine Home Brew is a classic American Ale, bright golden in color and light bodied with a citrusy sweetness, hint of floral hops, and a dry finish, coming in at 5% ABV.
PP: Sounds delicious, and it's making us thirsty! Folks, Michael's Genuine Food & Drink seats 75 indoors and 75 outside. Inside features a central open kitchen with a wood burning oven, heirloom tomato-lined food bar, and drinks bar flanking the main dining room. The dinner menu is divided into small, medium, large, and extra large plates, with creative wine, beer, and spirits — many of which are first to island. A great experience!
Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink
Suite 4103, 47 Forum Lane
Canella Court, Camana Bay