Chef Michael Bloise
Wish | Miami Beach
When we first tasted with Chef Michael Bloise three years ago, we knew he was one to watch. Bloise got an early education in food from his Italian father and Vietnamese mother – and an exposure to the deep, rich, complex flavors that are present in his cuisine today.
He completed his formal education at Jonson & Wales in Miami, then went on to work around the city, most notably at 1220 at The Tides Hotel and The Goucho Room at the Loews Hotel, before joining Wish under Executive Chef E.Michael Reidt in 2001. Bloise left to take an executive chef position at Tantra, and then returned to Wish as executive chef in late 2003.
Today the 31-year-old is serving playful and sophisticated dishes that draw from a wide breadth of cuisines. Bloise places a premium on consistent travel – his recent trips to Vietnam and Italy taught him, among other things, to refine his flavor combinations, letting each ingredient on the plate stand out. This is not to say they’ve been completely simplified; on many levels his dishes are more daring than ever. In one particularly whimsical preparation, foie gras is topped with a black pepper marshmallow that’s torched to create a warm, chewy, peppery foam. Cascabel chile-spiced bananas add more sweetness and heat, and an arugula, radish, daikon salad adds freshness and a bit more bite. These bold and varied flavors are risky – and they come together beautifully at the end.
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HS: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
MB: I’ve worked at 1220 at the Tides Hotel, and was a sous chef at The Gaucho Room (where Emeril’s is now). I went to Wish as the sous chef (under E.Michael Reidt), left to go to Tantra as the executive chef, then returned to Wish as executive chef.
HS: You went to Johnson and Wales in Miami – would you recommend culinary school?
MB: I’d recommend it as long as the kids who are going into school have a solid understanding that when they get out [of school], they’re still going to be on the bottom of the ladder. Schooling takes the place of what an apprenticeship did 50 years ago. The problem is that a lot of kids go into school with the ill-conceived notion that when they get out they’re going to be a sous chef.
HS: Who do you consider your mentors?
MB: There are a few people, but first and foremost is my father. He was a mailman, and ended up being a supervisor with a crew that was so loyal that they’d follow him anywhere. When I first became a sous chef, I asked him to write down advice on being a manager. I still go back to those notes and try to follow his advice.
HS: You’ve been traveling recently – where did you go? What made an impression?
MB: I’ve been trying to travel to places that are part of my heritage. I went to Italy and Vietnam (my father is Italian-American, and my mother is Vietnamese). Growing up in the States I got to see a different version of Vietnamese and Italian cuisine. When you’re able to go to another country, you get to actually see the culture happening before your eyes. All aspects of culture come into play when you’re dealing with food…not just the ingredients.
HS: Where else would you like to go for culinary travel?
MB: I’m going to France this year, and I’m probably going to go to Spain later on in the year. I’d like to go to Brazil and South America, and I’d like to go to China. There’s so much interesting stuff on the other side of the planet that I need to get my hands on.
HS: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen?
MB: I like to ask what they like to eat. Usually the food that people like to eat tells you what kind of person they are. I ask them what they like to cook – what they actually enjoy cooking, and what turns them on. That helps me gauge whether they get excited about different ingredients and styles, or if they’re just in it for the paycheck.
HS: What’s an ingredient that you’ve been excited about? How have you been using it?
MB: I’ve been using a lot of fish sauce. Up until a few years ago, most people, including myself, thought it was disgusting and unpalatable. It’s very pungent and funky – you wouldn’t use it by itself. In Vietnamese and Thai cooking, they use fish sauce to bring depth to a dish. Historically there’s not a lot of meat going around – a lot of the protein in their diet is supplemented with bean products, so fish sauce adds depth without using a lot of meat. It also comes in and helps give balance. When you know how to use it properly, you can use it to balance the dish. I use it in all my braising and it gives a whole layer of depth – and you could never pick it out, just based on taste.
HS: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
MB: Truffle and soy, and peanut butter and jelly.
HS: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool?
MB: Mortar and pestle.
HS: What are your favorite cookbooks?
MB: I have two that I just picked up: Morimoto’s new cookbook and Michel Richard Happy in the Kitchen– that’s my favorite one right now. For someone that has every right to be old school, he’s so new school!
HS: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
MB: I want people to open their minds a bit. I want to offer something that’s approachable but different – different in the sense that you might not have thought that this ingredient would go well with that ingredient. The reason that I want the food to illustrate that is because I think a lot of people cook without much experimentation and end up being really conservative and blocking themselves out of a lot of things.
In general, my cuisine is a lot like me: it’s juvenile at times, but also whimsical, with an under layer of sophistication that I try to hide. I want it to appear simple and uncomplicated. Those who are smart enough are able to look a little bit deeper, and everyone else just needs to enjoy it.
HS: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
MB: I would be making movies. I’d be directing and/or editing, and I’d be involved with the score. “Conan the Barbarian” has a great score. It’s a fantastic movie that achieves its greatness through music – certainly not through Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acting. “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” has a great score as well.
HS: What’s next for you? Where will you be in 5 years?
MB: In five years I’ll have my own restaurant – my own successful restaurant. I’ve put it off for quite a while because I didn’t want to be tied down by it, but within 5 years I’ll be in my own place in Miami. My son is here in Miami, and I’ll be here with him.
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