Interview with Chef Marc Ehrler of Loews Miami Beach Hotel, Miami Beach, FL

November , 2004

Amy Tarr: Why did you start cooking? What or who inspired you to become a chef?
Marc Ehrler: My parents inspired me to become a chef– I never had to decide anything. It was meant to happen. I grew up in a family that was very food-oriented – my father was in the business and I used to cook with my grandmother.

AT: Where did you complete your culinary training?
ME: I went to school in Nice at Lycee Hotelier. I also worked in the south of France in a small restaurant called La Gravette in Antibes as an apprentice.

AT: You’ve worked with masters like Alain Ducasse and Andre Dauguin. Do you consider these chefs your primary mentors?
ME: Alain Ducasse and Jacques Maximin were big inspirations. But my biggest inspiration was my father. Those chefs helped confirm that my father and my mother’s cooking – traditional from Nice – was right. At the time, classical French cuisine was heavier. When I worked with Jacques and Alain, they were cooking with olive oil and making the same things that I ate growing up.

AT: What is you philosophy on cooking?
ME: My Mediterranean approach has been confirmed throughout the years - simple, not simplistic. I don’t use cream – I use vibrant ingredients. Having traveled everywhere, my philosophy remains the same but the ingredients change – I adapt local ingredients to my philosophy – from the tropics to California, to Florida.

AT: You have considerable experience working in hotels, as well as restaurants. How do you compare the two?
ME: What I like is to be able to make a group of people move in the same direction. Usually in hotels we have larger crews or teams. You have to become a much better manager with expenses and promotions because you have multiple restaurants. And when you’re working with other chefs in the hotel, you have to constantly create excitement for those people to perform. You don’t spend all day in one kitchen, so what’s exiting is managing multi-operations. But I still approach all these restaurants in the hotel this same way, as if they were freestanding operations.

AT: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like? Why?
ME: Right now I’m on a citronelle kick – from smoking it to grating it, to wrapping fish around in the whole leaves. But this evolves constantly. My favorite ingredient in whole world is olive oil – I have a collection that I get from all over the world. I spend time doing tastings and teaching my team. Olive oil is like wine. It’s a seasoning, not just fat.

AT: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
ME: I recently got a thermomix and I’m still playing with that – it’s a lot of fun and the potential is unreal. But something you don’t see many people using any more, that I use a lot is the kitchen fork like in the rotisserie kitchen. Everyone uses tongs, but I use the fork. Also the Peltex fish spatula, and a beautiful knife. Right now I’m using the Porsche knife – designed by a Japanese master – it’s pure steel.

AT: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way? Please describe.
ME: For a long time I used to bread sauces – I’d take a really good sauce and chill it until it becomes gelatinous, then bread it and pan fry it in a little butter. People are amazed to see something crunchy turn into something liquid. You can put it on top of beef tenderloin. When you touch it, it breaks and the sauce takes over the plate. Another thing I used to do was a vodka ice cube - I used to serve it with caviar– it’s a chemistry-oriented trick to freeze vodka without changing the flavor, and keeping the clarity of the pure product.

AT: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
ME: How are you inspired? Do you need people to inspire you or do you find inspiration on you own? I always find inspiration; I don’t even have to look for it.

AT: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
ME: You really have to learn the basic foundation in order to create or to be around for a long time. Be open-minded. Don’t rush it. There’s no secret, no miracle to it.

AT: What are your favorite cookbooks?
ME: I have 2 that I go back to constantly – the original book of Alain Ducasse – because it’s exactly what I believe about food. The one I cannot live without is Escoffier – the Culinary Guide.

AT: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
ME: In the US, definitely New York. Everything is there. I would also say Japan – I was in Osaka to open the Ritz-Carlton – I’d definitely go back. Spain - Barcelona and the Basque region– the food there is very similar to the food from where I come from in France – same approach but different ingredients.

AT: What are your favorite restaurants in Miami?
ME: Zipang – it’s a small Japanese restaurant on Biscayne Blvd. It’s a tiny restaurant. Nothing pretentious and nobody knows it. But the chef/owner Toshiya deserves to have 50 times the guests and glory that he has. He spends so much time finding the perfect product.

AT: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
ME: The location I don’t know, but I see myself happy, doing what I enjoy doing the most, which is sharing what I’ve learned through the years - my food philosophy and pleasures of the table. It could be here or anywhere.