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Chef Talk: Jamil Piñeda of Michael's On East

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Chef Jamil Piñeda at Michael’s On East.

Chef Jamil Piñeda at Michael’s On East.

Jamil Piñeda, the executive chef at Michael’s On East (1212 East Ave. S., Sarasota. 366-0007; michaelsoneast.com), is known for his virtual culinary excursions (every month his menu visits another country, from New Zealand to India). But even with his impressive flavor passports, Piñeda is the first to make guests feel right at home with his unpretentious demeanor and infectious grin.

You are such a personable chef. How often do you try to come out of the kitchen and interact with guests?

As much as I can. It’s very important for me. When the chef comes out and gets personal with the people, you’re going to feel that experience and come back for that experience. I have a lot of regulars who call and ask if I’m going to be there when they come in. But I’m here every night, so if you’re here, I’m here.

You talk so positively about your team. What is the dynamic like in the Michael’s kitchen with your co-chefs?

You have to surround yourself with great people, people who love the art of creating a dish. I don’t take that away from anybody, and everybody has their own ideas. I always say a chef is not absolute. It’s a team effort.

How do you get psyched up in the kitchen? Any rituals?

Everybody back there has their little iPhone and they play their own music. I’m motivated by music, anything except country and rap. I like Spanish music. I’m always dancing. I’m the one singing in the back.

How do you unwind when you’re not working?

I try to unwind every day, even when I’m working. My philosophy is, when you come to work, you should want to come to work and enjoy it. I’ve worked with chefs who are like drill sergeants and it makes you rebellious. But I think everything you feel goes into the food. If you’re not feeling happy, you won’t care about the food and you won’t be into it.

What do you love to eat off the clock?

My favorite thing to eat is beef, pasta and cheese. You take whatever beef scraps you have, put in some salt and pepper and sauté it on very high heat. It starts to brown and all the juices come out, and you throw the pasta in and add the Parmesan cheese. To me, that’s the best.

ROASTED BEET SALAD
Cucumber fennel salad, mandarin orange segments, toasted goat cheese, sweet potato chips and pistachio vinaigrette. By Jamil Piñeda.

For the beets:

Ingredients:
3 medium-sized yellow beets, scrubbed, leaves trimmed
3 medium-sized red beets, scrubbed, leaves trimmed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Method:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat beets with oil and salt. Wrap beets in aluminum foil, in groupings of red and yellow, and place on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven until tender, about 45 to 60 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool for 10 minutes and peel. Slice yellow beets into ¼-inch thick slices and red beets into ½-inch cubes. Set aside.

For the mandarin mojo:

Ingredients:
15 ounces mandarin orange segments
1 mango, peeled and chopped
1½ cups fresh orange juice
¼ cup champagne vinegar
¼ cup sugar
Pinch of salt
Fennel fronds, to taste

Method:
Mix ingredients in a blender and purée until smooth.

For the cucumber and fennel salad:

Ingredients:
1 European cucumber
1 fennel, thinly sliced
¾ cup mandarin mojo
1 cup mandarin orange segments
Salt and pepper, to taste

Method:
Peel cucumber into wide, thin slices, and discard seeds. Mix ingredients in a salad bowl. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

For the toasted goat cheese:

Method:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a baking sheet pan, spread 8 ounces of goat chese into a thin layer and place in the oven. Every five minutes, remove the pan and mix the cheese around with a fork. Place back in the oven until cheese begins to brown and repeat three times. Allow cheese to cool and crumble it.

For pistachio vinaigrette:

Ingredients:
½ cup champagne vinegar
3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 shallot, minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
3 egg yolks
1½ cups toasted pistachio nuts
1½ cups extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Method:
In a blender, add vinegar, minced shallots and pistachios, and blend until smooth. Mix in mustard, thyme and eggs. While the blender is running, slowly add the oil until smooth. Add salt and pepper. Set aside.

For the sweet potato chips:

Ingredients:
1 large sweet potato
Canola oil (for frying)

Method:
Peel the potato into short, thin segments. Place in a deep bowl, add cold water and let it sit for about 30 minutes. Remove from water and towel dry. Pour three inches of oil into a deep cast iron skillet and heat the skillet at medium-high heat. Heat oil to 375 degrees using a deep-fry thermometer. Add peels in batches and cook until crispy. Remove peels with a spider spoon and place on top of a dry paper towel to absorb excess oil. Season with salt.

Final presentation:
On a rectangular plate, zigzag the pistachio vinaigrette. Add slices of yellow beets all around, place cucumber salad in the middle of the plate, sprinkle red beets and add cheese on top. Garnish with sweet potato chips and micro greens.

Last modified: September 13, 2013
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