Talking with Michael McCarty – owner of the eponymous Michael’s Santa Monica (michaelssantamonica.com) and Michael’s New York (michaelsnewyork.com)– is like sitting in the middle of a tornado; high speed talk, darting eyes, determined views, exuberant energy, and lots and lots of laughs! Known for his love of people and entertaining, there is nothing quite like time spent with this consummate restaurateur. As Rémi Krug, the president of Krug Champagne, described him (in Welcome to Michael’s, Great Food, Great People, Great Party!, a book I wrote with Michael) “He has power, glamour, and energy at the same time”. Michael goes from his quotables (“More chives!”, “Don’t call me Shirley”, “Keep Your Wits About You!”, “Keep Doin’ It!” and on and on they go – we particularly remember “There’s always August”, spoken when a photograph didn’t quite make the cut), to French, to Italian, to restaurant Spanish, to wild declarations with ease. The listener just has to do that, sit back and take it all in and a great time will be had by both!
Working on the book with Michael some years ago, Steve as photographer and me as writer, we were treated to a madcap adventure. We both have missed our days (and nights) with him. We hadn’t seen Michael for quite some time when we recently sat down over coffee to chat about the current state of the culinary world. All Michael wanted to talk about – other than the success of his brilliant artist wife, Kim McCarty, and the success of his two wonderful children, Clancy and Chaz – was food, food, food.
Traveling back and forth weekly between Santa Monica and New York, he manages the best of two food worlds. “The farmer’s markets in California are winding down a bit from a spectacular late summer harvest. Cold weather and fog in early summer brought us corn and tomatoes in September and October. Noticed a much later harvest in New York markets, also. So, we’ve had a wonderful menu for months now in both restaurants”. I tried to inject and question or two but Michael continued, “Spiny lobsters are in now in Santa Monica and in New York black and white truffles are pouring in – and you know how I love my pasta with lobster and truffles. Florida is sending us great stone crab. The oysters have been unbelievable this year. The huge Belons from Maine are thrown on the grill and downed with a great oaky chardonnay”. On and on he raved. But, I am here to tell you that not only does Michael love the luxuries of life, he is willing to share them with one and all.
One of the things he was anxious to share was his discovery of the Mangalista pig (MangalistaPigs@mosefundfarm.com) which his New York chef, Kyung, is currently featuring on the menu. “It is a great wooly pig that gives stupendous meat. We are using the belly, pan-seared, with Nantucket Bay scallops, watercress, and a goat-cheese cream sauce. Absolutely delicious. And, we are starting to use the whole pig for wondrous meals. This is just another example of the quality of products we now have. What a change from my beginning years in the 1970s when everyday was a struggle to get quality product”.
Michael’s new adventure is his Market Meet-ups where he takes a small group of interested foodies to the farmer’s market, introducing them to the farmer’s and culinary artisans there. I have not yet taken this trip with him, but I would guess it is a wild one, but one during which you will learn a lot. Because, unlike many people who talk the talk, Michael walks the walk, also. He knows his stuff – the history, the technique, the demands of great culinary adventure.
I asked the one final question I have been asking all those I know in the restaurant business, “How’s business? Are we still in a recession?” Michael’s response, “Business has begun to return but it has also changed. Food trucks, store-front restaurants, farm to table short-term spots – that’s where it is right now. No over-head, no multi-million dollar build-outs. Diners are looking for a whole new experience”.
For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to either eat at the east or west coast versions of Michael’s or who have not sat on Michael’s deck in Malibu and toasted your good fortune with a glass of his Malibu Vineyards Pinot Noir, you can follow his adventures on the Michael’s Restaurant blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter. It won’t be quite as much fun, but you might just learn something wonderful about the food world.