Michael Bloise started working in kitchens at age 14, after his father was disabled, to help his family make ends meet.
After working in fast-food restaurants and casual dinnerhouses, he went to culinary school and then was taken under the wing of Christophe Gerard, chef of 1220 at the Tides in the South Beach area of Miami Beach, Fla. From there he went to the Loews hotel, also in South Beach, where he started as a line cook in the fine-dining Gaucho Room. Within a year he became sous chef. Then he came to Wish, where he was executive sous chef under E. Michael Reidt, before becoming executive chef at another South Beach hot spot, Tantra.
He returned to Wish as executive chef in 2003, where he is preparing dishes influenced by his mother’s Vietnamese cooking, his paternal grandmother’s Italian-American food, and his own sense of whimsy.
At the Gaucho room you were promoted from line cook to sous chef within a year. How did you do that?
It was relatively fast, but I was always very disciplined as a line cook, so I didn’t think it was a premature move.
Where did that discipline come from?
A lot of it came from working with Christophe Gerard, and a lot of it came from just my own ego, my own pride. A lot of that probably also stems from me having a son so early.
When did you have a son?
In 1998, at age 22, which was young for me, anyway.
How do you find the balance between work and family time?
BIOGRAPHY Title: executive chef, Wish, Miami Beach, Fla.Birth date: July 26, 1975Hometown:Spring Hill, Fla.Education: associate’s degree in applied science from Johnson & Wales, 1998, North Miami, Fla.Career highlights: being executive chef at Wish; cooking at the James Beard House in November 2006
Title: executive chef, Wish, Miami Beach, Fla.Birth date: July 26, 1975Hometown:Spring Hill, Fla.Education: associate’s degree in applied science from Johnson & Wales, 1998, North Miami, Fla.Career highlights: being executive chef at Wish; cooking at the James Beard House in November 2006
You really have to look at the big picture. I could easily obsess about every single thing here at the restaurant and neglect my family life, my son. But I think: On my death bed what am I going to regret more? I certainly need to be there for my son.
So you come to a point where you need to trust in other people to an extent, and you learn to trust in your own ability to train and teach other people the way that you want things. Without that, there’s no way I could leave the restaurant.
How many hours a week do you work?
How do you define the cuisine you’re doing at Wish?
More than anything it’s playful. I don’t think it takes itself too seriously, though it’s serious food.
CHEF’S TIPS Layer the flavors in your braise by adding different reductions. For example, after sweating mirepoix and reducing wine, you can then add blackberries and garlic and let those cook down. Then add veal stock. You need a good sear on a braise.
Layer the flavors in your braise by adding different reductions. For example, after sweating mirepoix and reducing wine, you can then add blackberries and garlic and let those cook down. Then add veal stock.
You need a good sear on a braise.
What’s an example?
The foie gras. It’s got a big piece of marshmallow on the top. The dish started out because I saw a recipe for marshmallow, and I was really excited about it. I started making all kinds of marshmallows—savory marshmallows, roasted red pepper marshmallows and all kinds of stuff. It got to a point where I was like ‘O.K., what can I do that’s kind of cool with this?’ Foie gras always goes well with sweet and spicy.
What else is in that dish?
Roasted bananas with cascabel chile syrup, basil, arugula, orange, daikon and hazelnut oil. The marshmallow has ground tellicherry pepper folded into it.
There’s a lot going on, but it comes together very well.
It’s one of those dishes that defies the rule I tell my cooks that you don’t want to have too much going on in a dish.
I relate it to a movie where your plate composition needs to have a theme, a general message that you’re trying to get across. And there should be one main actor and then some supporting actors. But when you have too many actors it gets very confusing and jumbled up and your message gets mixed.
There are a few movies that can pull that off and make it work, though, like “Oceans 11,” or “Cannonball Run.” But they work because they’re well-balanced. A theme in all of my food is having proper balance.
How does your heritage of having a Vietnamese mother and Italian-American father influence your cooking?
What people confuse with my style of cooking—or with any properly, for lack of a better term, “fusion” cuisines—is that they think it’s just a combination of different ingredients that just get jumbled together.
What I try to do is replicate how you feel when you eat certain foods. Like when my grandmother was cooking Italian food, it was a very homey, warm, comforting feeling. When my mother was cooking Vietnamese food, which was a very healthy, sensible, sharply flavored cuisine—you felt good when you ate it. I want to replicate both of those feelings, so you feel comforted, you feel homey, but you also don’t feel guilty afterwards.
And you can still look good on South Beach.
Sure, but that’s not really the point. It’s not even a health concern, it just feels good to experience that kind of meal.
What are some dishes that comfort diners without making them feel like they just did damage to themselves?
I have a braised oxtail stew for which I rub the oxtail with cinnamon and paprika and I cook it for four hours. Traditionally the way you eat oxtail is right off the bone. We pull the meat off and it gets mixed with sugar snap peas and baby carrots that are cooked with lime. It goes in a potato nest and it’s topped with a little salad of scallions and carambola [star fruit]. It’s very hearty but surprisingly light.
How much oxtail do you use in a serving?
Oh, I don’t know, six to eight ounces. It’s not small, but the way you cook it, with enough acid to balance the amount of fat and how rich it is, you don’t leave the palate exhausted from having the same overwhelming, rich, fatty feeling in your mouth.
How did you get people to do what you said when you were an executive chef at 27 or 28 years old?
That’s difficult. A smart guy once told me: Make your cause about quality. Nobody can argue with that. If something’s wrong, or something’s burnt, no one can look you in the face and say ‘Yeah, that’s right.’ So if you make your cause quality, there’s no way anyone can think otherwise.
What is the hardest aspect of managing people?
Sometimes you can’t be yourself. I’m a really easygoing guy, but in the restaurant sometimes people can take advantage of that so you find yourself having to be stern at times.
Is it hard to find the balance between being likable and being the boss?
I don’t think it’s that hard, I just think you have to know the people you’re managing. Some people I can be really pals-y with, and then when it’s time to get down to work they don’t have a problem with it. But some people can’t handle that, so I have to be a little bit different, but still treat everybody fairly.