By Liam Mayclem, the KCBS Foodie Chap
Born in Cairo, Egypt and raised in Ellensburg, Washington, Michael Mina has had a love affair with the kitchen, creating memorable dining experiences for guests from a very early age. Mina’s epicurean journey began in 1987 at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. During those 18 months of formal schooling, he spent his weekends sharpening his natural talents at Charlie Palmer’s upscale Aureole in New York City.
Named Gayot Restaurateur of the Year 2011, Food Arts Silver Spoon Award winner May 2011, Bon Appétit Chef of the Year 2005, San Francisco Magazine Chef of the Year 2005, and awarded Michelin stars for MICHAEL MINA in San Francisco and Las Vegas, acclaimed chef Michael Mina continues to dazzle the culinary world with bold dining concepts that have helped cement SF and Vegas as world-class epicurean destinations.
“Cooking allows me to provide nourishment for the body, mind and soul. It is an exhilaration of all five senses: sight, touch, smell, hearing and taste.”
– Chef Michael Mina, Executive Chef/Partner of Mina Group
Mina’s culinary and business vision led to the founding of his company, Mina Group, with partner Andre Agassi, in 2002. They have opened 18 concept restaurants and a lounge concept: Michael Mina, Clock Bar, RN74 and Bourbon Steak in San Francisco; Arcadia in San Jose; XIV (14) in Los Angeles; Stonehill Tavern in Dana Point; Seablue, Nobhill Tavern, Stripsteak, American Fish & Michael Mina in Las Vegas; Seablue in Atlantic City; Bourbon Steak & Saltwater in Detroit; Bourbon Steak in Miami; Bourbon Steak in Scottsdale & Bourbon Steak in Washington D.C. When does he sleep I hear you cry!!
At the start of his career, Mina was presented with an opportunity of a lifetime with then Executive Chef of the Bel Air Hotel in Los Angeles, George Morrone. The two were asked to develop a concept and create a menu for an upscale seafood restaurant in San Francisco and so in 1991 Aqua was born amidst much fanfare and acclaim.
Mina served as Aqua’s Executive Chef from 1993 to 2002, where he was awarded Rising Star Chef of the Year in 1997 and Best California Chef in 2002 by the James Beard Foundation.
Mina has been honored with numerous accolades, including the Michelin one-star award and San Francisco Chronicle’s four star award for Michael Mina in San Francisco, Michelin’s one-star award for Michael Mina in Las Vegas as well as induction into the American Gaming Association’s Hall of Fame in 2007.
Chef Michael and son Anthony took time out for Foodie Chap at the very address 252 California Street, San Francisco, (formerly Aqua now Michael Mina) where this great Chef first established his culinary reputation 20 years ago.
Accomplished as he is, one gets the sense that of all his achievements it is of family that this humble culinary star is most proud. His two sons Sam (aged 14) and Anthony (aged 10) are sometimes seen at his side at his restaurants.
Budding Chef Anthony joined his famous father for his Foodie Chap taping. The cooking duo made the “Michael Mina Tartare of Ahi Tuna”.
Dad looked on with a smile and pride in his eyes as “the kid” took charge during the demo! Another star MINA chef is born!
5 Tasty Questions with Chef Michael Mina
1. Talk us through the process of getting a dish from an idea in your head to the plate.
That’s always one of the biggest challenges and it’s really the creative and funnest part of being a chef. In this day and age now there are so many amazing ingredients and food is always about the ingredients that you start with, but different chef’s all have different philosophies for how they want to use their ingredients and how they want their food to taste. I really love bold flavored food. I love food with a lot of flavor that keeps your interest throughout the entire dish, so I always start with how am I going to create a bold flavored dish that has great balance? I work on the acidity, the sweetness, the spice and the richness and the things that add those ingredients to a dish. If doing a piece of fish with a butter sauce, you have the richness of the butter sauce so you need the acid to balance it out and you want to have a little sweetness and spice to keep your interest throughout the whole dish.
2. What one dish reminds you of home?
I was born in Cairo, Egypt and my parents are both Egyptian, so I can tell you that my mother makes the best falafel that you’ll ever have in your life. Before I book my plane ticket I make sure she has fava beans, because she makes it with fava beans.
3. If you were not a Chef, what career path might you have followed?
I have always been intrigued by the creative side of advertising. The idea of taking a very, very cool product like a Porsche; how do you bring out all of the amazing things that make you love a Porsche in the 30 seconds that the commercial is on. That would have been something I would have loved to have done.
4. What is your biggest passion outside of the kitchen?
Outside of the kitchen and outside of family obviously, I would say sports. I’m a sports fanatic. I love the classic American sports from basketball to football to baseball, but love everything from fishing to car racing to motorcycle racing. You name it and I can get myself into it real quick.
5. Your last supper, you could have a few guests, who would they be and what would you eat?
If it’s your last supper and outside of family, you’re going to go with things that you are very passionate about. So, I’m going to start with food, because that’s obviously what I’m passionate about. I would say Jean-Louis Palladin, one of the most amazing chefs that ever graced this earth and had an enormous impact on so many people. I spent some time with him, not as much as other people, but his passion for food would come through in anything and his passion for life. He is somebody that I would love to have a moment back with. Another person that again in this day and age, would be Michael Jordan, because I know everyone can relate to how great of an athlete Michael Jordan was and I’m sure still is, but I would love to have dinner with him. For music I would have to say Elton John. I think decade after decade he continued to make great music and I love the feeling that his music gives me.
Liam: Have you cooked for him?
Chef: You know I have not directly cooked for him unfortunately, but he has eaten in one of my restaurants when I was not there.
Liam: You know he watches Foodie Chap all the time. He goes on the site. We’ll make it happen (laughter). What would you eat at your last supper?
Chef: I would have to go for one of the things I personally love, that I think is a great way to eat together as a group, I would say is some great Japanese Wagyu Shabu Shabu. I think it’s one of the tastiest ways to eat the meat, but it’s also one of the funnest ways to dine together as a group.
Liam: I’ll see you there! Tasty answers Michael Mina. Thank you Chef!
Michael Mina’s Tartare of Ahi Tuna
Appetizer, Serves 4
1 # Sashimi grade Tuna, cleaned
¼ T Garlic, minced fine
2 ea Pears, skins removed and cut into small dice
1 T Lemon Juice, mixed with 1c water for holding pears
2 ea Green jalapeno, minced, seeds reserved
2 ea Red jalapeno, minced, seeds reserved
¼ bu Mint leaves, picked from stems and cut into chiffonade
6 T Pine nuts, toasted
¾ c Sesame oil, chili infused
8 ea Slices of white bread for toast
6 ea Quail Eggs, separated. Yolks reserved (whole)***
1 ½ T Salt
½ T White pepper
2 T Ancho chili powder
Cut the tuna into small cubes. Be sure that no sinew is left behind. Store chilled. Remove the seeds and pith from the chilies, reserve. Dice the chilies into a fine brunoise and mix the colors together. Add the chili seeds and scraps to the sesame oil. Heat very lightly and allow the chilies to infuse the oil. Strain through a fine mesh strainer when the desired heat is achieved. Cool. When all of the other ingredients are prepared you are ready to plate.
Be sure that the plates are well chilled to ensure the dish is served cold. Working with 2½”x3” ring mold pack the tuna firmly and evenly in the mold. Unmold into the center of the plate being sure to make a small indention with your finger in the center of the top. This will give the egg a resting place. Drain the pears thoroughly and place 2T at the 9 o’clock potion. Place about1 ½ t of the minced chilies at 7 o’clock, 1/16 t of garlic at 5 o’clock and 1 ½ T of pine nuts at 3 o’clock. Adjust these amounts depending on your personal taste. Season with about 1/3 T salt and a pinch of white pepper over the top of each plate. Sprinkle evenly with ancho powder and mint. Place a quail egg yolk atop of the tuna mold. Drizzle 3-4T of the infused sesame oil on top of and around each plate. Serve with toast points (crusts removed).
Using a fork and spoon, mix the ingredients vigorously into front of the guests. Or get everyone involved in the process. When everything is well mixed reshape the tuna into an appealing shape i.e. Square or triangle.
All of the ingredients can be mixed in a bowl ahead of time and then molded and serves. In this case you would want to reserve enough anchor powder and mint to garnish the plates.
(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)