Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hail to the Chef: Russell Michel, Executive Chef, The Sheraton Grand Hotel

In promotion of the Celebrity Chef Event, I am trying to spotlight all of my opponents! Know your enemies, right? Ha! Today's "Hail to the Chef" is Russell Michel of the Sheraton Grand Hotel.

1. What made you want to become a chef?
I love food and really enjoyed the creativity of the job. I like that fact that every day is a new discovery with cuisine.

2. Where did you receive your training?
I attended the UCHK (University of Hard Knocks) where I trained for years learning the inner working of the industry, developed passion for the work I do, and created my own style of cuisine.

3. Who have you worked with that you have really admired?
I connect with the style of Thomas Keller as his passion truly is projected through his cuisine.

hors d'oeuvres of gorgonzola, fig jam and prosciutto on focaccia and pan seared Dungeness crab cakes with spicy cilantro aioli.

What is a typical day like for you at the hotel?
The days are busy, long, and enjoyable. We serve up to 1400 meals a day with an incredible team that represents culinary skills that impact the guest experience. Being a chef in a 503 room hotel with 16,000 square feet of banquet space there is a great deal of planning that occurs for events, menus, catering, and television/radio shows. We focus on performing for our guests at the highest level and always look to grow our product and skills. Like I said before, “Every day is a new discovery and we like to discover it first!”

What are/who are your primary cooking influences?
I was able to cook a great deal with my mom in my early days and shared the kitchen with her and her passion. We loved to cook together and did a pretty good job. In fact, the tuna melt on the menu for lunch is the very same tuna melt I grew up with however I did change the presentation a bit. The tuna salad recipe is what my mom and I made together and that is the connection I have with it. Our guests like the story but I think their really connected to the taste; it is really good.

What are your favorite and least favorite foods to prepare?
My favorite foods to prepare are Truffle Mac and Cheese and NY Steak with Demi Glace. That sounds great and tastes great I am going to cook it at home tonight since my mouth is watering right now. Kristy, why did you have to ask that question? Now I have to cook it! Oh well, someone has to suffer. I can’t wait to get home and start cooking. I don’t really have a least favorite food however I might find one at the Celebrity Chef Challenge if I don’t know how to use it.

7. Please tell me about your most overwhelming moment in the kitchen.
The most overwhelming moment in the kitchen was the time when I was working at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, December 21, 2004, 6:03pm. The power went out at the hotel with a slow night of 67%, dinner for 60 in the French Parlor, and prepping for 600 for Sunday Brunch the next day. I was actually on my way out the door to go home when the hotel went dark. First I thought, “Did we pay our bill?” After that moment, I realized I needed to stay to make sure all of our guests were taken care of. Therefore we set up candlelight in the restaurant, prepared a menu that we could serve without any cooking heat, and planned a modified menu for 60 person dinner. We had hot soup so we kept that hot, we had crabmeat for Dungeness Crab Salads (which you can get this delicious dish in Morgan’s Central Valley Bistro for lunch or dinner – shameless plug, but come try it you’ll love it with our house made crème fraiche and citrus dressing). So we served the banquet, took great care of our guests in the restaurant, had fun doing it, and then we all sat down and had a beer. Mission accomplished. Oh but not yet! We had 600 for Brunch the next day. Long story short; I stayed up most of the night protecting our food products ensuring refrigeration is sealed and staying in contact with PG&E (the SMUD of the bay area). The power remained off for 18 hours, we served 600 people for Brunch as I sent two teams to the neighboring hotels to cook the brunch cuisine bringing all of the food back before 9:45am. We place the food out just in time to open and kept the food going for 4 hours while we smiled and took care of the guests. Needless to say, the guests were blown away and we were tired. But it was worth it!

8. Who are your favorite chefs or famous chefs?
I really enjoy watching Gordon Ramsey. I like the show kitchen nightmares. Everyone reading this blog, know that we have an extremely spotless kitchen and we won’t need Gordon to come by. But he is welcome any time to eat.

9. White wine or red wine? Do you have a favorite wine varietal/label?
I love Rubicon as it is my favorite wine along with Justin. I enjoy all wines. The right wine with the right course is essential to experience that memorable meal that you long to have. You can find that here; great food, great wine, and great people.

What is your "can't live without" kitchen tool and why?
I love the micro plain as it simplifies the process of citrus zest and grates it to a size that allows essence as to not over power a creation. Essence is a background flavor designed to accentuate the flavor profile on your palette which in turn makes you close your eyes, savor the moment and realize that you are being pampered right now and you deserve it! Go ahead, treat yourself.

11. Please tell me how you go about planning your menus.
First of all, I am passionate about using the best of season produce, local farms, sustainable ranches, and accompaniments to enhance these items. Second, what do our guests and locals really like. What is the price point? It is essential when planning a menu to allow your passion and creativity to come through the cuisine as you are the only chef with your style and that is the draw for guests. If you can only get Chef Michel’s cuisine at Morgan’s Central Valley Bistro then we have to go there and try it. If you haven’t been here, come in and try it.

12. If you had a different career choice, what would it be?
I would be a minister as I enjoy helping others and it feels good when they feel better.

13. What are the most important things to remember (can be relative to anything) while working as a chef?
Always remember that you have guests and associates; they are truly the reason behind your success because without your team and without people to eat the cuisine all you have is an empty building. Besides, my team is the best and I love them like family!

What is the most important thing you have learned in your culinary career?
To be respectful, enjoy the day and create cuisine that people love. It is that simple, however I didn’t know that when I was younger.

15. Tell me about working for the Starwood Hotel chain. Have you moved around a lot?
I have worked for Starwood Hotels & Resorts for over 19 years. This is the best company in the industry and we really care about our associates and guests. I have worked in 3 hotels for this company, Sheraton Grand Sacramento, Palace Hotel San Francisco, and Sheraton Grand Long Beach (now a Westin/same company). I have also worked in 14 other hotels, 2 catering companies, and 5 restaurants.

16. Do you handle the banquet menus for the hotel as well?
Being chef of this hotel, all menus are designed by me and my culinary leaders. I love to bring in my leaders to share ideas and play while creating the menus. This also builds their careers and fosters creativity in them as they prepare for what’s next. Our banquet menus are seasonal enabling us to use the best ingredients available throughout the year.

17. Have you ever cooked a meal for someone famous staying at the hotel?
I have cooked for George Bush Sr., Ronald Reagan, Barbara Streisand, Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, Luciano Pavarotti, Mariah Carey, Wilson Phillips, Steve Black, Seal, Clint Eastwood, and of course the Governor. I probably missed several but these are the ones that came to mind.

Caramel cheesecake with chocolate sauce and fresh berries

18. How did you get involved with the Celebrity Chef Event?
I believe in the cause and want to support the opportunity for funds to be raised to help these wonderful people. I am not really a show boat and I am flexing my style doing this however I think they recipients of the assistance from InAlliance deserve it. If you are reading this, please be sure to come to the Celebrity Chef Challenge for the fun and excitement. Be sure to say "Hi!" to chef Russell. :)

19. Best meal ever?
Rome Italy, El Capone, on the river. Antipasto (the way it is supposed to be done), red wine and the rain coming down for about an hour. Simple pleasures; we have an antipasto that depicts my experience in Rome (marinated artichokes, prosciutto di parma, Fra Mani Salame, marinated olives, fresh mozzarella, rosemary olive oil, and there are a couple of items I have on there for fun).

Catch Chef Russell Michel at the Sheraton Grand Hotel and at the Celebrity Chef Event on April 30th when he schools me!! LOL.

Remember, tickets are $5 off when you call 916-381-1300 x170 and mention promo code "CAKEGRRL", and $10 off groups of ten or more!!

See you there!! Come be a part of my SUGAR SWARM!!!

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