Leading the way through the hubbub of the Santa Monica farmers market, Michael McCarty stops a young man passing by. Turning him toward the small group that has been following him among the vendors, McCarty places a hand on his shoulder and proclaims him the master of duck prosciutto. "I go every week and buy some to bring home," he says. We all make notes to visit Norcino Salumeria at the relatively new Santa Monica Place.
Made up of tourists and locals, the small group that accompanied McCarty one early weekday morning in March was eager to hear not only about the jumbo asparagus from Zuckerman's Farm highlighted by that month’s Market Meet-Up but also the longtime restaurateur’s war stories from his years in the industry. See, the list of chefs who’ve manned the various stations in the kitchen of Michael’s in Santa Monica reads like the Page Six of Los Angeles’ top chefs.
Out on the lush patio, McCarty, a Cordon Bleu graduate himself, held court and regaled us with tales like how Nancy Silverton and Mark Peel met in the sweaty depths of Michael’s kitchen, where Silverton had risen through the ranks to become the master baker she later became known as. Soon, chef John-Carlos Kuramoto arrived tableside to talk about the two dishes — stages for the main character, the jumbo asparagus that arrived heralding spring (as least for lucky West Coasters). There was an asparagus gelée that soothed the spicy, tart kimchee-style salad of asparagus, and then a "green eggs and ham" dish combining runny egg with a spinach purée, jamón Serrano, and lightly cooked spears, paired with two separate white wines.