Chef Michael McCarty — who was raising his own ducks and cooking seasonal, regional cuisine in the 1970s — was a pioneer in the culinary philosophy that now dominates American dining in independent restaurants.
In the second installment of a two-part interview, the chef-owner of two Michael’s restaurants, in Santa Monica, Calif., and New York City, analyzes the current state of the U.S. food scene and looks to the future.
How do you think American cuisine has evolved in recent years?
How many years did you read and write about small plates and grazing? How many times in the ’80s and ’90s did people try it? Nobody really bought it, but now that’s what’s happening. If the five of us went to ABC Kitchen [Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s New York City restaurant] today and we each ordered something, they’d come one at a time, and we’d all pick at it. It’s shared plates. The dishwasher should be the highest paid person in restaurants today.
That’s what happens during a recession; these new things occur. Now just to sit down at a table for an hour and a half or two hours is a rarity among this generation.
What are your customers responding to these days?
I have in L.A. a 23-year-old chef who’s half Japanese and half Mexican, John-Carlos Kuramoto. He pretty much was brought up by his grandmothers. He’s an American — that whole East L.A. group, which I’d recommend you go see one day. You will be blown away. There are no white people, there are no black people, no brown people, no Asians. Everybody is a mix. They’re the most gorgeous, phenomenal people. They are schooled in every aspect of these cuisines. You just cannot believe this group that’s coming up.
And in New York my chef is Kyung Up Lim, a 27-year-old Korean who I’ve worked with for three years, and he’s the best chef I’ve ever had here.
Everyone knew that molecular food had its time and place. I mean, I went to El Bulli a lot, but seven hours, 48 courses — it’s insane, beautiful, fabulous, but it’s not a lifestyle. It’s ironic that a town like Chicago would be the one that really supports it. In the 1980s we got arrested having a sous-vide machine in our place in California.