May 27, 2016

Viva Italia!

7
Viva Italia!

image

 

Is that a stupid tourist photo of someone holding up the tower of Pisa?!  Damn right it is!  That’s my brother, Chef Matt, and thankfully he’s better at cooking than he is at being a tourist!  Frankly, we suck at being tourists and we’re glad for it!

If you didn’t know, Matt and I just got back from 11 days in Italy.  I can’t even describe how much fun we had!  One of us is married and the other engaged, so you can imagine what it’s like for the two of us to escape the country together.  It’s a rarity to say the least!

Our trip started last year in Detoit at the Carmela Food Show.  Carmela Foods is a purveyor of fine wine, dry aged beef, and really sexy imported goods!  We were chosen by the team at Carmela to compete in their annual East vs. West competition, where two teams of chefs from Eastern Michigan go head to head against two teams from Western Michigan.  We met some great friends that day, including Chef Chris Perkey from Osteria Rossa and the new Iron restaurant in Grand Rapids.  Go try his food as soon as possible!  He’s so good, I asked him to cook at my wedding!  Anyways, first place prize was a trip for two to Italy to partake in one of the largest food shows in the world. We were lucky enough to win!

Fast-forward to Mother’s Day of this year….what a great day to start vacation right?! Wrong, it’s the busiest day of the year for the restaurant industry!  In fact, that day alone is worth 2-3% of the YEARS revenue, so we ran the line until crunch time then hit the road for the airport!

Tip: For the best airline experience, drink plenty of red wine before your flight so you can sleep the trip away.

I didn’t sleep a wink during the flight.  I had my usual wine at the airport bar, but rather than sleep, I bonded with a defense contractor seated next to me.  It turns out we had a few mutual friends and common interest in guns…

We touched down in Bologna 14 hours later, after a brief transfer in Amsterdam.  Of course while we waited in The Netherlands we had a bottle of Champagne and some cured fish so that made it better.  Airport food always sucks, but this was certainly the least sucky I’ve had.  I have to be careful now, because on my last trip home from Montreal, a fellow traveler called me out for eating garbage! Being a chef means upholding standards, although in my defense, there wasn’t much of a choice.

When we arrived in Italy, we were whisked away by our driver Massimo.   The Mercedez was a welcome relief from the cramped airplane seats!  We had a brilliant conversation via Google translate about food, motorcycles, American politics, and how great Italian women are.  Don’t worry Alli and Lauren, he was provoking it and we didn’t partake in the girl talk 😉 One hour later we arrived in Parma.

I have to tell you, on first thought, Parma reminded me a lot of Michigan!  There were plenty of hay fields, large farms, and rural landscape.  The land is pretty flat and the climate was similar to when we left.  We crashed for the night, looking forward to the show the next day.

When we arrived at Cibus (the food show), I was shocked at its size and the grandeur of the venue (Fiere di Parma)!  The show was absolutely massive and probably holds the world record for varieties of olive oil in one spot!  Unfortunately, it was mostly made up of high end grocery brands.  We try not to be too bitchy, but Matt and I are very spoiled when it comes to food stuff.  We try to support the small craft producer, not the mega farm/factories.  Fortunately, there was a GREAT beer and wine section, so we enjoyed that for the rest of the day.  We decided to take the rest of the week off from the food show.  Why hang around one show for a week when there is so much to explore, right?!  The next day the real fun began.  Fun is a word meaning enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure, and I’m pretty sure it comes from the Italian word Fiat.

I’ll tell you one thing, driving in Italy is not for the faint of heart BUT if you’re as adventurous as Matt and I, the Fiat is the way to go.  With it sleek curves, petite wheel base, smooth manual shifting, and spacious hatch back trunk, the 500 will make you feel like George Clooney benching a quarter ton of pure cast iron.  Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, makes you feel more manly than two 6’1″ men cruising the A1 at 175 kM/hr in a Fiat 500.  Trust me.

We put almost 2000 kM on that car in 8 days!  We visited about 24 cities, ate and drank as much local food, wine, beer, liquor, and amaros as possible! *We did this responsibly and do not condone drinking and driving* Wow, what an experience!  We came to Italy without a plan and I think that’s what made the trip so magical!  We opened up Google Maps, randomly picked cities, and strayed from the path often!  Take a back road, go visit a small city, meet the locals, eat their food!

 

Funny story……we went out of our way to visit the region of Barbaresco.  I LOVE wine (If you haven’t noticed) and this region is famous for kick ass wine!  We were headed from Parma to La Spezia and, somewhere along the way, I noticed the name Barbaresco on the map.  To be honest, I was a little distracted by the roaring power of the Fiat in my hands.  With my wanderlust, I didn’t put too much thought into the decision beyond “Oh, let’s go there!”  You know what I mean…Its like AHH, piece of candy or OOO, something shiny! When we arrived, it was NOTHING like I expected.  “Where are the vines? Where are the beautifully manicured vineyards?  Where are the people?” I thought. This town looked like a bad mash up of an Italian hillside village and Detroits west side!  We decided to turn around and head out.  That’s when I seen the sign……..we were in Barbarasco not Barbaresco! Luckily we found a small wine shop and the woman inside was a gem!  She was clearly passionate about wine and was incredibly knowledgeable.  She helped us pick a few great local bottles and we were on our way!

One of the greatest thing about Italy in my opinion is that each region has its own specialty, honed and crafted over hundreds of years!  Now for you Americans out there, a region in Italy is not like a region in America.  When we think region, we think the Midwest or New England.  An Italian region is TINY, more like a large county.  A 30 minute drive means a complete change in flavors!  Name it…Prosciutto di Parma, Culatello di Zibello, and Parmesan Cheese in Parma, Balsamic in Modena (pronounced MO-din-uh), Salame Finocchiona in southern Tuscany, Pizza in Naples, Sfogliatelle in Casserta, fish on the Amalfi Coast, the list of incredibly delicious things to eat in Italy is unreal!

Italy is such an inspiring place, especially for Chefs.  It’s like Mecca for food and wine!  Now most people will say, what did you learn? Will we see Pizza on your menu? No, you won’t.  Will I serve a gorgeous Italian meal that I copied from a quaint little trattoria? Hell no.  Why not you ask?  Artists use the works of others to provoke thought, rather than something to copy!  At The Mulefoot, we take great pride in creating artful dishes with local products that fit into our style of casual-yet-sophisticated modern American Cuisine.  I was inspired by three major things, pride, tradition, and simplicity.

Why do so many Americans want to run away from their homes?  I LOVE Imlay City!  After 11 days away, I couldn’t wait to come back to my home, my job, and my family!  Yeah, sure there are I things I don’t like about my community but I get off my ass and do something about it!  There will always be things to improve or maintain, but there are even more GREAT attributes already here to enjoy.  Italians take PRIDE in their communities and it’s clear to see.  Matt made a great comment when we were in Lucca that kind of caught me off guard.  He said, “Wow, this town just never stopped existing!”  He was spot on!  Lucca is an ancient and medieval city just north of Pisa that began as a settlement in 180 BC!  It simply never stopped existing because the community takes pride in it!  They have beautifully maintained walls, cannon turrets, and gates from 16th century AD!

Italians also take pride in what they produce.  If they make Balsamic, they only make balsamic.  If they make Parma ham, they only make ham.  If they make ceramics, they only make ceramics.  I’m not suggesting you don’t diversify but I AM suggesting that whatever you do, you make it the BEST you can!  They also take the time to pass their lifetime of knowledge to their children who carry on the craft!  There are quite a number of producers in Italy that have been going strong since the 14-,15-,and16- hundreds!  We don’t even have the capacity to grasp that ammount a of time being from a country that is only a few hundred years old!  They embrace traditional methods with respect and reverence.

In respect to food, my biggest inspiration was the combination of pride, tradition, and simplicity.  One of the most important lessons a Chef can learn is when to stop.  Young chef’s have a terrible habit of trying to put as many exotic ingredients into a dish as possible!  Take a lesson from the Italians….Choose the BEST products from those who have invested their life in perfecting the craft and don’t cover it up!  The Napolitanos give you a choice of two pizzas, marinara or with basil and cheese.  That’s it!  They bake it in a brick oven then dress it with olive oil.  Nothing more.  They do this because they believe they have the best tomatoes, the best Buffalo Mozzerella, and the best basil.  They are actually insulted if you bastardize those flavors by covering them up with other ingredients.  Don’t even think about putting salumi on a pizza……that’s intended to eat raw!  Ironically, we always put pepperoni on pizza here in America.  I am a huge proponent of experimenting and invite my team to try new things on a daily basis, but the key is to let the quality of the ingredients shine.

If you know me, you know how important traveling is to my life.  It’s where I get rest, inspiration, and a greater respect for people.  With my busy work schedule, I find it necessary to take a break at least once a quarter and I use that time to explore the world we live in.  For me, the ability to learn other people’s culture is what makes life worth living.  All in all, I recommend that everyone takes a trip to Italy at some point in life.  Whether you travel for the sights, history, or culture, you will find tons of amazing things in Italy!

Thankfully, the best of culture can be experienced through the stomach!

Michael Romine

Executive Chef and Owner

The Mulefoot Gastropub

imageimageimageimageimage

 

October 30, 2015

A Lesson In Building…

3

Starting a festival is a lot of work. We began building “Art in the Rough” about three months ago as a way to promote Imlay City in a new way. You see, Imlay City is in a competition called “America’s Best Communities”. As semifinalists, we were awarded $65,000 to begin a community revitalization plan and part of the deal is that there can be no profit made by the city. When we had a little extra left in the budget, we decided to host a kickoff party. What was original called “mike’s crazy pop-up art show idea” became Art in the Rough.

My goal when dreaming up Art in the Rough was to prove to my community and our neighbors that Imlay City is more than a dried up farm town. We have so much potential here, and the future is bright! Imagine Imlay City with a surge of culture! I BELIEVE that Imlay City will become a FOOD and BEVERAGE DESTINATION in the next 5 years. I BELIEVE that Imlay City will be a buzzing town FILLED WITH CULTURE i.e. art, music, people of all kinds! Art in the Rough is a celebration of that belief!

Its unbelievable how much effort goes into an event like this! As I sit here contemplating the effort, it occurs to me how building an art show is like building a community, or a restaurant. The components that make us successful are the same!

Step 1. Passion is a requirement.
No offense, but if you lack passion, nobody will give a shit about your cause. Honestly.

Step 2. Have a Reason
Without reason, nobody will follow you. Art in the rough plays a VITAL role in revitalization by bringing CULTURE which brings EXCITEMENT and INTRIGUE.

Step 3. Forget about the hours
Building something new takes commitment. You will not succeed if you’re concerned about your effort. You must become a martyr for the cause!

Step 4. Hit the pavement
I mean this figuratively, but in many ways, literally! Get out there and fight! Be willing to reach out to those you do not know! DON’T BE AFRAID! I’ve never met a timid leader nor a nervous entrepreneur.

Step 5. Stand strong for your cause
Success requires relentless pursuit of perfection! Never waiver for any reason. You will be approached with opportunities to sell out, and its up to you as the fearless leader to stay true to your conviction and FIGHT FOR THE CAUSE! Never give up!

Step 6. Have a Vision
You need a final destination before you can give directions on how to get there! Imlay City WILL be a food and beverage destination, and I have dedicated my life to making sure that happens. Hows that for a vision?

Step 7. Have fun!
Nobody wants to be around an old sourpuss, so loosen up and smile a little! Laughing will not kill you. I promise.

Step 8. Work hard for the RIGHT reasons!
We have experienced tremendous support from our community! I believe that we are supported because our efforts are for the right reasons. Have integrity!

Step 9. Don’t make excuses!
We have a “family value” at The Mulefoot we call MacGyver. Give me a shoelace, a paperclip, and a air compressor and I will make a bomb! There is no problem that my team cannot solve. We are limited only by our minds!

Step 10. When you fall, get back up
You will fail. I once received a call from the bank informing me that the State of Michigan levied my bank account for $10,000. Do you have ANY idea what that feels like after 9 months of 100-hour work weeks with NO PAY? It sucks. It just plain sucks. The point is, you don’t sit around and cry all day. You get off your ass and figure it out! Never give up. Never give in! Remain steadfast in your mission for greatness!

Step 11. Help your neighbor. We’re a team!
Spend locally, support your neighbor, give to your community! I am not suggesting that you give away all of your hard earned dollars. I would encourage you to invest your brain power and energy into your community! I promise that energy will be returned with interest!
I don’t claim to be an expert in business or civic policy, but what I do know is my experience building “things” in Imlay City! There ideals have helped me become successful and continue to be rules that I live by.

I hope that I have been an encouragement to all of you, and I am very serious when I say that I WILL HELP YOU START A BUSINESS IN IMLAY CITY! This is the land of opportunity! We have the most gorgeous farm land in the entire country! YOU HAVE A SUPPORT SYSTEM with the DDA, Chamber of Commerce, the City of Imlay City, and in ME! The Mulefoot team is here to help in any way necessary to promote a community of craftsmanship and quality! There is plenty of available AFFORDABLE real estate in downtown, and we want YOU there!

See you soon in Imlay City!

Michael Romine

October 16, 2015

The War between Quality and Quantity

4

There is a battle raging, and we are loosing.

In today’s profit driven society, the american consumer is the victim.  What’s even more obscene is that we are funding the campaign against ourselves!!  We fuel the fire that destroys us.  How depressing.

What would happen, if we as a community, decided to choose QUALITY over quantity?  What if we chose a local company over the big box store?

At the Mulefoot, we have one driver, and that is the QUALITY!  When we decided to open in Imlay City, people literally thought I’d lost my mind.  My own community thought we would fail because we wouldn’t sell a $7 burger.  The idea of purchasing ‘cheap’ has been so ingrained in our lives in Lapeer County that our community at large didn’t believe we could be successful!  We put our own economical “head in the noose” by blindly following the rhetoric of corporate america!  We would rather buy a shitty piece of furniture from IKEA and replace it every year than support an AMERICAN craftsmen.  Get this folks–hand crafted products maintain their value, and the coolness factor always comes back!  Why wouldn’t you buy the better version that will last generations?

I love the example that Europe provides, specifically Copenhagen, Denmark.  The epicenter of Copenhagen is also the oldest part of the city.  Extending from the center are rings of development.  The Danish preserve the old, and utilize undeveloped space for the new.  The danish would never dream of tearing down their history!  Matt and I peeled peas for Noma, in a building that was built in the 1500’s!!  Heres the crazy part, not only are those building still being used, but they’re highly sought after!  If I spend $1mil on a finely crafted building,  it is worth it because my family will continue to profit from its assets for centuries!  Thats a no brainer for long term growth.   It’s sound investment.

The idea is that QUALITY transcends everything else, and applies to all of life.    Quality is a lifestyle and a CHOICE!  You are the strategy, the soldier, and the weapon that can defeat the enemy!  When you are choosing where to shop, buy the HIGHEST QUALITY you can find.  For your children’s sake, stop shopping at Walmart.

When it come to food, poor purchasing decisions will literally kill you! Eating manufactured/processed food will literally put you on the fast track to a long, slow, painful death!

I have a dream for Imlay City and that dream is to be the voice of the craftsmen.  I am a craftsmen, and when it comes down to it, the craft is what makes my heart beat!  When you spend your next dollar, will it be given to the craftsmen or squandered to the masses?

Love you all!

Mike

October 11, 2015

Get outside of your box!

2
Get outside of your box!

Sometimes I get an overwhelming urge/need for fortified wine! If you don’t know what I mean, GET OUTSIDE OF YOUR BOX!

There are so many things to consume in the world. Why on earth do we subject ourselves to a monotonous diet? If all you drink is riesling, go buy a bottle of Chateau d’Originac Pineau de Charentes! The voluptuous, mouth coating texture of this incredible wine takes you on a sensual roller coaster! This wine is like 50 shades of taste, all different, one after another!

We just hired a new steward and before the end of his first day, he had “seen 30 things he’s never heard of and tasted 20 of them!” You should try it too! Don’t give in to the norm. Don’t pick the things you know. Eat excitedly! #gettothefarm #getoutsidethebox

love you all!

 

Mike Romine

Executive Chef/Owner

The Mulefoot Gastropub