Getting over the humps and hurdles of your first year in the restaurant industry is not a feat that should be taken lightly.
Between construction and permitting, getting your name out there, growing a customer base, and ironing out all the details in dishes and service, it's a big freaking deal -- and a ton of work.
This week, one of Fort Lauderdale's favorite craft beer and casual food concepts is turning 1.
Hot and Soul has made it through its first year in business.
To celebrate, we chatted with chef/owners Mike Hampton and Christy Samoy about their favorite food and being a "Mad Scientist in the Kitchen."
Check out part one of our two-part Q&A interview with them.
Clean Plate Charlie: First things first: For those who don't know, how would you define your style of cooking?
Samoy: As Mike would say, I'm kind of a mad scientist in the kitchen. My style is more homey than technical. Sometimes I start with a recipe for something I want to make, but then I change it here or there. I don't actually use accurate measurements either. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn't. Honestly, you know what probably inspires me the most, besides going out to eat -- all
TV and movies, and books if I ever get a chance to read them. Seriously, if I see a TV
scene set at a Japanese restaurant, then I will want to make a Japanese noodle bowl or
a cucumber salad. There is a Francesca Lia Block story titled "Charm." The main character has a traumatizing experience, and a stranger rescues her and feeds her jasmine rice with coconut milk, mint, and chilies. That dish got stuck in my head when I
read the story. One time when I was sick, that's what I wanted. That was my version of
chicken noodle soup.
Hampton: My cooking style is deﬁnitely casual and unpretentious. You won't ﬁnd any micro greens on my food. Christy and I have lived in a lot of places over the years, and our cooking reﬂects that. I'm still totally inspired by "hole in the wall" ethnic places! I just realized how I hate the phrase, "hole in the wall." Anyway, went to Panya Thai in Miami last week, and it blew me away. Just as good as some of the great Thai restaurants in San Diego and L.A. I've been doing a bunch of Thai specials since then.
The most influential person in my career has been...
Samoy: It's difficult to pick one. I have mostly worked in independent restaurants with working chef/owners. My first kitchen job was with Alison Vega at Vega Tapas Cafe in Metairie, Louisiana. I was in culinary school, but I had so much to learn. She started me on pantry. That was actually the most difficult station on the line because it had the most menu items, and each dish had so many components that we had to prep, including the desserts. I learned all the stations on the line, and I eventually became sous chef. Alison was really good at teaching cooks techniques and dishes and then also good at letting us play with specials as well.
Although there are numerous other people I could name here, I do feel that I also have
to name Elliot Wolf and Merv Jonata and the whole be-nice crew. I worked with them at
Foxy Brown up until we signed the lease on the restaurant. They were inspiring and
helpful and so supportive of us. I love that Elliot and Merv divide up the tasks, yet
consult each other when needed, and that they aren't afraid to admit that they don't
have all the answers. And I love that rather than opening consecutive restaurants with
the same theme, they do different concepts. It's fun and challenging and leaves lots of
room for opportunity and growth. I would say they never seem bored with their jobs.
Hampton: This is an easy one. Chef Adolfo Garcia. I worked for him at Rio Mar in NOLA back in the early 2000s. After having worked at Emeril's Delmonico for some time, I thought I was a great cook. I wasn't. Adolfo kinda tore me down and built me back up. Really showed me how to cook and run a business. Now he owns like five restaurants in New Orleans. Plus he's one of the funniest people I've ever met. This guy is hilarious!
What is your guiltiest food pleasure?
Samoy: This is a tough one. I have numerous answers, really. I eat weird food and junk food all the time. I remember eating canned creamed corn and Coffee Mate when I was a kid. But I'm just gonna go with an easy one -- Publix mac and cheese. When I was a kid, my parents were always working. So I ate a lot of fast food, junk food, and prepared food, unless I was on one of my kicks where I would cook myself something for several weeks in a row -- like a burger with onions and mushrooms. I spent many a night eating a quart of Publix mac and cheese for my dinner. And I've been varying degrees of lactose-intolerant all my life. But I love dairy, and I can't live without it. So maybe dairy products are my guilty pleasure...
Hampton: I'm sorry, but Long John Silver's is freakin' delicious! It's all about that malt vinegar. Plus, I love condiment pumps. More "shrimp sauce," please! Love Popeye's too. Of course, both of these "restaurants" make me feel terribly ill 20 minutes after eating... Also, I'm embarrassed to say I had a large chili and chicken nuggets last night on the way home from work. I ate it in the car...
What is your most despised food trend?
Samoy: Upscale restaurants trying to fancify comfort food and charging ridiculous prices but leaving you hungry. It's funny, because we sometimes get accused of this at our restaurant. Depending on the dish, some of our portions appear quite large, and some may appear to be small, but our prices take ingredient cost and labor cost into account, which isn't easy for everyone to understand.
Getting back to the question at hand -- deconstructed or clinically clean comfort food gets my goat. Like, let's take chicken and waffles. You want a big ole piece of crispy fried chicken and a good waffle that's crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. I don't want a chicken consomme (made from a chicken that was raised in a cage so it's delicious feet never walked on its own feces and it was sung to sleep every night so it would relax) with a wafer-thin waffle crisp. Don't get me wrong: I like organic environmentally responsible ingredients, but real organic products taste like the dirt in which they thrived. Or maybe sliders are my most despised food trend. I mean, they generally don't have enough of the main component, and the cute bun is usually too fluffy and engulfing.
Hampton: OK, I'm gonna answer this one honestly. And I mean absolutely no disrespect to any restaurant that does any of these things. They are on menus for a reason. They're popular. Hell, I like a lot of this stuff too. On saying that, here's a few things that seem to get a little overplayed: kale, flatbreads, seafood/tuna "towers," chicken and waffle! Garnishing everything with microgreens. Again, nothing wrong with this stuff at all. Oh boy, this one's gonna come back to haunt me!
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.
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