Chef Talk: Michael Mina

Top San Francisco-based chef begins to spread his wings (and fins and claws) across the continent
Jan 18, 2007

Michael Mina, 37, is executive chef and co-owner of the Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning Restaurant Michael Mina in San Francisco. Born in Egypt and raised in Washington state, Mina began cooking as a teenager, in the garde-manger station of a small French restaurant. Shortly after completing his education at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., Mina was tapped to open, with executive chef George Morrone, the restaurant that would become Aqua, in San Francisco. He spent two years as chef de cuisine, then nine as executive chef, earning rave reviews and a stack of awards before leaving to form the Mina Group with recently retired tennis pro Andre Agassi. Under the auspices of the group, Mina has opened more than a half-dozen restaurants to date, including venues in Las Vegas, San Jose, Calif. and Atlantic City, N.J. Soon after receiving two Michelin stars for his San Francisco flagship, Mina spoke with Wine Spectator Online about fish, wine and his daredevil past.

WS: How did you become interested in wine?
MM: My love for wine started in Washington state, where I grew up. I like the Cabernets and Merlots from this area—Quilceda Creek, Andrew Will and Leonetti. I learned much more about wines while at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, and then while I was at Aqua, and especially when first working with Rajat Parr. [He] opened the door to my love of Burgundy wines.

WS: Tell us about the wine programs at your restaurants. Is there a unifying characteristic among them?
MM: Seablue [in Las Vegas and Atlantic City] serve all Mediterranean fish, and so we go very heavy on Rieslings there, in particular dry Rieslings from Austria. In San Francisco [at Michael Mina] we do a lot of Burgundies, and go very heavy on all of the French wines there.

WS: What it is about Riesling that makes it go well with the Mediterranean fish concept?
MM: I think it's that real crisp characteristic that it has. Most of the fish that we do is on a wood-burning grill, with very light vinaigrettes.

WS: What sorts of reds go well with the seafood you serve?
MM: I think it depends on how you handle the fish. Burgundy pairs fairly well with a lot of the fish dishes that we do. Some of the fish dishes are done more with meat sauces, and they hold up to some of the stronger reds. At Seablue, we do a turbot dusted in porcini powder. It has a red wine sauce with heavy mushroom reduction. I personally love to drink red Bordeaux, but it is a difficult wine to pair with my food.

WS: You've recently built a new wine cellar at home. Who are some favorite producers that you hope to collect?
MM: For Burgundy whites, I like Raveneau, Leflaive, Ramonet and Roulot. For red Burgundy, some of my favorite producers include Rousseau, Dujac, Roumier, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domaine de Montille in Volnay. More specifically, my all-time favorite wines are Ramonet Bâtard-Montrachet 1986, Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne 1996 and Roumier Musigny 2000.

WS: What are some trends that you see in Bay-area fine dining right now?
MM: A few of the restaurants that have opened lately, like Coi, they're a little more edgy, pushing it a little more. That style … I think that's starting to become a little more predominant as well as in New York and other cities. I think that the Bay area will always be known for real product-driven, simplistic food, and I don't see that changing.

WS: And now you're opening a restaurant in Mexico City. What will the concept be?
MM: It's going to be a very small restaurant, 45 seats, called Nemi, and it will be a fairly upscale fish restaurant. It's within a privately owned, 38-room hotel.

WS: With your growing restaurant group, do you have the time to have outside interests?
MM: Absolutely. I have two young boys, and we spend a fair amount of time going to sporting events. I actually raced dirt bikes when I was a kid, so now both my boys are into dirt bikes, and I started riding again about two years ago. It makes me a little nervous, but I probably won't let them race like I did [laughing].

San Francisco Dining Out France Burgundy People

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