Q&A with executive chef Michael Santoro
We sat down with chef Michael Santoro to chat about his passion for cooking, must–try dishes and spending family-time with his son.
What does your role involve?
As executive chef at The Beverly Hills Hotel, I manage the dining experience for all of the restaurants, the bar, in-room dining and banqueting events. That includes the world-famous Polo Lounge, our classic Fountain Coffee Room and the fun-loving Cabana Cafe. We have a wonderful team of chefs, cooks and stewards, with four people alone dedicated to the creating our much-loved McCarthy salads.
What’s the best thing about your role?
It’s wonderful to work with people who really care about what they do and want to give an exceptional experience to all of our guests. It’s also interesting coming up with new ways to ‘wow’ diners and encouraging a bit of competition between the various teams. I’m also very proud of how revered the hotel is by almost everyone you meet here in LA.
What ignited your passion for cooking?
For me, like many people, it all started with family dinners. I have such fond childhood memories of my family sitting around the table together. Mealtimes were about both great food and enjoying each other’s company and that’s something that’s stayed with me.
When did you decide to become a chef?
The first chef I worked with encouraged me by saying I had a real talent, and suggested that I study to become a chef. During my training I worked at Heston Blumenthal’s innovative The Fat Duck restaurant in the UK. On my very first day I remember falling in love with cooking. The pressure, precision, focus and dedication in the kitchen amazed me, and convinced me that I definitely wanted to be a professional chef.
Who has influenced you the most?
That would be Paul Liebrandt, the opening chef for GILT in New York City. Working with Paul at GILT taught me so much, he changed the menu daily and there were 47 cooks for just 40 seats, making it an incredible operation. He’s worked with so many great chefs including Marco Pierre White, Raymond Blanc, Gordon Ramsey and David Bouley, who have all passed on their experience to him. He always pushes boundaries and isn’t afraid to try new things.
What’s your must-try dish?
I know I’m biased but I believe we have so many amazing dishes at The Beverly Hills Hotel. If I have to choose just one dish though, it would be our black bass with succotash and lima beans. And you can’t come to the Polo Lounge and not indulge in a chocolate soufflé!
Favourite kitchen soundtrack?
The Pharcyde’s ‘Runnin’, it’s a track I heard for the first time when I was cooking in New York. The kitchen was run like a military boot camp. You had to be really tough, mentally and physically, as we were constantly pushed to our limits. One day the chef de partie played this tune to us. The melody and the repetition in the lyrics was an amazing team building moment that brought us all together. Whenever I hear it the nostalgia sweeps over me and brings back happy memories.
What happens when you’re not working?
It really depends but I know how I would describe my ideal day off. It would start with an early game of golf with my closest friend. I would then take my son Svar surfing for the day, before coming home to make a family dinner. After eating, I would take a moment to relax and play guitar with Svar ‒ we make a pretty good duo and he’s great fun to hang out with.
Latest ingredient obsession?
I’m really intrigued and impressed by the traditional Asian ingredient Koji. It acts as a seasoning and curing agent and helps tenderise and add flavour to meat. We use it on our 18-hour braised ribs as a rub, which is removed before smoking to create the best short ribs I’ve ever had.
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