Broders' Michael Rostance: Chef Chat, Part 3


Today we wrap up our talk with Broders' executive chef, Michael Rostance. (Here's parts 1 and 2 for the latecomers.) In this installment, Rostance shares stories about eating eyeballs, hanging out with Mario Batali's dad and messing up a meal for the shah's wife.


What is the future of the restaurant? We'll continue to do what we're doing. Hopefully we'll add a few new tables. There's a chance for us to add a few tables to the front, and who knows how this [patio] might develop. There's a possibility this might become a year-round structure. Just try to continue to do what we do: continue on the path of this local, sustainable, seasonal [cooking] and try to keep our prices reasonable.

What do you think is the best food city in America? New Orleans. That's my favorite American food is New Orleans, kind of Creole. It's a cross between Mediterranean and American, and I like the atmosphere. It reminds me of Italy, it reminds me Europe. The dining experience is fun.

What is your favorite restaurant in the Cities? I don't go out a lot. We go to Christos a lot 'cause that's my Greek thing, that's my Greek fix. They cook Cyprian-style Greek food, and it's a little bit more complex seasoning. I really like the food there. I like their melinzana salata, which is their eggplant spread. I like that style of eating where you're sharing with other people.

Where would you go for a birthday dinner in the Cities? The Grand Café. La Belle Vie is always great for special occasions.

What is your favorite restaurant in America? I like Babbo in New York. It's Mario Batali's place. Everybody will laugh, because Emeril got a bad rap, but Emeril's is a great restaurant in New Orleans. Commander's Palace [in New Orleans] was great before the flood. Now I don't know.


And then it's little places. Holes-in-the-wall, stands, sandwich shops. Names escape you but the food is always really fun. In Boston I love to go to Fenway and get a sausage sandwich.

I'm not really a fussy person about food. We try things. We don't eat out that much. We do a lot of cooking with family.

How much time do you get off? Not a lot, but we try every couple weeks to get together with family and do stuff. This weekend we're going up to the cabin and everyone takes turns doing a meal. The theme this time is Southern cooking 4 ways and everyone does their own.

Your family is not intimidated to cook for you? No. We have a big Thanksgiving group that we do, too, with friends and family, 14 or 15 people. We pick a theme. We've been doing that for 15 years.

What is your favorite dish to cook at home? I'm making new things all the time. I get a lot of ideas from home. I'll start doing something at home out of the blue, and I'll like it and I'll jot down some notes and I'll try to turn it into something at the restaurant.

What is your favorite knife or kitchen tool? My chef's knife. I had a 10-inch trident. I can pretty much get by with that. It's the only thing I absolutely have to have. I also have a non-stick paella pan at home that I really like.

At work, other than the pasta machine, I think we'd be lost without the Robot Coupe. It's like a food processor.

What was your most embarrassing moment in the kitchen? I was in Greece, working for a family. I was serving dinner to the wife of the shah of Iran at the time and I was supposed to serve a big roast. I was bringing the roast to the table and it went flying off the platter. I would say that's up there.

What is the hardest lesson you've learned? It's a business. As much fun as it is, you have to make money. That takes a lot of work and a lot of energy. You give up a certain amount of personal life to be successful. If you're going to have a family, your family has to be behind you.

What are your favorite cookbooks? I like Mario Batali's books a lot, Lynn Kasper's books a lot. I've been carrying this one [Recipes from an Italian Summer] with me all summer long. It has great simple recipes.

Who is your favorite celebrity chef? Mario Batali. His philosophy and his understanding of food is very much like mine. He's certainly more skilled than I am, but he really understands Italian cooking and the philosophy behind it--simplicity, and straightforward food.

I've had the great pleasure of meeting him and his dad. His dad has a little sandwich shop out in Seattle, and he also cures his own meat, which we're selling across the street and on the patio. We went in [to Batali's father's store] on a business trip a few years back and they recognized us as restaurant people right away. His dad sat down with us, his mom sat down with us, his dad made us a bunch of stuff. They showed us the curing area.

What would you do for a living if you could not be a chef? I'd probably be a DJ again. I'd work on the radio. I also like photography. That would be something else I would do.

Do you have a show you would like to pitch to the Food Network? No, absolutely not. Something trivial happens when you try to do a series. It's hard to do. It's really hard to do.

The Food Channel is more about style than substance. To me it's just become really trivial.

What is your best tip for a home cook? Keep it simple.

If you could cook for one person, dead or alive, who would it be? Who would I like to have dinner with, that would be the question. Alexander the Great. I always liked him, and he had a good appreciation for drink. He'd probably be easy to please--you could just get him drunk.

What has been your weirdest customer request? Oh man, there's a million of those. I don't know if it's so weird, but it's hard--people ask for pasta without pasta. There's so much gluten intolerance. A lot of people will ask for pasta without the pasta. But I understand. I'll rarely say no to something.

The thing is, we get a lot of food allergies. Some of those allergies are so difficult. Some people have such a wide range of allergies, it's hard to imagine how they can go out and eat anywhere. That gets to be difficult. We're cooks. I'm not a dietician. I can't guarantee that everything is without this or that. I get people who don't want salt, don't want pepper, no sugar, no herbs. There are times you say, "I don't know what to do."

What is the weirdest thing you've ever eaten? Probably lambs' eyes in Greece. Eating eyes is weird. Around Easter time they eat everything, every part of the lamb. It's the biggest holiday of the year in Greece, and they go the whole nine yards. There's nothing they won't eat. The eyeballs were the hardest for me.

What is your favorite thing to do when you're not in the kitchen? Photography. I like to photograph architecture and nature.

What are your goals as a chef? I'm getting pretty close to retirement age. I'll do this for a few more years and then I'll probably end up doing some consulting. I'd like to do some photography, music, cookbooks, do more teaching. Especially with children.

I've become pretty involved with Circus Juventas. I've done lighting and rigging, and now I'm doing some food stuff with them. I'm going to do their annual picnic in a few weeks. I'm looking at finding ways to help children appreciate food. I want to pay attention a little bit to this epidemic of obesity. I just saw in the paper the other day that Minnesota is one of the better states, and 30 percent of our population is dramatically overweight. Not just a few pounds.

That concludes our conversation with Michael Rostance, who left us with a recipe for our readers:

Smoked trout with mushrooms, brandy and cream

1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil 2 tsp. salt-free butter 2 Tbsp. crimini mushrooms, sliced 1 ½ oz. smoked trout, cleaned and lightly chopped (Rostance recommends Star Prairie, available at local co-ops) 1 Tbsp. brandy 3 oz. cream 1 pinch salt and pepper 1 tsp. flat leaf parsley 1 Tbsp. parmigiano reggiano 5 oz. fresh fettuccine (make your own or available at Broders' Cucina Italiana)

1. Heat the oil with the butter in an 8-inch sauté pan. Add the mushrooms and sauté until tender. 2. Add the trout and heat for 5 seconds. 3. Carefully add the brandy (it might flame up) and reduce by half. 4. Add the cream, salt, pepper, and parsley. Bring to a simmer. 5. Add the parmigiano. Heat until cheese has melted and the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat. 6. Cook the fresh pasta in plenty of boiling salted water for 1 minute. Drain and add to the sauce. 7. Return the sauce and pasta to the heat and toss to coat the pasta. Plate and serve.

(Makes one large serving or two smaller servings. Recipe can be doubled, but reduce the cream to five ounces rather than six.)

Recipe draws inspiration from one in Sienna. Currently on the menu at Broders' Pasta Bar.