🔪 MEET THE CHEF: Michael Santoro of The Polo Lounge at The Beverly Hills Hotel, California
Tripveel sat down with Chef Michael Santoro of The Polo Lounge at The Beverly Hills Hotel, California.
Where did you grow up and/or where have you traveled to that has helped inspire and shape your cooking philosophy?
I grew up in Mansfield Ohio, about 45 minutes south of Cleveland. It was a very small town, a rural area with one factory. My best friend’s mother was born in Sicily so I would eat dinner at their house at least five nights a week. I would actually go from my house where I would have dinner, to his house for a second dinner. She made the best country dishes — joints of lamb, meatballs and all types of pasta. These were some of my best memories of growing up. All of this played a key role in my developing a deep understanding of dinner. Being around big families, eating, sharing, talking and enjoying.
It wasn’t until I started working overseas in England and Spain did I begin to shape a food
philosophy. Working at the Fat Duck in Bray and Mugaritz in San Sebastian was where my cooking philosophy began. Those kitchens taught me the process in which development occurs, how to continue to work on food to create something that is outstanding and how much work and focus goes into creating food.
Tell our readers an interesting fact or two about yourself.
I used to be a DJ and produce Detroit Electronic Tracks
I had a factory job when I was 18-years old and learned how to drive a fork lift, from time to time
I still enjoy taking one for a spin
I have opened 3 hotels and 5 restaurants
I am an avid golfer
Tell us about your absolute favorite food and why readers should try it if they haven’t already.
Sweet breads — the thymus gland of veal or lamb. Although this item is not new or trendy, it is incredibly delicious. It takes a little expertise to execute this and cook it correctly, but the soft butter and savory notes make this meat very enjoyable. I first learned how to cook these when I was staging at St. John’s in London. Fergus is an expert in utilizing the entire animal, making sure respect is paid and there isn’t any waste.
What are three ingredients that you simply couldn’t live without?
This is a tough one — but I would say salt, butter and chili.
We love the art behind plating. What do you love about designing the perfect dish?
There is beauty in all types of plating. Minimal, complex, simple, heavy garnish, interesting lines, etc... these days I am finding more and more beauty in simplicity. A good rule I like to teach aspiring chefs is to finish their plate up and remove two items from the final dish. Dishes do not need 11 plate touches. My three criteria for a perfect dish: it is delicious, the chef takes pride in the creation of this dish, and the guest enjoys the dish. But most importantly if you want to have a market as a chef, you need to present the food to the market in which you are trying to build. Having modern plating and ingredients at an all-day café, or rustic food at a fine dining concept may not work. The plating has to fit the room, clientele and talent within the kitchen.
Tell us about one of the most creative dishes you’ve created?
I had a lot of fun cooking a Dover Sole table side in beeswax. I baked the Dover Sole in beeswax and would deliver a beeswax plaque to the table and the server seamed and gently opened the beeswax encasement while the rest of the food arrived. The server would then gently lift out the sole and plate it. The sole had a slightly sweet taste to enhance its natural flavor.
Share your most recent awards and accreditations with us!
I was nominated for The James Beard Foundation Award’s “Outstanding Chef Mid-Atlantic,” “13 to Watch” and Star Chefs' “Rising Star Chefs Awards.”
What are some of the latest trends you’re seeing in top restaurants across the globe?
Heavy focus on fish and vegetables
Reinventing the classics... The Tak Room is a great example of this.
I am seeing more hand work and less machine
Restaurants are moving away from the three hour tasting menu