We recently sat down with Mikey Carrasco and asked him what ingredient best represented his personality.  He chose citrus and talked with us at length about his approach to cooking and developing a dish.

We also got a tour of the Broadway Oyster Bar kitchens and took some fun photos while chatting with Mikey.

What do you focus on most when developing a dish or choosing ingredients?

When I am developing a dish I like to think of it as a painting or a piece of music and both because I believe food is an interactive art form. In the composition of a painting as illustrated by Henri Matisse in his Notes of A Painter “Composition is the art of arranging in a decorative manner the diverse elements at the painters command to express his feelings” This is everything about presentation and plating to me. Using the principles of art and design – balance, contrast, emphasis, movement, pattern, rhythm, unity and variety to convey your message in a harmonious balance with a sound structural foundation and intention.

When building flavors I think of the flavors as musical notes. As one of my former superiors Mike Thorp would put it “bass notes, mid range and high notes” Bass notes being earthy deep flavors such as dark chocolate cumin or roasted beets. Mid range being carrots, green beans chicken etc… and high notes being well, yes! Citrus fruits. Zest and juice. Spicy chilis, fresh basil and so on. 

How do you like where you work now?

I love cooking at The Broadway Oyster Bar. It is a place people can go to have a good time, listen to great music (not top 40 radio trash) and eat great food for a reasonable price. It’s no secret if you follow me on instagram @mikeysinstl that years before I ever worked at The Oyster Bar it is where I would go to revel. I have a background in throwing festivals in Austin and the very first time I visited B.O.B. I saw the music calendar and was like “wow I’ve booked some of those zydeco bands!” I love eating oysters and seafood in general and drinking Abita beer. I have visited Louisiana many times and love the rich culture and history it has. The fact that St Louis is sister cities with New Orleans is so cool to me. I never prospected working there because I would usually be elbow deep in oysters or in the audience enjoying the music. When they reached out to me for an interview it was surreal to me. John Johnson and his family and staff are real people. They care about everyone at the Oyster Bar and are very benevolent in the way they run the business. I have a great appreciation for them and always will.

Who have you most enjoyed working with in your career?

I have enjoyed working with many people in my career. Of course my longtime friend Christian Ethridge, Peter Clark, Renee Cruz, my friends at 4 Hands, Sergio Yakanoshi, Mikey Friedman, Josh Chartrand and Alejandro Onofre at Oyster Bar and far too many to mention all of but I really cherish these relationships as this industry galvanizes us and creates strong forged friendships. I try to learn from everyone around me every day and share openly anything I know. This makes us all better at what we do.

How does citrus best reflect your personality?

I think citrus fruit best represents my personality because it is bright and refreshing. I tend to be a jovial person who tries to keep a smile on my face, a vision for my future, and a song in my heart. I like to wear bright socks and tell jokes. Laughter is very important in my regimen. I have RRMS (relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis) but I refuse to let it get me down. Staying stress free is a huge part of the preventative measures I take to keep my symptoms in check and keeping a positive disposition no matter what is crucial to my well being. I think citrus fruit does exactly that. Ever heard the mantra “when life gives you lemons…?” Boom.

Do you feel citrus is vastly unappreciated?

I think people purchase lots of food with refined sugars such as high fructose corn syrup made with gmo corn containing citric acid that could easily be avoided by making fresher healthier products at home using better sugar fresher better tasting citrus and naturally occurring citric acid. There is nothing to be scared of. Purge your house of those over processed items and do it yourself. You will never go back.

What food or drink pairs well with citrus?

Again, anything with high iron content is smart to pair with citrus. And since citrus is generally one of those high notes, it tends to go well with earthy foods like beets and mushrooms. Great on beef, chicken, fish and shellfish, or anything from the water. Citrus fruit pairs well with healthy living!

How did you get your start in the industry?

Although I was born and raised in Austin, the capitol of Texas, my mother grew up in El Paso, Texas, a border town on the western tip of Texas. In my pre-teens we would annually visit my grandfather in El Paso. He lived there until he was 90 and then moved to Austin so he could be closer to us in his late senior years. Anyhow, when we visited El Paso we would always spend a day in Juarez, Mexico. We would cross the Bridges of The Americas crossing the Rio Grande River into Juarez. Patronizing restaurants (and bars) and most importantly we would visit the mercados. Mostly open air  but a few enclosed markets throughout the city. There would be pinatas hanging, wool rugs and serapes draped up, Mexican candies, western wear stores, specialty shops such as yerberias (where they sold herbs such as Mexican oregano, epazote and spices such as achiote), duros – wheat snacks that you would take home and deep fry until they expanded into crunchy wagon wheels which you would cover with lime juice and chile powder before eating them. My mother would religiously seek out the pure Mexican vanilla. You could see people making chicharones and chopping carnitas for tacos. Grinding corn on molcajetes and making fresh tortillas, sopes and gorditas right in front of you. It was there that I learned about Mexican produce and how to tell if fruits were ripe. How to spot a deal and talk the merchants into the best price. The smells and visuals, the language and the culture really stuck with me forever from those times. I could go on and on about those experiences in Mexico, my grandfather and El Paso Texas but I will cut it short in saying it was my start in becoming a cultural junkie and foodie in the making. Not exactly my start in “the industry” but crucial to my gastronomical beginnings. My first food job was officially Burger King as a teenager, then Fuddruckers and a few sandwich shops. But they were just that. Jobs.

What do most people getting started in cooking get wrong at first?

I think one of the most common mistakes a chef in training can make is going to the market with a rigid list of ingredients for a dish that is out of season, over priced or just not even available in that region. I take recipes as a suggestion only. I go to the market with open ended ideas and try to hone them into a great meal. Also don’t buy more herbs and spices than you can use in a timely manner. These things are better fresh. I try to stay stocked on vinegars, sugar, salts, honey, flour and pantry items but I tend to buy fresh ingredients when possible and in the amounts I need. The more ingredients and preservatives there are in food the less nutrients and natural flavors there probably are as well. And if you really love cooking you should really enjoy a trip to the market.

What other creative ventures are you involved in?

I am currently involved with my friend and fellow Texan Ryan Cimperman (general manager of The Flying Saucer St Louis craft beer emporium) in a series of 5 course beer dinners that we host somewhat monthly as our busy schedules permit. We pair local chefs with local beers and sell 50 tickets. It’s a lot of fun, a great value at $50 per seat and a great network and group of friends. Craft beer enthusiasts, foodies and just good folks in general. Generally we announce dates and times on The Flying Saucers Facebook page. We do not sell tickets online and we do not reserve seats. First come first serve ’til we fill the seats. Tickets are usually on sale at the bar a few weeks in advance. They can be purchased with card or cash. These dinners have been mentioned in the Riverfront Times and St Louis Magazine online. 

What do you like the most about citrus?

Citrus fruit is very versatile. It can range from sweet to very sour. Virtually every part of a citrus fruit can be useful in one way or another and it can make a somewhat ordinary flavored dish pop out much more. Citrus fruits are a whole food which I believe is a gift from mother nature herself. It is not only high in vitamin c but also rich in natural sugars and fibers as well as minerals such as potassium, folate, calcium, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6 (which helps your body absorb iron so pairing citrus with broccoli or spinach is always a smart and healthy decision), phosphorous, magnesium, copper and riboflavin. Citrus contains zero fat or sodium but can be used to make dishes taste better with lass salt. There is strong evidence that citrus fruit can help reduce the risk of and/or retard the progression of many diseases and disorders such as cardiovascular disease, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, cancer, anaemia, and neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly. Citrus fruit is also a great tenderizing agent when cooking proteins.

What are your favorite ways to use Citrus?

My microplane gets used usually more than once a day. I add lemon zest to a ton of dishes. Take a basic garlic cream sauce and add some lemon zest to it. It does wonders. It brings out the garlic and accentuates any salt content. Squeeze an orange or sprinkle some orange or lemon zest on broccoli, asparagus, or spinach (raw or sautéed, blanched, etc…) It will help your body absorb the iron and taste delicious and fresh. Replace the white wine or even some of it in a dish and replace it with citrus juice. Use it to tenderize meats. Use it to keep apples and pears from browning after you slice them. Citrus fruits are high in citric acid ,which is a very natural preservative that helps other foods keep their vibrancy and flavor. Add orange, grapefruit, or lemon juice and zest to simple syrup, marry the flavors, then mix it with club soda for a natural soda pop. Use the syrup to sweeten dishes with a flare. Simmer citrus slices in simple syrup to candy the fruit and use it as a healthy treat for your kids or a garnish for a dish. I could go on forever on uses for citrus fruits. Be creative!

Mikey, thanks so much for taking the time to give us so much insight into your process and views on cooking!  We’re glad we’ve been able to follow you and your career in St. Louis.  Thanks for all you do!

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