Michael Smith and his wife, Nancy, will be spending his 50th birthday -- tomorrow -- in Spain. The co-owners of Michael Smith and Extra Virgin restaurants have made arrangements to dine at chef Ferran Adria's legendary El Bulli restaurant for Michael's half-century celebration. "It took over a year to get the reservation," he says.
It's not that difficult to get a reservation to Smith's namesake restaurant, which is now nearly four years old. He discussed the challenges of operating an upscale restaurant in a changing economy with Fat City. Do Kansas Citians still want upscale dining?
Are you concerned for the future of fine dining in Kansas City?
Well, I can tell you that fine dining revenues are down -- everywhere. But I feel it's coming back. Still, I worry if fine dining restaurants are becoming irrelevant or if this downturn is part of a cycle. As for Michael Smith, we're doing exactly as we projected.
Is it true that you were criticized for having your two restaurants -- Michael Smith and Extra Virgin -- side by side?
There were some people that we know who told Nancy and me that they didn't think it was a good idea. But it's made my job as a chef and restaurateur a hell of a lot easier. Until I had these two restaurants, I had never been able to use almost every single food product I have in the kitchen.
Give us an example.
If I'm trimming up ribeye steak to use on the Michael Smith menu, I can trim off some of the fattier round steak to roll it up, fill it with onions, garlic and herbs and create a braciole as a special for Extra Virgin. There's not a lot of waste in the kitchens.
You surprised a lot of diners in Kansas City by having success with unexpected dishes, like the duck tongue tacos and pig ears.
We sell a hell of a lot of pigs ears. And the duck tongue tacos are a huge seller. One of my customers wants me to add turkey testicles to the menu.
How would you prepare them?
They're very rich. I'd saute them in a pan in a tart lemon butter.
Do you have a guilty pleasure that you enjoy eating late at night?
I can tell you what guilty pleasures I don't eat any more. Pasta. In college, I made myself a big bowl of pasta every night. And I'm still a sucker for anything wrapped in a corn tortilla. But my weakness is chips. We can't have bags of potato chips in the house. Even the little bags that my daughters like to have around. I mean, if they're in the house, I'll eat three of those little bags for breakfast.