Interview With Bimini Boatyard Chef Michael Bennett, Part 2
Clean Plate Charlie: You've written two cookbooks. Have you ever taught cooking?
Chef Michael Bennett: Yeah, I've taught. I taught kids at my daughters' school. It was a healthy-cooking class. I would show them that you can go to the store and buy a bag of chips that are healthy. We did healthy pastas. We did healthy techniques. This is before chefs were all over TV. But you could see that these kids really loved cooking. My class grew from 15 to 30 kids. Kids were sneaking into the class.
When was there a shift that made cooking cool?
I think it's all Bravo Network's fault. I hate Top Chef, but my wife loves it. That and that show where the guy yells a lot..
Yes. What an idiot. Nobody in this industry would treat their people that way. Nobody. But these shows did good things, because kids want to be in this industry now.
You lived in Tortola for a while. Tell us about it.
I'll tell you why I dream about Tortola every night. (shows me a picture.) Look at the water. The water is crystal blue. I had to cross the channel to get to my restaurant every day. You could see sea turtles, whales, dolphins. The blue is an amazing blue.
What was everyday life like there?
It was the British Virgin Islands. I had a work permit, but my daughters had to go to school online through the Miami-Dade Public Schools system. It took three months to get electricity in my house. We take things for granted here -- like groceries, internet service. It was eight months before we got telephone service. I had to take my daughters downtown every day to get internet service. It became a real hassle.
When you go to the Caribbean, there's no Publix, no Kmart, no Burger King. It's great for a week, but try to do it for a year. When I went to St. Thomas and ate a Big Mac, it was like heaven to me -- because I couldn't get one in Tortola. When you don't have these little conveniences, you really miss it.
And my kids were so citified, the couldn't stand it, because we lived next door to Aventura Mall before we moved, and suddenly there wasn't a mall for hundreds of miles.
It must have been torture for two teenaged girls. Any good stories?
One time at my restaurant, we had a giant setup for the Super Bowl. We had 100 to 150 people at the bar. At 7:30, the game started [there's an hour difference], and the entire island went black because everyone flipped on their TV at the same time. Luckily, someone had a laptop, and 150 people gathered around the laptop to watch the game.
So how did you get from Tortola to Bimini Boatyard?
My family and I decided to move back to Florida. I got back, I'm holed up in my hotel room waiting for my furniture to arrive. It takes about three weeks. I'm bored, so I walk into Bimini Boatyard. I figure Bimini Boatyard -- Caribbean. Sounds good. I talk to the general manager, and I'm working there the next week. It was a natural fit.
I thought about doing dishes from the French Caribbean, the Spanish Caribbean. Like the Martinique grouper and the scallops.
You can't get good scallops retail.
I know. I get them in specially. I have them specially dry-packed.
Bimini Boatyard is a big seafood house, obviously.
We do so much seafood. At the last Boat Show, we sold over a ton of seafood. We sold 2,600 pounds of seafood. Oysters, snapper, yellowtail, dolphin, lobster. I was buying and cooking five cases of Florida lobster tail a day. Over 100 pounds of dolphin a day. It was crazy. I didn't cut less than 200 pounds of fish a day during that weekend.
What's next for chef Michael Bennett?
I plan on writing more. I wrote my cookbooks on my deck in Tortola. It was a great experience. I'm also making cooking videos directly from the balcony of my home in Hollywood. It's an amazing view. It's a beautiful vista.
Stay tuned for a Caribbean-inspired recipe from chef Michael Bennett, coming soon.