THIRD STREET — Michael McCarty is a man on a mission.
It’s not enough that he’s one of the leading progenitors of contemporary cuisine, that he’s a great art collector, that he has not one but two of America’s most celebrated restaurants (Michael’s Santa Monica, Michael’s New York), that he received this year’s Careers Through Culinary Arts Program Culinary Hero Award, and that he has his own vineyard in Malibu.
He’s known for celebrating the local and the seasonal; there’s an herb and fruit garden on the restaurant’s roof where his mixologist handpicks some of the drink ingredients, which comes in handy with the just-introduced, all-night $6 happy hour menu, served Monday through Saturday, starting at 6 p.m.
Michael was one of the motivating forces behind the creation of the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market. After all, his eponymous restaurant is just up the street, so he no longer needs to drive to the farms himself to source their local bounty.
Now he’s not only buying at the market, he’s also giving personal tours at his Michael’s Monthly Market Meet-Ups; the next one is on March 14. March’s meet-up will focus on jumbo green asparagus from Zuckerman’s Farm, a third generation farm in the Delta Region of the San Joaquin Valley.
When you go with Michael and his chef, John-Carlos Kuramoto, be prepared to walk — and listen — fast. He’ll share the history of the market, the development of the neighborhood, how he started the restaurant, the movement he helped lead in creating a new regional American cuisine along with his colleagues, a who’s who of celebrity chefs and winemakers — all before you’ve reached the market on Arizona Avenue, just a block and a half from his front door.
Each month, there’s a featured farm and a selected item that the chef will prepare for a tasting in Michael’s enchanted patio garden at the end of the tour.
Begin the morning at the restaurant with coffee and freshly baked pastries. The group of us who gathered for the February meet-up were treated to cinnamon buns, still warm from the oven. “And make sure you put butter on them,” Michael admonished us.
John-Carlos pushes the produce cart as Michael waxes rhapsodic about Harry’s Berries, Windrose Farms potatoes and all of Gloria’s Produce, farmers who grow sustainably. Everyone greets Michael as he passes. The mushroom man hands him a bag of chanterelles because he forgot the ones he bought last week. For good measure, Michael picks up some truffles.
In February, the featured produce was kale from Coleman Farms, whose stand we visited, as Michael pointed out what to buy and how to select it. Later we enjoyed a delicious kale Caesar salad, followed by a light vegetable soup with kale and some much-praised fried pasta. Each course was paired with exactly the right wine, enhancing the fresh flavors in front of us.
You don’t need to be a “foodie” to appreciate this up-close and personal experience. Michael is a great host, and at the end of the tasting, you’ll receive a signed copy of his book, “Welcome to Michael’s: Great Food, Great People, Great Party,” recipes and stories about the life of the restaurant and the restaurateur, at work and at home. It’s a testament to his culinary — and people — skills.
Michael’s Monthly Market Meet-Ups are $75 per person. For more information visit www.michaelssantmonica.com or call to reserve your place for the March 14 tour, (310) 451-0843.
Sarah Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for National Public Radio and a producer for public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica.