Executive chef, Le Meritage
It’s said that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and in the case of chef Michael Farrell this expression holds a bushel of truth. The youngest of five children growing up in central Virginia, Farrell was bitten by the food and entertaining bug as a young boy while watching his parents host elaborate dinner and cocktail parties. Always the perfect hostess, his mother didn’t overlook one detail—from cutlery to linens—and it was a talent that transfixed the young boy. “I learned from watching my parents entertain,” Farrell said. “It is in the smallest of gestures that the gap is bridged, from ordinary dining to extraordinary dining. Of course it is the food, but it is also the shade of the flowers, the texture and fragrance of a fresh herb, the placement of a napkin, a warm welcome upon arrival.”
At age 15, Farrell entered the professional culinary world. Over the past 25 years, he has served in a variety of prominent positions across the United States. He was the executive chef of Beano’s Cabin and Saddle Ridge in Beaver Creek, Colorado, and the owner and executive chef of Nantucket’s renowned Summer House Restaurant. He also opened Anthem Country Club in Las Vegas. His unparalled focus, commitment to utilizing the finest and freshest ingredients available and his keen attention to detail have catapulted him to the top of his culinary game. He has been recognized by DiRoNA, Wine Spectator, Zagat and Bon Appétit, among many others, and was recently invited to showcase his talents at the James Beard House.
A longtime fan of New Orleans, Farrell jumped at the chance to be the executive chef of Le Meritage at the Maison Dupuy Hotel and to practice his profession in a city known for innovative, flavorful cuisine and Southern hospitality. Since his arrival in January 2009 (his wife, Gina, is a New Orleans native with strong family and community ties), Le Meritage has undergone a complete transformation, including a name change, and has received scores of accolades. The wine-friendly concept, which also offers diners the choice of small or large plates of each dish, has been embraced by discriminating locals, as well as press and tourists. Farrell, who refers to his style of cooking as “Southern coastal cuisine,” believes there is a formula by which a chef arrives at his or her culinary vision: “You bring together all the things you grew up loving, all the things you have been taught and all the things you have in front of you in abundance. From this collection of influences, you make something wonderful.”
What’s one ingredient that you can’t live without?
How do you describe your style of cooking?
Southern coastal cuisine
What are your signature dishes?
Speckled trout with apple-smoked bacon and jumbo lump crab; braised beef short ribs with basil gremolata; and crab cakes
What’s your favorite type of music to listen to when cooking?
It depends on my mood, anything from classical to hard rock to jazz.
If you could cook for anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
What’s your favorite ethnic cuisine?
Good Italian food
When you eat out locally, where do you dine?
Patois, Martin Wine Cellar, Byblos with family
What’s the strangest request you’ve ever had from a diner?
Kosher hot dogs for dinner in a fine-dining restaurant
What’s the best part about being a chef?
Being creative and using food as a medium for my art
What’s the most challenging part of being a chef?
Balancing the long hours at work with family time
If you were not a chef in New Orleans, in what city would you like to work?
I’ve worked in many major cities around the country and this city is the only one for me.
What’s your favorite “guilty pleasure” food?
“Choco taco” ice cream bars off the neighborhood ice cream truck and thin-crust pizza.
Sweet or savory?
Mild or spicy?
Wine or beer?
Salt or pepper?
Red beans or gumbo?
Fresh Herb Crusted Lamb Chops With Pinot Noir Sauce
Courtesy of chef Michael Farrell, Le Meritage
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 pounds lamb neck stew meat or lamb riblets
1 pound onions, coarsely chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
4 1/3 cups pinot noir or other dry red wine
3 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Three 1 1/2-pound well-trimmed 8-rib racks of lamb, preferably frenched
Heat oil in heavy, large pot over medium-high heat. Add lamb and sauté until deep brown, turning occasionally, about 18 minutes. Using tongs, transfer lamb to bowl. Add onions, carrot, garlic and herbes de Provence. Sauté until vegetables are deep brown, about 8 minutes. Add wine and broth; return lamb and any accumulated juices to pot. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered 1 1/2 hours. Strain into large bowl, pressing on solids in strainer to release all stock. Spoon off any fat from surface of stock; return stock to same large pot. Simmer until reduced to 1 1/3 cups, about 15 minutes.
Mix butter and flour in small bowl to smooth paste. Whisk paste into stock. Simmer sauce until slightly thickened and smooth, whisking constantly, about 1 minute longer. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Transfer to small saucepan, cover and chill. Rewarm before using.)
Stir fresh herbs and pepper in medium bowl to blend. Add 2 tablespoons oil and mix until herbs are sticking together. Sprinkle lamb racks with salt. Firmly press 1/3 of herb mixture over rounded side of each rack to cover. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Place on large rimmed baking sheet. Cover and chill.)
Preheat oven to 350° F. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 lamb rack to skillet, herbed side down. Sauté until browned, about 4 minutes. Turn rack over and sauté until browned, about 3 minutes. Place rack, herbed side up, on rimmed baking sheet. Repeat, fitting remaining racks on same sheet.
Roast lamb until thermometer inserted into center registers 135° F for medium-rare, about 25 minutes. Let lamb rest on sheet 15 to 20 minutes. Cut lamb between bones into individual chops. Arrange three chops on each plate. Drizzle with sauce and serve.