The offerings range from affordable Italian to old-school cocktails to a fine-dining steakhouse, but Lemieux is up for the challenge, traveling to Italy to eat and learn, and spending nearly a year perfecting a recipe before introducing it to diners.
“We really pride ourselves on our craft and taking things to the next level,” he says.
Q: What chefs inspire you?
A: Thomas Keller because he is an American chef and his accolades are so great. Plus, he seems like the most humble, modest gentleman. Honestly, without him and his techniques that he crafted and fine-tuned over the years, a lot of the great dishes that I have come up with, I wouldn’t have been able to do them or they wouldn’t be as well executed as they are.
Another chef locally would be Mark Collins from Circa 1886. He’s very humble, but super passionate and light years ahead of his time. He humbled me when I thought I was the best thing since sliced bread and went up against him in a cooking competition. After that, I was like, “I want to follow this guy” because they demolished us. It’s those people who have been successful in this town for so many years that really keep you going and keep you inspired. I can’t talk to Thomas Keller; he’s not a phone call away. So it’s good to know guys like Mark are still around.
Q: What’s your dream meal to eat?
A: Well, I would probably start with beef tartare, like a really high grade, like a Wagyu or Kobe beef. Then I would do something with foie gras. I love foie gras in small doses. Then my mom makes really good manicotti, probably that for the entrée. Then one of my mom’s layer cakes for dessert. She’s been a baker for years and really prides herself on it. She thinks I’m hypercritical, but I love everything she does. Before, when I would eat it, she knew I liked it. Now, she looks for my professional approval. But who can make something better than your mom?
Q: Who or what most influences your cooking and why?
A: I had a friend, Brett Maynard, who I worked with at Rue De Jean, who was a well-known chef all over town, just a real humble, great guy. There was a real outpouring from the community when he passed. (Maynard was killed by a drunken driver in 2008.) I will be in the kitchen and don’t have an ounce of whatever left, and I think about him and how great he was, and I’ll say, “All right, Brett. Let’s get through this.”
Q: What is your best tip for the home gourmet?
A: A lot of people, I see them mangling carrots and onions and stuff. Really have a sharp knife. Most people have the misconception that a dull knife is safer, but it’s the exact opposite. Also, follow the recipe. Don’t try to change it because you ran out of an ingredient. Don’t try to improvise with something you found in the cupboard. If you don’t have recipes, buy good stuff at your local farmers market, and when you have good quality products, you don’t have to do anything to them. The more you fuss with food, you’re just contriving it and not really giving it its honest due. It sat in the ground for a year-and-a-half and now you are going to mangle it with some dry spice you found in your cupboard?
Q: What are five things always in your fridge?
A: Jarritos (Mexican soda), cheeses and salamis, pimento cheese – I can’t live without that stuff – SmartWater and beer.
Q: What was your first restaurant job?
A: I worked as a dishwasher at an Italian restaurant in Connecticut called Riverview Restaurant. I worked there throughout middle school and high school. It was a rough job. It really makes me now appreciate what dishwashers do, but it also makes you more conscious as a cook. Because these guys would not care, they would burn the be-Jesus out of something and say, “Hurry, we need that back.” And cream and tomato sauce – what they do to pans. It definitely groomed me to have a good work ethic but showed me that this wasn’t going to be easy.
Q: What are some new items to look for on your menus?
A: We want to have all the staple stuff that is typical to Italian-American food, but I really want to show people what they are doing in Italy. At Michael’s, we are adding a bone-in tomahawk pork chop to the menu, and it’s amazing. It has the bone; you can actually eat the rib meat off the bone. You will see people picking up the bone and just gnawing on it. That means we’ve won.