Michael Cimarusti impacts the food conversation on and off the plate, interview

MASTERCHEF: Guest judge Michael Cimarusti in the “Finale Part 2 Michael Cimarusti” airing Wednesday, Sept 15 (9:01-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2021 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: FOX.
MASTERCHEF: Guest judge Michael Cimarusti in the “Finale Part 2 Michael Cimarusti” airing Wednesday, Sept 15 (9:01-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2021 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: FOX. /

With numerous accolades attached to his illustrious career, Michael Cimarusti appreciates that his voice in the culinary industry is one that implores people to listen. From his seafood centric, award winning restaurants in Los Angeles, the food served is only one part of the conversation. While Providence restaurant features the quote, “No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn,” that sentiment more poignant that the simplicity in the phrase. It shows that Cimarusti approaches his culinary creativity with utmost respect to the source that provided it.

As the final guest judges on this season of MasterChef Legends, Cimarusti holds the finalists’ fate in his hand. While he has appeared on various Gordon Ramsay culinary competitions, that opportunity is one that he takes seriously.

When asked his thoughts on being a judge, Cimarusti shared, “I’ve seen Gordon over the years on many of his shows. I know that he takes the success and the skill level of the competitors seriously. When I appear on the show as a judge, I hope the contestants hear what I’m saying and that they find some part of what I say impactful. I try not to be overly harsh and to reflect on the positives more than the negatives. These people are putting themselves out there, it’s not easy to do what they are doing, I’d rather cheer them on than beat them down.”

Those impactful words are meant to be savored, not just devoured and discarded. While being a judge on a competition show is one moment in time, the idea of mentorship is not limited to being in front of the camera. Like other successful chefs, the call to mentor chefs in his own kitchen is strong.

Cimarusti said, “I definitely feel a pressure to mentor the cooks that come to work with me. I want them to leave here better than when they started, and I want them to reflect fondly on their time here when they move on.”

In some ways, that sentiment is woven into many aspects of what Cimarusti offers every guest that sits at one of his tables. As he said, “you never know who you are going to reach through your food. I am often pleasantly surprised to hear from our guests that the food we produce in our kitchen touches them.”

Michael Cimarusti discusses seasonality and the importance of sustainability

When a dinner peruses the menu at Providence, the descriptions are more than a litany of ingredients that are combined into a memorable first bite. Cimarusti highlights the fishermen as much as the farmer.

When asked, Cimarusti shared, “I think it’s good for our guests to have that connection to fisherman the same way they relate to farmers and cheese makers and wine makers. Fishermen are people too and for too long the system that brings fish to our markets is focused on bringing us imported and mostly farm-raised fish. It’s cheaper and more readily available, also less wholesome, worse for our planet and far-less delicious.”

While this MasterChef Legends season has focused the conversation on seasonality and the importance of fresh ingredients, Cimarusti’s comments make it clear that produce is only one aspect of that conversation.

Even though he said that “Our entire menu revolves around the seasons and how they are reflected in what’s available at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market. It’s always important to me to cook with the seasons, for me there is no other way to write a menu.”

Still, the protein plated with that produce is a vital part of the conversation. Beyond ensuring the best possible flavor from the freshest ingredients, the thoughtfulness and care in choosing that food tells a bigger story. In many ways, those decisions linger as long as the food memory etched in the taste buds.

While MasterChef Legends proves that home cooks want to bring a bold sense of culinary creativity to the table, Cimarusti believes that professional chefs can be that voice to guide both the aspiring foodie and those craving more knowledge.

As Cimarusti said, “As chefs we are asked for our thoughts on food all the time. Turning the conversation to things we think are important is only natural. When it comes to home cooks I think the best way to inform your choices with regards to seafood is to consult the Monterey Bay Aquariums Seafood Watch App.”

With more home cooks looking to expand their cooking horizons, Cimarusti shares some simple advice on how to boost that cooking confidence. He said, “as far as not being confident with cooking fish, the key to success is like all other things, practice, practice, practice.”

In addition, Cimarusti recommends being thoughtful with that fish choice. Specifically, he mentioned starting with an entry-level fish. Specifically, he said, “as for entry-level fish, local is always going to be cheaper, fresher and more readily available.

Lastly, while Cimarusti might be known for his sensational seafood dishes, he is usually cooking a different style of food at home. Cimarusti said, “When I cook at home 8 out of 10 meals that I cook will reflect my Italian heritage, usually in the form of pasta.”

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Michael Cimarusti is the co-owner and chef of Providence as well as other restaurants in Los Angeles.

MasterChef Legends airs on FOX. Throughout the eleventh season, MasterChef Legends featured guest appearances by Michelin Star chefs as well as other culinary greats, in addition to the core judges of Gordon Ramsay, Aaron Sanchez and Joe Bastianich.