Michael Mina

The Cookbook


By JoAnn Cianciulli

Other Karl Petzke

By Michael Mina

Foreword by Andre Agassi

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ebook (Digital original)


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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around January 30, 2010. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

A world-class chef and restaurateur shares his secrets and reveals how to create his trio concept, where a master recipe is followed by three flavor variations. Accompanying the trios are Mina’s classic and most requested recipes from his restaurants. Full color.



Text copyright © 2006 by Mina Group, LLC

Photographs copyright © 2006 by Karl Petzke Studio

All rights reserved.

Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this
publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or
stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Bulfinch Press


Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at www.HachetteBookGroup.com

First eBook Edition: Feburary 2010

ISBN: 978-0-316-10194-3

For my wife, partner, and best friend, Diane,

and my two beautiful children, Sammy and Anthony,

and to my mother and father

for their encouragement and unwavering love



I first met Michael several years ago at Aqua in San Francisco. I had just finished one of the most amazing meals of my life, and he came to the table—as he did with every customer in the restaurant—to be sure that the experience lived up to his standards. He was executive chef of the restaurant at the time and clearly driven by the desire to deliver not just exceptional food, but extraordinary experiences.

Being new to the area, and with New Year's Eve just five days away, during his stop at my table I asked him to recommend a chef to cater a gathering of friends at my home. (Based on the exceptional experience I had just had, it was easy to trust his judgment.) To my surprise, he said he would be happy to do it himself. I enjoyed an unforgettable meal with friends, and a new friendship was formed.

When Michael established the Mina Group in 2002, we became business partners in his venture because I believe a talent like his is rare. Designing his own concept restaurants gave Michael the ability to infuse the atmosphere with the same vision and detail that he brings to his cuisine. We have since opened restaurants in my own backyard with SeaBlue, Michael Mina Bellagio, and Nobhill, which continue to raise the level of culinary excellence in Las Vegas and keep me from traveling to San Francisco for dinner.

I not only celebrate Michael's passion, but I admire his gift. When you experience the best in any field, you quickly develop an appreciation for how good the best can be. Michael combines his extraordinary talent with an appreciation for life's finer details, and the results are found in every one of his creations.

We are blessed that Michael is sharing his creativity and talents in this new book. He is truly as good as it gets.





Opening Restaurant Michael Mina in the legendary Westin St. Francis Hotel in the heart of San Francisco's Union Square has been a dream come true. The St. Francis is so much a part of the city's past that it truly is San Francisco. I felt that the landscape of the hotel and its historical value and location made it a perfect setting for my namesake restaurant. My goal was to create a timeless space that would become a landmark in the city I live in and love. I wanted to establish a sense of permanence, to make an impact with a restaurant that would be an enduring part of the city.

I have been in love with San Francisco since I was a boy. I will always remember my first visit to the city as a thirteen-year-old on vacation with my family. From that moment, I knew that I belonged here. All through school, I had posters of the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman's Wharf on my bedroom walls. I guess I was biding my time until I was old enough to make the move.

My first exposure to the culinary profession also came from San Francisco. As a teenager, watching Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, I saw Robin Leach feature Jeremiah Tower, the chef/owner of the city's famed Stars Restaurant. The restaurant's walls were covered with photographs of movie stars, and celebrities filled the tables, sipping champagne and eating caviar. I thought to myself, "I want to be a chef in San Francisco." I was very fortunate to know at an early age where I wanted to live and what I wanted to be when I grew up. The fact that the two were simpatico was a happy accident.

Chefs from all over the world view San Francisco as one of the great restaurant towns. It is arguably one of the best epicurean cities in the country and is frequently hailed as the culinary capital of the West Coast. Like New York City and New Orleans, it is virtually impossible to disconnect the place from its cuisine; food is a vital part of the city's magnetism. From artisanal breads to seasonal produce and seafood, San Francisco is a gourmet's paradise. The people who grow the products, prepare the food, and make the wine are our rock stars.

Developing and cultivating relationships with local purveyors is a special privilege of being a chef in San Francisco. I have a profound admiration for the hand-crafted artistry that goes into creating products with individual character and relevance. I cannot think of too many other places that can match the accessibility to such ingredients as we have in the Bay Area. Over the years, I have seen a maturing of the California style that has allowed us to develop a distinctive cuisine, one driven by seasonal ingredients. It feels organic, not forced, and, more important, it is right for the climate and the population.

The unqualified joy of being a chef in San Francisco comes from our diners. Dining is a big deal—people are food savvy with educated palates and an appreciation of great food and wine. Even people who aren't in the food industry read the Chronicle food section, follow the latest culinary trends, and take an interest in restaurant openings. It is an enormous luxury to have a built-in clientele so passionate and well versed.

I am also lucky to have three restaurants, Nobhill, SeaBlue, and Michael Mina Bellagio, in Las Vegas. It is a city that has undergone an incredible transformation in recent years as it has become the fastest-growing urban community in the nation. When it comes to food, Las Vegas promises unparalleled dining experiences. Visitors are treated to some of the most noteworthy restaurants in the world. The very concept of Las Vegas dining has changed remarkably in the past decade. A town built on gambling, it was infamous for mediocre food. Today, the culinary arena has grown to become one of the country's most competitive and exciting. Many renowned chefs have opened first-rate restaurants in the lavish hotels that dot the famous Strip. Joël Robuchon, one of the greatest French chefs of the last century, now has a restaurant in Las Vegas, evidence that the city has truly evolved to a food lover's destination. Las Vegas was invented for celebration; a refuge for people to escape to and leave stress behind. Visitors come to have fun, especially in the evening hours. I get enormous pleasure from running restaurants with a convivial energy that reminds me of being at a great party. Everyone is there for the same reason—to laugh, relax, enjoy a drink, and along the way partake in a fine meal.

I believe that a restaurant should paint a strong portrait of its owner. Everything you're trying to distinguish about yourself is found in the details. All of the elements should be carefully conceived and integrated, adding up to one grand gesture. I take great pride in seeking out the best of everything as I go the extra distance to create a special environment for my guests. I examine the dining experience from every angle, not just in terms of food and service, but from the décor perspective as well. This has opened my eyes to the beauty and intricacy of each facet of building a great restaurant. When I got into this business, I had no idea how important it is to have every layer fit seamlessly together. You never know which specifics are going to blow people away, so the safest thing to do is to make sure every detail is covered and that the overall style of the restaurant comes together as a complete package. The highest compliment paid is that people can't identify exactly what it is that strikes them.

A driving force throughout my career is the intense energy I get in learning something new. Each step along the way to becoming a chef was a totally fresh experience. While my love of cooking always comes first, I am now excited about being a restaurateur, devising new and different dining concepts, overseeing multiple restaurants, and working with designers. As I have expanded my restaurant group, I have been privileged to collaborate with four of the most prominent designers and architects in the world, Barbara Barry, Tony Chi, Adam Tihany, and Wendy Tsuju. In fact, the only people I have come across in my career who seemed to share the same concentrated exuberance as chefs have been designers. The relationship between the chef and the restaurant designer has an immediate impact on the interior style of a space. Working as a team, we sculpted the restaurants' atmosphere to balance the food concept, location, and clientele. Celebrating the unique tapestry of the particular locale, each restaurant has its own ambience and authenticity based on our distinct vision. All of my restaurants are within hotels and are characterized by their strong sense of place. It's important to make sure the restaurant doesn't feel like a hotel dining room while also taking into consideration the fact that it must blend in with the rest of the building. The environment that is realized defines the cuisine, allowing dining and décor to come together in a transcendent combination.

Although I have wanted to write a cookbook for some time, I felt that it was important to wait until I could create a book that would truly reflect my culinary journey. This seems to be that time. With the help of my extraordinary wife, Diane, I am more focused on my goals. The responsibility of parenting has both mellowed my personality and motivated me to grow and expand. I so enjoy having my boys involved in what I do every day. I bring one child to work on Friday night and the other one on Saturday to keep them as engaged in the restaurant as possible. I know how lucky I am to be able to do this. In fact, my seven-year-old, Sammy, now sits down to dinner and announces, "Daddy, I want a tasting menu." How many kids even know what a tasting menu is?

My life's ambition is about the most universal of desires: to follow a dream you've had since you were young, obsess about it, get colleagues as excited about it as you are, adjust it, and turn it into reality. More than a decade of living and cooking in San Francisco has influenced my culinary sensibilities. What I do is a reflection of my life and my passions. I now know what it takes to master a craft and that the intensity, discipline, rigors, and constant search for excellence on all levels do have their rewards. But in the end, being in the kitchen remains a labor of love. I hope that it is expressed on every page.





The philosophy at most of my restaurants celebrates a twist on refined American cuisine in one form or another. At the forefront is merging peak seasonal ingredients with modern cooking techniques to produce pure flavors that can be presented in an innovative fashion. Seasonal trio selections define the elevated food concept that I crafted especially for MICHAEL MINA. The trio concept highlights a primary ingredient that is accessorized with a trilogy of accompaniments; each of the three presentations offers an intricate array of taste sensations. I often describe the trio idea as complex simplicity. The three variations seem complicated when assembled on one plate, but when broken down individually, each is fairly straightforward to prepare. One example is Potato-Crusted Dover Sole (see page 50), which is the master recipe and centerpiece of the plate. The fish is then served with side components of differing vegetables, sauces, and garnishes. The method for preparing the sole remains constant throughout the variations.

In the first preparation, the sole is matched with Cauliflower Purée, Champagne Beurre Blanc, and Champagne Aïoli; cauliflower and champagne are the go-to ingredients in the classic medley. The second variation consists of Roasted Sweet Onion Purée, Malt Vinegar Beurre Blanc, and Classic Tartar Sauce; onion and malt are the flavor vehicles that drive it forward. The final presentation is Truffle Salsify, Beurre Rouge, and Truffle Aïoli; earthy salsify and truffles work together to provide the unifying line that runs through it.

In each interpretation, two or three choice ingredients are featured in a variety of ways to create layers of flavor in the final dish. I most regularly like to fuse one main flavor with a seasonal grouping of vegetables or fruits. The ingredients are utilized in multiple forms—roasted, juiced, or puréed, for instance—to bring the greatest range to their inherent flavor. I try to maintain the purity of the dish by isolating a specific flavor and then concentrating it through changing the way the ingredient has been prepared. Sampling several approaches to the same ingredients I feel teaches you something about your own taste. There isn't so much of any single item as to bore your palate.

When I first suggested this innovative way of presentation to my staff, they were confused; admittedly, I too was unsure of how to successfully pull my ideas together. As challenging as the trio concept has been to execute, I now cannot imagine any other menu for the restaurant. To my knowledge, this concept is unique and it has been great fun to devise an original approach to fine dining.

Prior to committing to the trio concept as a full-time menu idea, I experimented with the notion of eating in triplicate throughout my career. Often it was something as simple as running a foie gras trio as a special or as a course on a tasting menu, which always seemed to be a hit at the table. Over the years, I realized that two variations on a theme didn't have enough impact and four was too many. Three seemed to be the perfect number to make the flavor point.

Since I try to use locally grown, seasonal ingredients in all of my dishes, San Francisco is the perfect venue, as it gives me access to some of the world's best purveyors. There is such a wonderful variety of products available locally and we can quickly access exotic items from around the world. This is most advantageous when putting together the trio dishes, as all of this bounty allows us the freedom to create broad strokes on the plate.

When developing trio dishes it is important to define the flavors individually. Restraint is essential; I follow the old adage that the best ingredient is often the one the chef left out. I take one product, usually a protein, and then let it shine in a trinity of dishes. My goal is to keep the flavors in each variation simple and uncompromised. Each preparation has its own distinct identity, yet envelops an overall fluidity.

Not everyone wants to commit the better part of an evening to dining, so sampling all of the trio variations in a single course compresses an hours-long tasting menu to a reasonable dining period. MICHAEL MINA is located in San Francisco's downtown theater district so we have to acknowledge the time constraints of our theater-going diners. On the other hand, a night at the restaurant could be the high point of the dining-out year with the celebration of a birthday, engagement, or anniversary. So we have to make the dining experience as memorable as possible for both requirements, and the innovative trios do the trick in the most elegant way.

Once I established the trio concept, it was necessary to devise a method of serving the dishes. I knew that without the proper china, the trios would not succeed, since an integral part of fine dining is how the food is showcased on the plate. The china must set the tone of the dish. The trios were more elaborate than a traditional menu so we had to make certain that the finished dishes were impressive, not a group of components spread out across a plate. Consequently, I spent more than a year designing and perfecting a custom line of china that would allow the trios to star. Bernadaud worked with me to manufacture our brand of plateware to display the trio assortment together yet keep the preparations separate so they don't run into each other. Premium china companies commonly work with chefs to produce a table line that matches their singular style. This instance is unique because the china is tailor-made to model a particular menu concept, making it a focal point of the dining experience. I believe that the final plateware displays each dish in its best possible light.

Each trio is presented on a large, tray-like square plate, fitted with three small dish inserts of various shapes and sizes, the star and the teardrop being my favorites. The three variations are lined up in rows, in the same progressive order as the recipes are written. For optimal effect, we encourage guests to flow through the series of tastings from left to right, front to back, with the idea that the finish is the strongest flavor. Obviously, this is not something to worry about when serving these dishes at home, unless you want to make an evening of it.

There are those who eat to live and those who live to eat. I am lucky because so many diners at my restaurants fit into the latter group. It is a challenge and a great deal of fun to cook for them. I believe that a meal is an intimate exchange, a dialogue among the chef, the dish, and the diner. With the trio concept, I have produced a contemporary dining experience that my guests find memorable. There is nothing more rewarding for a chef.


I decided to make the trio concept the focus of my first cookbook because I believe that it translates so well to the home kitchen. All cooks have foods that they love to prepare and often get so comfortable doing so that they cook the same thing over and over. I know that I often find myself doing this when cooking at home. Such repetition may provide comfort, but it can also be boring—both for the cook and for diners. And that's just what makes the trio concept so useful. Once you get the hang of any master recipe, you have three different ways to enjoy it.

Each trio preparation stands on its own and is equally creative and delicious. You can present one variation one day and introduce the master recipe in another arrangement later on. You will still be using the identical pots and pans and going through the same general routine. I think it is really liberating for home cooks to play with the variations; it frees you up to think on your feet. Once the blueprint of the dish is learned, the trio format is clear-cut.

The structure of each trio is built on a solid foundation; the master recipes are supported by a cluster of components that fit together in tone and content. The fundamentals and focus stay the same, only the flavor combinations revolve. For instance, the marmalades on the Seared Squab Breast (see pages 114–19) require the same process to complete but the fruit in each is the element that alters the outcome.

The trio recipes also encourage versatility by showing how to take each master dish down three avenues of taste simply by adjusting a few techniques and ingredients. The wide range of selections gives each cook the flexibility and freedom to alternate menus with ease, and the ability to master basic recipes, particularly when given insight on how to elaborate on them, builds confidence in the kitchen.

My trio recipes are constructed as fully realized dishes, each serving four standard portions. I suggest that you begin by considering each of the three variations and preparing the one that is most appealing to you. More often than not, most home cooks (including me) will not have the time to prepare all the groupings at once. However, if you are feeling adventurous, make the three variations in unison and present the trios just as I do in the restaurant. It is a clever and interactive way to have a dinner party.

I realize that often, as you flip through the pages of a cookbook, a recipe might pique your interest but you don't have all the ingredients on hand, or a particular component is not a favorite flavor, or everything is not available locally. The trios eliminate these issues because there is enough variety that you are sure to find at least one that you can make without omitting or substituting ingredients.

Although the variations are meant to be prepared and enjoyed together, each dish can be plated individually, as described in the recipe method, or served family-style on platters for more casual dining. Each variation is meant to be prepared and enjoyed together; it is not recommended to mix and match items from one variation to another, unless you are undertaking the whole trio. The formula should always stay the same; three variations of one main ingredient.

While all of the recipes have been written and tested with the home cook in mind, they are not watered-down versions of those we use in the restaurant. They are designed to be prepared in the home kitchen by a single cook. Particularly helpful at home is the fact that many of the components of the trios can be prepared in advance. The main point to remember about the trio concept is that each one is a variation on a theme, not a random selection. So, enjoy learning a master recipe and have fun testing your skill and your palate with the variations.





When I go out to eat, I usually do what most chefs do—order as many different dishes as I think I just might possibly be able to eat. This is in part because all chefs relish the experience of dining in another's restaurant. For me, it is also for the thrill I feel when I indulge in a profusion of flavors and textures. Sometimes I savor just a bite or two and sometimes my empty plate leaves me wanting more, but I never regret my choices.

So that diners at MICHAEL MINA can enjoy this same experience, my first course trios are based on two variations of one main ingredient on each presentation. I offset them with techniques and seasonal accompaniments to create six different, but interrelated, dishes to complete the course. The interplay created by the complementary and contrasting ingredients and cooking techniques balances the entire plate with the progression of hot and cold variations, designed to be eaten from the front of the plate to the back. For example, the hot seared scallops with caviar, corn, and roasted beets have three corresponding chilled ceviches that echo the nearly identical flavor combinations. The same philosophy applies to the parallel portraits of soup and salad. The preparation of these different dishes is, without a doubt, labor intensive, even for a restaurant kitchen. For this reason, I have made sure that each dish can stand on its own when required. However, if you do decide to go the distance, I suggest that you keep the same set of trios that I have put together, as the flavor profiles have been designed to work together as a whole.

At home, just as in the restaurant, hors d'oeuvres or appetizers are your first chance to excite your guests and give them a hint of the meal to follow. It is important that all of the components of a meal have a corresponding relationship so that the intensity of the dining experience results from a perfect marriage. The first course should simply be the seduction.












On Sale
Jan 30, 2010
Page Count
272 pages

JoAnn Cianciulli

About the Author

Michael Mina is chef and owner of Restaurant Michael Mina in the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco and in the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas; he is also chef and owner of Nob Hill and Seablue in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. He has won the 2002 James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef in California and the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence and the AAA Four Diamond Award.

JoAnn Cianciulli, was a producer for four years on the Food Network show, Food 911, and she’s the collaborator on Tyler Florence’s Real Kitchen and The Lever House Cookbook.

Learn more about this author

Michael Mina

About the Author

Michael Mina is chef and owner of Restaurant Michael Mina in the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco and in the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas; he is also chef and owner of Nob Hill and Seablue in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. He has won the 2002 James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef in California and the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence and the AAA Four Diamond Award.

JoAnn Cianciulli, was a producer for four years on the Food Network show, Food 911, and she’s the collaborator on Tyler Florence’s Real Kitchen and The Lever House Cookbook.

Learn more about this author