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09.16.09

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Phaedra

Main Man: Michael Clark learned to cook in California, then learned French technique at the Savoy Hotel.

Catering To the Crowd

The man behind Michael's on Main answers our questions

By Christina Waters


CHEF MICHAEL CLARK got his start at the age of 13, "washing pots and pans at Whitbread's brewery" in the south of England. Years later, while commuting to work at London's famous Savoy Hotel each day, he had time to read the collected works of John Steinbeck. That was it. Clark decided to live on Cannery Row. From the kitchens of Pebble Beach Lodge to the Brennan House in Watsonville, Clark became California restaurant-savvy while starting up his celebrated catering company. After more than a decade Clark sold Michael's Catering and in 2001 opened Michael's on Main in Soquel. Next month he joins in a new festival of local cuisine, Santa Cruz Restaurant Week, offering $25 prix fixe menus for seven indulgent days.

SANTA CRUZ WEEKLY: Which is harder, catering or the restaurant biz?
MICHAEL CLARK: The great thing about catering is you know exactly how many people, how much food to put out, so there's a lot of control. But people don't realize the amount of work. Clint Eastwood would call up and we'd have to set up a dinner on the beach. You're in the middle of nowhere, you're practically camping. You can't run out of food and you can't forget one single thing. With restaurants, on the other hand, you can do all the pre-planning, and then something happens. You expect a full restaurant and suddenly there's only two tables. You're sweating bullets, how will you pay employees? On the flip side, a usually slow day, like Sunday, might suddenly be completely packed. Everybody's running around. You do your best to keep the ship afloat and keep smiling.

Do you cook at home?
(Laughter.) Actually, my wife Denise is very good in the kitchen. The only time that she'll let me cook is when we have guests. Truthfully, everything in our house is food-oriented. Every book, every magazine. My wife is a foodie, too so even all our travel is food-oriented. We just came back from Buenos Aires, where we went to all the wineries.

What dish do you shamelessly love?
I was fortunate to be invited on a fishing trip to Canada and brought back wild salmon. Cooking that salmon--ah, I can just taste it now. When I'm able to get a beautiful piece of grass-fed beef, or special pork from TLC Ranch--that's when I'm happy.

Has restaurant food gotten better?
Oh, by far. Restaurants have gotten better. Biggest change is quality of food and how it's grown. People are more aware of what they're eating. When I started there wasn't any spring mix, there was iceberg lettuce. Now there are all those wonderful, fresh organic ingredients.

SANTA CRUZ RESTAURANT WEEK is Oct. 1-8 at participating restaurants. Visit www.santacruzrestaurantweek.com for more info.


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