Lawrence restaurants: Mass St. Fish House chef is excited about vegetables and restaurant week special trout pozole
photo by: Ashley Golledge
This Q&A appeared in the Jan. 20, 2021, edition of the Journal-World’s Crave food supplement. More from that section, including interviews with the people behind several Lawrence restaurants, can be found here.
Michael Stornello started working in the restaurant industry at the age of 14. Now, he’s the chef at Mass St. Fish House, and he recently spoke to the Journal-World about his love of vegetables, favorite menu items and what it’s like to be a chef during a pandemic.
Mass St. Fish House, 719 Massachusetts St., is open 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday.
Q: What’s your favorite item on your restaurant’s menu?
A: “On our menu right now, I would say that the Caesar salad is always a classic and our smoked pastrami salmon Reuben is delicious and helps showcase some of the capabilities we work with through smoking charcuterie and sustainably sourced fish.”
As for the Caesar, “I’ve kind of just had cravings for crunchy vegetables and really acidic and salty Caesars.”
Q: What’s your favorite item on the Lawrence Restaurant Week menu?
A: “I really am pretty excited about the trout pozole that we’ll offer. It has a lot of different vegetable accoutrements and a spiced broth with hominy. And the trout has a nice, delicious, crispy skin.”
Q: As a chef, what has your experience in the industry been like this year with the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: “I think everything has changed and nothing has necessarily changed. It is a brutal economic environment right now that feels very volatile. At the same time, sanitation standards are even more important now, but they are of the same importance they were pre-COVID.
“How do you help your business survive while being at half capacity? You’re operating in a very precarious environment, but the job of providing people with food and hospitality is still just as important pre-COVID as it is now. It just seems like you risk your life now.”
Q: What is the one trend in food that you are most excited about right now?
A: “I’m excited to see more vegetables get more importance or have more exposure and get treated with a little bit more attention instead of something that is just treated as a side thought.”
What are his go-to vegetables at the moment? “Right now during winter, it’s a little sparse. Any root vegetables are really good; crunchy water vegetables: radishes, cucumbers, snappy green beans; any sort of other tubers; some of the pickles that you might have made in the late summer to preserve and hold through the winter; hot sauces.”
Q: Other than your own restaurant, what restaurant do you most like to eat at in Lawrence?
A: “My top three would probably be La Estrella, Little Saigon and Szechuan House.”
Q: What’s your best advice for someone who is trying to become a better cook?
A: “Find one cookbook author or YouTube channel or chef personality that you really enjoy that makes good recipes that are standardized and actually work. Just follow their lead on a number of different foods — whatever you are looking to cook.
“Don’t underestimate your local library. Check out cookbooks; watch videos; spend time cooking food with people you love.”
Q. Anything you want to tell the public?
A: “Support your local restaurants. Tipping a little bit better helps your server survive and make rent. Don’t forget that this is stressful for everyone and try and show a little bit of kindness to everyone right now. I think that would be very helpful.”
photo by: Ashley Golledge