Follow Friday: 8 Questions with Chef Michael Gulotta of MOPHO and Maypop
Native New Orleanian Michael Gulotta practically grew up with a stainless-steel spoon in his hands. In 2014, he opened his renowned restaurant MOPHO, which perfectly blends a large portion of Asian cooking with just a dash of Louisiana flair. Maypop followed in 2017, and with its original concept and creative menu, it proved to have all the right ingredients to be a successful restaurant. Gulotta has a smorgasbord of accolades and awards, including a Best New Chef 2016 mention, a nod as one of the Top 30 Chefs to Watch, and now, his pièce de résistance, a James Beard Award nomination for this year.
Bon Vivant: How are you navigating the COVID-19 crisis (in business or personally)?
Michael Gulotta: Navigating is a good word — there are certainly a lot of rocks to dash myself against. I spent the beginning of the lockdown catching up on time with my boys, while learning how to slow down and just enjoy a quiet afternoon. Now, it’s mostly being spent figuring out how to get my businesses back up and running. It has been increasingly stressful, as it is not a guarantee that both of my restaurants will make it through this challenge. It is especially soul-draining, as I’ve spent the last six years working almost every day, trying to make them viable businesses. But I’m focusing on staying positive for myself and for our team.
BV: What creative methods are you discovering in order to continue to serve clients?
Gulotta: Currently, we are running a simplistic menu at MOPHO, just to rebuild systems and get staff back in the door. From there, we will start adding more of our fun, inventive cuisine, highlighting local products. It has forced us to push a lot more with our social media and push for building more engaging websites and for online ordering.
BV: Who or what is inspiring you right now and why?
Gulotta:I look to many of my chef and restaurateur friends who are battling the same crisis. I talk and text with them often, and we run ideas past each other all the time, to figure out what is working and what isn’t. The camaraderie of our city’s restaurant community is always inspiring to me during tough times. We all want to see each other succeed.
BV: What is the most helpful piece of career or life advice you’ve ever received, where did it come from and why was it so impactful for you?
Gulotta: I once had a chef mentor of mine tell me to never defend bad food. This is a statement that can be easily translated to any facet of life. Never waste energy defending bad decisions, bad friendships, bad ideas. Own your mistakes and try to move forward. This is a very hard mantra to follow, especially when you are a perfectionist. If you can honestly accept and take responsibility for your failures, then you can focus that energy on getting it right the next time around. I wish I followed this advice all of the time — it’s a hard one to stick to!
BV: Guilty pleasure?
Gulotta: Hot sausage patty sandwich with pepper jack cheese, a thick slice of Creole tomato and mayonnaise on toasted white bread.
BV: Can you offer suggestions for a quick and easy dish folks should try to make at home?
Gulotta: During quarantine, I whipped up a coconut curry noodle dish at home, using only stuff from the pantry [and] freezer. It was pretty damn tasty and relatively simple, so I typed it up and posted it for everyone stuck cooking at home. It’s a quick, flavorful pasta that uses some everyday refrigerator and pantry staples mixed with a few items you probably bought years ago on a whim, used once, and then effectively forgot about. I posted the recipe on my Instagram.
BV: What’s your advice for readers who are lazy or untalented cooks?
Gulotta: Don’t be afraid to play around with your food. Take your time, read a few recipes, but realize that recipes — unless it pertains to pastry [or] baking, which is more science — are mostly just guidelines. Don’t be afraid to make substitutions or work out of what you already have at home. It’s all about practice and time spent at the stove.
BV: What do you think is the number one, most crucial, can’t-live-without, go-to ingredient to be a good chef? Why?
Gulotta: Salt, because it goes in everything. Even dessert. To not be afraid to season your food, taste it and keep seasoning until it tastes right is paramount to good cooking.