In the kitchen with Mike Florea: Maribelle's eat + drink chef says, 'don't do too much' to food

CINCINNATI - We invite you to dig into our column spotlighting chefs from the Greater Cincinnati area. Each Sunday, WCPO contributor Grace Yek, takes you into their kitchens and talks to them about their food. The chefs reveal their inspirations, philosophies, and provide a glimpse of their authentic selves.  

Mike Florea

If you think a ranting chef would scare off an impressionable newcomer, then you don't know Mike Florea.  It turned him onto cooking, and he wanted more of it.

Florea, a Cincinnati native, is the chef and co-owner of Maribelle's eat + drink in Oakley. He had not planned on a culinary career. 

"I was going to study landscaping at Cincinnati State," he recalled. An encounter with a decidedly upset chef changed all that.

"He came in the room, screaming about somebody. There was some real passion behind that," Florea said.  "He was mad at this kid who did not have the drive to be successful."

Florea immediately gravitated to the passion he felt from the chef. 

"I told my mom I'm going to culinary school instead. That's pretty much how it went down," Florea recalled.

Florea was still in culinary school when he got the opportunity to become a sous chef at Nicholson's. That marked his ascent with the Tavern Restaurant Group, the parent company of Nicholson's, The Pub and deSha's restaurants.

"I moved up with the Tavern Restaurant Group and became the executive chef at The Pub in Rookwood," Florea recalled. He went on to become the corporate chef for all The Pub locations. 

Florea worked in several other restaurants such as The Palace and Tropicana before becoming the chef at Maribelle's. When the restaurant relocated to Oakley in 2011, Florea also became co-owner of the business.

Food and cooking philosophy
"Pay the money up front for quality ingredients and don't mess them up. Don't do too much to them.  I'm a firm believer of four ingredients on a plate. Let the ingredients speak for themselves. There's a lot you don't have to do in order to be good."

"I like comfort food.  I like to play on the classics," he said. For example, the Amish Chicken & Country Ham sandwich on the menu is made with gruyere cheese, truffle aioli, arugula, and tomato - all tucked in a brioche. "That's your classic chicken cordon bleu, but with a twist," Florea smiled.

"If you keep cooking good food, people are going to come."

Essential ingredients & tools

Florea's kitchen must-haves include:

  • A 6 to 8-inch chef's knife
  • A Vitamix blender - for purees, and "other things"
  • A flat top  (Florea likes having a cooking surface that is constantly hot)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Quality ingredients
  • A quality sous chef. Florea trusts his sous chef, Martha Tiffany (at left) with "everything."

Florea is also adamant about getting the cooking fundamentals right. 

"Learn the techniques first. You can always change the ingredients around."

Inspirations

Florea particularly appreciates "Ginger Pig," a cookbook dedicated to meat.  "I use pork for everything." 

Another book that inspires Florea is "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," by Julia Child.  "I love it; it's simple.  It's a technical book, and not about ingredients that no one has heard of," he said. "Once you learn how to make a puree out of a root vegetable, you can make a puree out of any root vegetable."

Happy customers inspire Florea. 

"We put a lot of work into one plate, but it all makes sense when someone says 'that was good.' That's all you need hear. No one's getting rich doing this. If you don't have the passion, it's not going to work."

Favorite meal to cook at home: Roasted pork loin with pimiento jus

"I honestly don't cook that much at home. I eat here or get something from here," Florea said, referring to his restaurant. "Sometimes, I'll go to Dewey's and get a dough ball, and make pizza with my daughter." 

Ingredients

5 lb pork loin (fat cap on)
2 tbsp canola olive oil
2 each carrots (peeled/medium dice)
2 each yellow onion (medium dice)
2 stalks celery (medium dice)
3 cloves garlic (smashed)
2 cups tomato juice
1 can pimientos (chopped)

Dry Spice
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp red pepper flake
1 tsp granulated garlic
1 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp kosher salt

Directions

  1. Mix dry spices together (see above)
  2. Drizzle olive oil over pork loin
  3. Using hands, give it a good rub down. Rub dry spices all over pork loin.
  4. Place on hot grill, grill mark all sides until golden brown
  5. Place grill marked pork loin into a roasting pan of sorts; e.g. casserole dish
  6. Place all other ingredients into roasting pan
  7. Cover with foil and roast at 400 degrees for 35 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 155
  8. When pork reaches 155 remove from oven
  9. Remove pork loin from pan
  10. Let rest for 10 minutes
  11. While pork is resting, place hot braising liquid and vegetables into a food processor and purée
  12. Put puréed liquid into a medium sauce pan, bring to a simmer
  13. Mix 1 tbsp of cornstarch with 2 tbsp of water
  14. Add to simmering liquid, keep on low
    1. heat until thick
    2. Slice pork loin
    3. Place sliced pork loin onto a platter.
    4. Ladle hot braising liquid (jus) over sliced pork loin. 

    Grace Yek is a faculty member at the Midwest Culinary Institute, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek .

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