This is part of a chef interview series. View all interviews here.
On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, I had the opportunity to talk with Chef Michael Suppa of Vivace. While I was there, I was offered water, glass of wine or shot of tequila. I abstained from all of the above, but it made me love this place even more. If you live in Charlotte and haven’t been to brunch there, you truly live under a rock. Two courses, unlimited mimosas or bloody mary’s, only $25. Need I say more?!
What are your thoughts on social media playing such a huge role in the restaurant scene? Has it made a good or a bad impact?
It’s a good. It’s a way we stay connected, especially with our guests and fans of the restaurants, wherever you might be. I’ve been involved for the past month and a half with Charlotte Competition Dining. They use social media for everything. It’s how they promote their events. It keeps the other restaurants and competitors looped in to what’s going on as they’re going.
I think it’s a powerful tool. It’s just one more way that people can voice their opinions, their thoughts. The positive comes across quickly but so does the negative. I’ve seen people have a bad restaurant experience somewhere and gone out of their way to negatively affect that restaurant’s business on social media. It’s one more way to gauge how your business is going. If people like your place, they are following you on Twitter or Facebook and seeing if you’re putting cool pictures up on Instagram.
What is the first thing you do after a long day at the restaurant?
Definitely home to the family. It’s how I reset. I’m married and have two little ones. It’s not like when I was a lot younger and after service as a line cook, I would get with the guys and go out drinking for the night. So you know, at different times in your life you’re in a different place.
I work so much. I’m here a lot like most chefs in their environment. Typically, it’s late at night and I go home and hang out with my wife. I celebrate how well the day went. We’ve been together way before I started doing this professionally, so she gets it. She understands how it’s not always fantastic. It’s hard and a lot of work.
For you, what is the most challenging part of running a restaurant?
Balancing life, absolutely 100%. Especially if you are in a relationship and you do have children. I try all the time to keep it balanced; to have a staff that I can trust. That will allow me to keep balance. If you’re unbalanced constantly, you get tunnel visioned into the business and then the rest of your life gets sacrificed for what you’re doing and want to do. If you could find the balance in this industry then you’re golden. Good for you. That’s why a lot of chefs, after a certain point, do go into things like sales, or go to more of a corporate atmosphere.
Where do you see the Charlotte food scene going in the near future?
I think Charlotte is immature as a food city right now. It’s probably 10 years from growing up. But its getting there, there are things happening. You can see it when the smaller places start doing more intricate things, that there is that attention. Having things like good relationships and good promotions from NC agriculture people and the big farm to table push. Things like that are going to help Charlotte mature as a food city. This city overall is growing up. Charlotte wants to and is moving toward being a top tier city. It still has to grow into itself.
Besides Charlotte [of course!], what’s your favorite city to eat your way through?
I mean New York. I lived and worked in New York for 11 years. You can go to a place like Daniel or Per Se or Le Cirque, super fine dining and you’ll have a pristine experience. Or you can be down in the West Village at 3:30 in the morning eating awesome falafel from a side of a truck. But it’s ALL good. I think a mature food city has to be able to do both.
What is your prediction for the next “Big Ingredient” in the food world?
I don’t know if I can predict it. I mean, if I could predict it, it would be here. The hottest 2 ingredients we use now are Tuscan Kale and Brussels Sprouts. I think it’ll stay somewhere in the produce world. Especially with the protein markets being super, super expensive right now. Now its very farm to table and agricultural so I think it’s going to stay in that direction.
Do you have any advice you would give an aspiring chef that you wish someone would have given you when you first began your culinary journey?
I had a pretty good handle on what it was going to be. I learned pretty young what kind of commitment and schedule and workload it entailed. Anyone that wants to get in the industry, if you’re going to be truly successful, keep your head down and work hard. It’s not a glamorous profession. It’s hard, physical work. Even when you get to the upper levels, it still is. I do as much cooking as anything else that’s involved in my day. It’s the fun part, that’s why I want to do it professionally.
What is your biggest pet peeve in restaurants?
Complacency. The complacent attitude to what your do. Whether I’m working or dining. Because whether it’s the server dropping off my drinks just going through the motions of the day, or somebody on the line that’s doing the same thing. At that point you’re not bringing anything to the table as far as your job function. That might be the problem with life though. Complacency.
Is there an ingredient or dish that you feel in completely overrated?
I do think that the farm to table trend is not overused, but in every place not as true as it could be. There are restaurants that are doing local and doing it well and that’s awesome. But if you’re not 100% engaged in doing things like that then don’t. If you’re going to do that be true to it. Don’t just say it to say it. (laughs) No Sysco local carrots.
How do you juggle the work versus life balance?
As carefully as I can. Take the time when you can. That’s kind of my best advice for anybody that does this for a living. Pretty soon it’s going to be the next holiday or event. Work when you have to and take it when you can.
What do you think about this “Celebrity Chef” phenomenon?
I worked for a celebrity chef group for a while. I understand why a chef in the industry, if given an opportunity like that, would jump at it. You know at the end of the day you worked 15 hours a day for the past 15 years, and someone is like “hey we’re going to put you on TV and we like what you’re doing.”
When I was coming up in my twenties, it was the shiny new career to have. Everyone wanted to be a celebrity chef. There’s a whole generation of kids that are around my age now that were pushing to be the best and work in the top restaurants. But I feel like a lot of them arrived there and realized it’s hard and you leave work and you smell like fish every night. Maybe your dishwasher didn’t come in tonight and instead of doing what you want to do on the line, you’re hustling pots just to keep the restaurant functioning that night.
I don’t know if it should have that status. Chefs generally have big personalities. But again I see it as more of a trade than anything else. Is it cool to be the center of attention? Of course it is. But I think you lose focus on what you started doing and why you started doing it
Connect with Chef Michael and Vivace