Cheesesteaks. Tasty Cakes. The Liberty Bell. The Rocky Steps. The city of Brotherly Love is a destination not to be missed and neither are the many Philadelphia restaurants from Chef Michael Schulson. As Founder & CEO of Schulson Collective, Chef Michael Schulson has nine restaurants on the East Coast. A graduate of the Culinary Institue of America, Schulson worked his way up, starting at renowned restaurants such as Peacock Alley and David Burke’s Park Avenue Cafe in New York City and Philadelphia’s Le Bec-Fin. He then traveled to Japan and developed his skills to master the wonders of Japanese cooking. The Overhead Compartment was lucky enough to catch up with the busy father of two to learn about his love of Japan, how it influenced his cooking and what the secrets are to conquering the Philadelphia restaurant scene.
The Overhead Compartment with Michael Schulson begins now….
OC: You opened your first restaurant Izakaya at Borgata Hotel & Casino ten years ago. What’s the secret to longevity in a restaurant?
MS: Making sure you are in touch with what’s going on in the world culturally as well as the latest food trends. Today, things are constantly changing, so it’s extremely important to evolve. If you aren’t growing you are failing. When it comes to restaurants, the service, design, and food are constantly evolving.
OC: You lived and trained in Japan for a number of years, what was it about the food and cooking that made you interested in bringing it to the United States?
MS: The food in Japan is so different from what we have here. Most people think that by adding Japanese ingredients, you will get traditional Japanese food. Add some soy sauce, ginger, sugar and other ingredients and you have Japanese food. That is not the case. Like most food, it’s all about technique. Japanese food is simple and not overly complicated. This is what makes it so masterful, everything needs to be perfect since it’s about technique and making sure you have the freshest ingredients.
OC: What was your favorite thing about living in Japan?
MS: Being immersed in the culture. I believe this is the only way to truly learn the cuisine of a country.
OC: What is one thing any visitor to Japan must not miss?
MS: The Tsukiji fish market. Unfortunately it is closing, so everyone needs to hurry up and get over there asap!
OC: What other places have you recently traveled to and how have those spots influenced your cooking?
MS: My wife and I were just on the Amalfi Coast, which is dotted with small beaches and fishing villages. It was absolutely amazing. The Italian culture is rooted in the arts, food, family, architecture and music, which are reflected in one of our newest projects opening soon, Giuseppe & Sons in Philadelphia.
OC: How has social media changed the restaurant business?
MS: Social media has allowed restaurants to market to a larger community through online networks and share information to a larger audience.
OC: What advice would you give to chefs looking to open their own restaurant?
MS: It’s not easy and takes a lot of hard work. Opening a restaurant is not only about cooking good food, but rather the ability to handle the business aspects such as financials as well.
OC: You trained under Stephen Starr, what was that like?
MS: Stephen Starr is one of the best restaurateurs in the world. He is the reason I moved on from being a chef to a restaurateur. He has a special gift and feel for this industry that very few have.
OC: You have two young boys, what’s their favorite thing you cook for them?
MS: Ha, you would think that the boys would love to eat, but they are chicken nugget and pizza kids. Davin likes when I cook him steak, and Jordan loves spaghetti and meatballs.
OC: What are the latest projects you have opened and are opening soon?
MS: We opened DK Sushi this past spring, which is our fine casual concept that we are preparing to roll out in the next 5-7 months in three additional locations.
Giuseppe & Sons is an Italian red sauce joint that has a sandwich shop on the main floor and a sit-down restaurant in the basement that’s 12,000 square feet. It is opening in October/November in Philadelphia.
Currently under-construction is Alpen Rose, a steak boutique followed by a small Italian wine bar that is yet to be named, set to open in the next 6-8 months.
OC: What is your favorite meal to make?
MS: I’m a spaghetti and meatball kind of guy. Nothing beats making a pot of gravy and watching football on a Sunday.
OC: What is your favorite meal to eat with your wife and partner Nina?
MS: Italian! She’s a very picky eater, but loves her Italian food. It’s great when the two of us find time to eat together and enjoy the company of each other.
OC: Is there anything you refuse to cook?
MS: Kale!! Anything with kale is not my thing. I’m so over that food item!
OC: What are the top three must-see sights in Philadelphia?
MS: You must hit a sporting event! The fans are amazing and so intense! The Liberty Bell is iconic and the Reading Terminal Market, which is one of America’s largest and oldest public markets is a place where you can find incredible things to eat!
OC: Do you have a favorite place for a Philly Cheesesteak?
MS: I’m a big Pat’s King of Steaks guy!
OC: What is the first thing you do when arriving at a hotel in your room?
MS: Drop my stuff off and walk around the area.
OC: What is your typical travel outfit you like to fly in?
MS: I’m a Lululemon travel type of guy – Pants, tops, sweatshirt…
OC: Complete the following sentence: I never leave home without:
MS: MY WIFE!
Michael Schulson, please use care upon departure as items may have shifted in The Overhead Compartment during our journey. Thanks for choosing us for your travel tips! Have a wonderful day!