Chef Michael White Talks Pasta Tips And His New Restaurant In The Bahamas - Exclusive Interview

Chef Michael White has an impressive lineup of restaurants under his belt, notably as the founder of the Altamarea restaurant group until 2021. During this undertaking, he won several Michelin stars, glowing reviews from The New York Times, and a James Beard award for the Best New Restaurant in America. Nowadays, White has several restaurants and is involved in a multitude of projects and openings, including his most recent restaurant in the Bahamas. Located at the Atlantis Paradise Island, Paranza offers a luxurious dining experience for island locals and visitors alike. With a menu featuring Italian regional cuisine cooked by White's creative touch and a hint of island flair, diners are privy to an exceptional meal. 

In an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, Michael White described the process of opening Paranza and shared how he has been adapting to the island's culinary landscape. Being able to incorporate local seafood into the menu is one of the setting's many appeals, and White has enjoyed experimenting with the multitude of options. The chef shared advice about how to cook fish and make pasta from scratch, as well as many other tips for home cooks and gourmets. 

The chef has expanded his ventures to the Bahamas

Congratulations on your new restaurant, Paranza. It looks like an amazing space with a fantastic menu and design.

I'll tell you what, it's a wonderful addition to the property, and Paranza is finding its footing and figuring out the identity that we want to be, and it's really come together. The island locals are using the restaurant, not only visitors to Atlantis. It's really exciting to know that all the things that we've really worked towards are coming to fruition there.

How did the process of opening a restaurant in the Bahamas compare with your past experience in the U.S.?

Pasta is something that is difficult to make in the different areas we're at — you know, the high humidity we have there. We have a climate-controlled room that we're working in to make the pasta ... But it's really great working with the team, and we'll be down there in a few weeks for the NPIWFF [Nassau Paradise Island Wine & Food Festival].

But it's been really good working with the products, with grouper ... all those different types of conch. We sell a tremendous amount of conch; myself and the team have had a really, really good time working and opening the restaurant, and I'm looking forward to watching Paranza grow. There are many new things happening at the Cove and Atlantis in general. It's just wonderful to be a part of it.

Mastering the art of pasta making

It looks like it's going really well. You mentioned the Nassau Paradise Island Wine & Food Festival on the island. You'll be teaching a master class about making pasta. Are there any tips or tricks you can share with our readers?

Patience. That's all you need, and the practice of making pasta is a labor of love ... It's something that takes a tremendous amount of patience, the time that you invest in making the pasta. So, if someone wants it for an occasion or just wants to try their hand at making fresh pasta, I encourage everyone to do that at some point. It makes such a difference — not that dry pasta is anything to scoff at, but knowing that you created something with flour and water and eggs that you can serve at the dinner table ... I encourage everyone to make pasta.

Yes, it's simple yet quite complex.

Oh, absolutely. If it were that easy, everybody would do it, right?

Exactly. Are there some mistakes that you notice people who are trying to start making pasta typically make? Aside from maybe trying to rush it or not using the right ingredients?

You can make pasta with all-purpose flour, but there's a reason why they use 00 flour for egg pasta: it's much softer and, therefore, has a different texture. If you ate them side by side, you could tell the difference. And especially when you're working it through the machine such that the hydration of the dough is much better when it's a finer flour. In essence, you're trying to make pasta with certain flours and obviously large eggs compared to medium eggs.

We do everything with weights and measurements now [for precision] ... You take una tazza and one egg. So it's a cup and an egg. ... in Italian, they say un bicchiere d'acqua, a glass of water, and that's not how we measure.

Right. Whose glass of water? Do you have a certain approach to pairing pasta sauces with the shapes? Do you stick to traditional matches, or do you look for certain features? Do you have favorites?

Oh, most definitely. We're fans of all different shapes of pasta. You know, the different types of sauces that we use when we make pasta, they slide under the crevices and adhere to the pasta, and it's very important to pair. There are spaghetti bologneses all over the world, but that's the worst combination.

It falls right off.

If I had a penny for everyone that sold those types of things. There's definitely a method to the madness with the shapes and pasta sauces.

The menu at Paranza offers an exciting journey for the taste buds

The menu at Paranza has a nice combination of classic Italian dishes with your signature flair and local ingredients. For example, you have a lobster antipasto that's served with burrata. Many people don't pair dairy with seafood. What do you like about that pairing?

The lactic acid and we dress the lobster with a lemon vinaigrette that has a touch of balsamic vinegar. It's really a complex dish and something that is an ode to the multi-coastal latticini [dairy products] and using things that are very much not the norm, like you say. That's something I'll have to do for the rest of my life, that one. It's kind of like Jimmy Buffet for Cheeseburger in Paradise. I started that at Marea years ago, that's just become an instant classic. Wherever I go that will be one of the dishes on the menu.

When it works, it works.


You also have a fois gras panzanella with roast chicken. How'd you come up with that sort of luxury yet rustic combo?

Oh, it's very traditional to make meat and potatoes, and everybody wants baked potatoes with chicken. That's great, but when we think about proteins, we want to experiment ... those are rustic dishes that have been reinterpreted for different palates ... It's all about layering flavoring.

You have a poached fish dish on the menu that looks really nice. I don't poach fish ever because I find I can't quite get it to maintain flavor. Do you have any advice for poaching fish without losing flavor?

For sure. So, it's a mixture of broth and olive oil, and therefore, temperature is extremely important when it comes to that. We bring it to a temperature of about 130 degrees Fahrenheit so it remains moist ... As for the swordfish we grill the steaks on both sides, then we place them in an olive oil bath with lemon peels and fresh herbs.

Lovely to incorporate the right ingredients. The risotto on your menu is made with acquerello rice, which I've never used. It's aged for a longer time, and it's processed differently than carnaroli or arborio. Can you elaborate more on this rice variety?

It's rice that is aged in silos, and it's a really, really high-quality rice. The rice kernels are not broken. When you use inexpensive rice, the kernels are broken, they release the starch right away, and they give you so-so risotto. This is a type of rice, this is the Rolls Royce of rice, and it is very forgiving, too, for those who don't cook rice a lot. It's a very toothsome rice, and it holds its shape when cooked, so that's why we use it.

I guess the starch content would affect the final result of the risotto quite significantly.

Oh, absolutely.

Paranza is all about exploring the taste of the Bahaman islands

Are there any local ingredients that you've been experimenting with over at Paranza?

We've been using strawberry grouper, which is not line-caught; they're speared. That's been pretty exciting, as well as being able to work with those kinds of products. Sea urchins. There's really no commercial fishing; we have people that go and dive for conch with fins and flippers, and that's how we get them in. That's really fun for us. We're using chicken from Abaco, which is another island. We really try to use the products that we can, as much as we can ... We're finding the right people.

Have you discovered a favorite local fish?

I just said strawberry grouper ... or Nassau grouper — there have been many different names for them, but they're fantastic. They're very firm and super, super fresh.

You have it on the Paranza menu with a nice brioche crust, which sounds fantastic. Do you have other tips for preparing grouper?

It's a very versatile protein, you can grill it, you can poach it, you can do anything. It stands up to cooking. That's why it's a popular fish. People are cooking it and using it obviously in a stew, and gumbo would be really good. We're doing acqua pazza style which is a spicy tomato water right now with shrimp, it's fun.

Wine pairings and the year to come

Your wine list, understandably, skews towards Italian bottles. How involved were you in choosing the selection?

Oh, I was most definitely involved, and we're still building ... we're bringing new wines. And it'll take a year or so to build ... We're only 198 miles away, but it feels like you're 2,000 miles away, though. There's definitely something to island time!

Obviously, different pasta dishes include many different ingredients, but is there one particular Italian grape variety or wine that you find is a winner with many pasta dishes?

Well, absolutely. You know, the stainless steel wines are not aged. The white wines are stainless steel, meaning that there's no wood influence and those are super fresh. I love drinking white wines with crudos, such as Gavi di Gavi and Ligurian wine such as Pigato. They're light, crisp, and refreshing and go great with light seafood dishes. That's the kind of wine we're working on bringing in. We have all the good ones but I want to have a nice variety of wines so that everyone and every budget can enjoy high-quality wine.

With this successful restaurant underway, what's next?

Oh, wow. Many projects. Many projects. We have a project in Dallas and a project, Santi, in New York City on 53rd and Madison. I had a dinner with [Stefano] Secchi at the Coral Gables [at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival]. There's a lot of things going on. It's an exciting time. Never a dull moment, right?

Exactly. Do you see yourself collaborating with some of the other chefs who are at the Atlantis in the future?

Oh absolutely. I'm with José Andrés and Alon Shaya tonight; we all have restaurants there. We're cooking at the Ritz Carlton this evening during the South Beach Food & Wine Festival. It's great to see everyone, we're having fun.

Chef Michael White will be hosting a master class and lunch at the Nassau Paradise Island Wine & Food Festival on March 14. His newest restaurant, Paranza, is now open at Atlantis Paradise Island, with a menu featuring innovative Italian regional cuisine in a fine dining setting.