A burger with fried onions on top at our west Hollywood boutique hotel

Michael Schlow Opens Up About Marquis Burger at the Sunset Marquis

Where Michael Schlow Starts and Where He Goes: The Marquis Burger

The Marquis Burger is Born

Chefs Luis Morales and Michael Schlow
Chefs Luis Morales and Michael Schlow

I have now spent a handful of social occasions in groups with Michael Schlow who is our very own restaurateur at the helm of Cavatina – I can’t say enough nice things about him! Michael is an old school gentleman with the purest of intentions in everything he does, as well as a man with wild culinary talents that seem to come from both up above and his very hard work throughout his career. Whenever you see this man at the Sunset Marquis, say hello! He is humble and lovely and will add warmth to any day you’re having.

Another moment when I felt so grateful to have been adopted by the Sunset Marquis was when I was “required” to sit down one-on-one with Michael. He gave me so much wonderful information that I am breaking it up into several stories for you. Today’s will focus on where Michael’s ideas start and where they end up and how.

What Michael Needs In The Kitchen

So what does a great chef like Michael need in the kitchen? As I said, there is a certain classicism to his style: “Give me a sharp knife and a pair of tongs and a decent cooking pan, and that’s all I really need to cook anything.” Fancy tools can be used, but they aren’t

necessary for him to create his complex and delicious dishes. I feel I must note that he does harbor a strong aversion to glass cutting boards; to Michael’s mother who has one, I repeat for him,”Mom, you got to get rid of this thing.” My mom also has an annoyingly loud glass cutting board, so he and I have that in common.

Michael’s food is very family-oriented, and his love of food derives from a love of people. “My mother-in-law will have left really delicious meatballs in the refrigerator, you know, on her visit. And cold meatballs in the refrigerator at 11 o’clock at night is really comforting to me. You know, when everyone is asleep,” Michael tells me when I asked about “comfort foods.” On the topic, Michael says, “I make just about everything,” so his comfort foods aren’t specific foods, but they are foods that are specifically good. He includes great PB&Js, delicious pasta, and “Almost all food! Almost always homemade.”

Where The Ideas Come From

Macaroons at Cavatina at Sunset Marquis
Macaroons at Cavatina at Sunset Marquis

Ideas often come from homes too. Michael says that his ideas come from everywhere; “You never know where the next inspiration can come from, and it’s not always from a restaurant. It can be from a food truck or somebody’s house. Or, you just don’t know.” The goal for him is to be in a constant state of awareness so that he is able to spot what is worth noting. Be inspired !! by what is inventive and delicious, were his words. He is also very elegant and thorough in his acknowledgment of the origin of his ideas. “When it’s a little close to someone’s idea, you have to pay homage,” and Michael does this by denoting dishes with an “a la” on the menu. A la Deia, for example, is attached to his gazpacho, because Michael enjoyed the best gazpacho of his life in Mallorca and used the dish there to inspire the presentation and taste of his own.

“I would never keep anything from the public,” Michael gallantly told me; “If I make it at home and it tastes good, and there’s a place for it in a restaurant, it gets on the menu.” There is only one exception. Only one dish Michael kept under wraps: the (now named) Marquis Burger. It is a hamburger that Michael used to do on Long Island in the Hamptons, and you used to have to be at his house to enjoy it.

It Starts With The Grill

The story begins at a shitty barbecue – Michael’s words – where someone tried to serve him some hockey puck of our American classic. They aren’t friends anymore, he continued, which, whether he was joking or not, makes me laugh. Burgers can’t handle long intense periods of high-intense heat. We have to get this through our heads, I think to myself, because I am a person that likes to be fed by other people.

The trick is to get the flavor of the grill on the burger in the first few minutes, and then, I quote, Let the burger “retreat to higher ground.” Also, the blend of meats makes his burger unique; the olive oil in the meat; not sous-vide; low-temperature in the oven; horseradish, black pepper, good cheddar cheese, crispy onions – you’re understanding the excellence of Michael Schlow now, right? The whole operation was initially inspired by a formal prime rib dinner Michael attended. As a big ketchup fan, I also appreciate that he describes, “It has the acidity that you look for if you like ketchup on your burger. Ketchup has a sweetness that this doesn’t have, but I was also trying to set up a burger that didn’t need or want ketchup.” Spoiler: the Marquis Burger is exceptionally delicious, if you haven’t had it…do.

From Radius Burger to Marquis Burger

What started out as the Radius Burger became the Schlow Burger in his cookbook “It’s About Time” and finally became our Marquis Burger. Michael released his cookbook in 2005, which is when the burger was officially unleashed on the public. He says that never in his wildest dreams would he have imagined that something he was making at barbecues in his backyard would end up selling thousands and thousands of cookbooks: “It’s almost what we’ve become known for, in some ways.”

Cavatina Dish Served in front of Photograph
Cavatina Dish Served in front of Photograph

Michael’s desire to “do something different” turned into his winning “Best Burger in America” at the South Beach Food and Wine Festival. “Now we have to live up to that, so you can’t fuck it up. You gotta make it right every single time,” Michael says. He continues emphatically, “There’s great pressure in a hamburger, because a hamburger is a treat! When people get a bad hamburger, they’re pissed off, you know, like a bad slice of pizza. So it better be delicious and perfectly cooked.” Is it a treat? I hear my brain asking. I want to justify burger-eating at all times. I once had three burgers in a day – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – but maybe Michael’s right that that was indulgent…

Michael hasn’t lost his desire to do something different. His new Japanese restaurant outside Detroit has Kobe sliders on a homemade milkbun. The sliders started out with Michael penciling “Kobe Sliders: Umami favors” on the draft of a menu. He describes leaving himself clues to go back and explore later. Like other artists, Michael takes the clues and begins asking, what do you want to do there? Which ultimately leads to his sensational cooking. In the case of the sliders, you’re going to have to get to Detroit to have these Kobe beef mini burgers that intend to give you the sensation of eating a hamburger, Michael slowly begins describing.

Burger to Bun Ratio

Michael is self-proclaimed “crazy,” paying attention to everything – burger to bun ratio, what it would take to bring the burger to the next level, what’s new about this, how can it be different. My brain got fuzzy as he described the outcome of his imaginative exploration on this new burger: micro-planing parmesan, showering it, melting, truffle emulsion, cook it in a pan, toast the bun in the meat juices. Yes, your brain went where mine did too.
 The moral of the story is that some unfortunate people that cook need to sacrifice their friendships with Michael by serving him bad food and inspiring him to take action and create amazing new dishes!

Or better yet, let’s serve Michael amazing food and get an “a la [you]” on a menu at a Michael Schlow restaurant where you’ll be served some delectable concoction far taster than where he got the idea.

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