Keeping up with Michael Barlozzari is no easy task. As chef and co-owner of Mezzo Ristorante and Lounge, one of Windsor’s hottest dining spots, and also co-owner of Lotus Restobar, located in the heart of downtown Windsor, you may think Michael doesn’t have a moment to spare. But take a moment and sit down with Michael and you will find that his calm and collected appearance carries over to his every day life. Before starting the culinary program at St. Clair College, Michael worked at a local machine shop during the day but spent his nights and weekends at Brigantino’s on Erie Street. It wasn’t long before Michael improved his skills and began thinking big.
“Being a business owner by 24 was always a goal I wanted to achieve” explains Michael. “I always wanted to be a business owner by the time I was 24 and I was able to achieve that six months before my 25th birthday and then open a second business at 25.”
So what is a typical day like for a young, up and coming chef and business owner? “Thursdays are the worst day”, says Michael. “Getting the catering ready for the weekend, picking up kegs and the liquor. There’s always a function happening whether it’s at Lotus or Mezzo so we’re always making sure we’re prepared.”
Once the lunch crowd at Mezzo has been wined and dined, it’s off to the Lotus at 1:00 pm to place the week’s orders and talk to suppliers. When 3:00 p.m. hits it’s back to Mezzo’s to sit down with co-owner, Phil Rocca, and discuss the restaurants needs, place orders for the week and begin preparing for dinner service.
“My partner, Phil, is great. I deal with things in the kitchen and he handles things on the floor. He brings a lot calm, quick thinking skills to the table. When things start getting hectic he is great at handling it.” Dining at Mezzo’s always guarantees a gastronomic feast. Whether it’s pan seared Foie Gras accompanied by white truffle cornbread, home made ravioli filled with butternut squash and mutzu apples or an Osso Buco that has been slowly braised in a red wine sauce, your taste buds will not be disappointed.
“You can always find a way to pair things together,” explains Michael. “We’re always trying new things at Mezzo, constantly creating. It’s a lot of experimenting, but you try it once, put it on the menu and see what the customers think. We usually give it a month, and if it doesn’t work out you try something new.” As Mezzo’s kitchen closes at 10:00 p.m. Michael and Phil meet again to discuss marketing ideas and promotions. At 11:30 p.m. it’s back to the restobar to end the evening.
Michael’s ability to stay calm, cool and collected under pressure has always been an invaluable tool both in the kitchen and in business. “There’s always that one day when all the suppliers are at Lotus and it’s Saturday and you have 200 reservations at Mezzo” explains Michael. “You just wish you could be in every place at the same time. And with our catering business continuously growing, we often get last minute requests and being able to handle that with calm and ease is essential.”
Now you may think that, as a chef, Michael’s personal tastes may be more refined, but his approach to cooking is much like his approach to life. “I’m a guy with simple tastes”, says Michael. “Give me a glass of wine with some prosciutto and Pecorino cheese and I’m happy. It’s simple and tastes great.”
Michael’s plans for the future don’t end in Windsor. He is currently in the planning stages of opening up a third restaurant in Shelby Township, Michigan. Slated to open in May of 2007, the new restaurant will be located in an area that is attracting young, urban professionals.
With a passion and a drive for his job, Michael admits that being a young entrepreneur in a field of older, professionals with more years of experience, does have it’s challenges but he wouldn’t change it one bit. “Owning a restaurant is stressful. It’s not a glorious life. You work hard. But I can’t see myself doing anything else. I love it. If I wasn’t doing this I’d like to think I’d be a Formula One driver or a rockstar.”
Ever wonder what a chef keeps in his pantry at home? Here’s a look at a few items that Michael likes to keep on hand to add a little flare to any meal:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Truffle oil
- Kosher and sea salt (great for marinades)
- Sharp cheese (like a Pecorino or Montaggio)
- Balsamic vinegar
- Lemon grass