Pasta, Tom Cruise and the Key to Success with Executive Chef Michelle Wolforth

Good Bite

Pictured: Sweet potato ricotta gnocchi. Photo courtesy of State Street Eating House + Cocktails.

Last month, we had the pleasure of talking to the owner of State Street Eating House + Cocktails, Chris Voelker, and new Executive Chef, Michelle Wolforth (click here to read more from that SRQ DAILY feature). This week, we take a deeper dive into Wolforth's culinary journey with a Q&A session that hits on a few of her favorite dishes to prepare, how she got to where she is now and—yep, you read the title correctly— her unforgettable run-in with Tom Cruise.

In your bio, you mention that your culinary passion began as a little girl while helping your mother prepare meals for large family gatherings. What was your favorite dish to help prepare back then? Hands down, chicken piccata. It was the perfect go-to, especially during the week. It was easy, quick. We probably had it once a week and I make it for my husband now. It's my most favorite thing to eat at home. Capers, shallots, garlic, a little chicken stock. And scratch-made pasta—can't go wrong with that.

What is one of your favorite dishes to prepare at State Street Eating House + Cocktails? Pasta! In the past 10 years I have mastered it. When I make pasta, it’s not like the dried pasta that you hang. This is a yolk dough, so it is completely yellow all the way through and the highest quality flour—double zero caputo from Italy. Spare no expense when it comes to making the best pasta. And the pork ragu I make, it's a full-day process. I find the pork shoulder, sear it, braise it, pull it apart and pick it up with the pappardelle that we're making in house. If you're coming to eat pasta at the restaurant, that's the best way to have it—pappardelle with the pork ragu and whip ricotta--one of my favorite things to eat and make.

You’ve prepared food for very prestigious individuals. What has the most star-struck moment been for you in your culinary career so far? I did a private event and I don't even think he knew it was happening, but Tom Cruise was at the Mandarin Oriental. He was doing a movie with Adam Sandler in Boston. They were staying for some length of time, but the private chef that came with him had to go away. So I took over cooking for both of them privately for a week. I ended up seeing him in the hallway as I was moving a speed rack down, and I almost took him out! So almost running Tom Cruise over with a speed rack was kind of fun.

What advice would you give to a chef aspiring to get where you are today? I would say it takes a special kind of individual. You work every holiday, every night—it's a grind. It's not just cooking great food. Taking on an executive chef role requires many years to get to where you can be confident enough to run all aspects and operations of the job. It's stressful, but it's something I absolutely love to do. I think you really need to love what you do, or it's really not worth doing it.

State Street Eating House + Cocktails, 1533 State St, Sarasota, 941-951-1533

Pictured: Sweet potato ricotta gnocchi. Photo courtesy of State Street Eating House + Cocktails.

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