Ever wanted to really get to know Michael Field, the man behind those savory sandwiches at Wildflour (5815 Windward Pkwy # 210, Alpharetta, Tel: 678.822.9453) in Alphaertta? So have we.
So who better to be our first ever North Metro Fork Magazine interview than the man, Michael Field, himself?
If you have ever met Field in person, you know just how passionate he is about food. And that passion has translated to the most delicious sandwiches and pastries Alpharetta has ever known.
I recently caught up with Field and here’s what he had to say…
Q: Browsing through public reviews about Wildflour, I notice several people start off by saying that the sandwiches are a bit pricey, but then want everyone to know that they are worth every hard-earned penny. These are compliments, to say the least. How important do you think the perception of value is today for restaurants?
A: We source fish and meat products from top quality providers. The sandwich is only as good as the ingredients. You could easily get product from a factory made 2 months ago, or you could have a chef prepare a sandwich to order. They could charge $5 for the sandwich made with lousy effort, or you could go completely opposite. The perception of value is most important in my eye, because I always try to slip into the eyes of the customer. The customer is not always correct, but they are most important and most valued. If we are going to put 7oz of fish on our sandwich and my neighbor is putting 4 yet charging the same, I want to make sure that we charge enough money but devote it to the food instead of my pocket. The fish and salmon are as local as I can get them. I’m very lucky to have the connections that I have because I’m getting it right from the source. Most of these people buy from the big box boys and are getting it from the same people but 3 days later. It’s important to get the fish and meats as fresh as possible; most of the time I can see what I’m getting ahead of time to make sure that the quality is up to par.
Q: You are a family guy so maybe you can tell us how difficult is it to operate a restaurant with all the crazy chaos and balance family?
A: Family first. It’s probably the most challenging of the challenges. I don’t do this for the money, I’m doing this for the happiness of the customers. I’m hoping that Andrew and Lilly will forgo the debt of college and allow me to teach them how to cook properly. Sending them to culinary school if they want to would be my ultimate legacy. If I obsessed myself with work I would prepare dinner and brunch, but now I do lunch only to spend time with them.
Q: Your tomato basil soup is one of those seemingly simple dishes that sneaks up on you and makes you say: WOW! How long did it take you to perfect?
A: I’m a big fan of Paul Bocuse; “simplicity is more.” And it was a stroke of luck. Everyone started using pink vodka sauce back in the early 90’s, so it was a takeoff on that. If you put expensive ingredients and precise timing together, you have a very rich product. It was fate that the tomato basil was born and has made so many people so happy. The tomato basil soup has perfected itself over time, but the recipe hasn’t changed since I was at 9 South Main Street, 16 years ago.
Q: You run a small sandwich shop in Alpharetta yet your mind runs like a chef at the helm of one of our city’s edgiest restaurants. Where do you get your ideas and inspiration for new dishes?
A: A long time ago, somebody allowed me to set foot on the sauté-line at Capriccio’s to get inspired. I was 15 years old and knew nothing, but things began to roll. With no college education, it’s sink or swim faster than the others. I began to soak up anything and everything from Partners And Indigo, Marriott, Cherokee Town Club, and many more establishments, some winners, some losers. I’m always trying to better my cooking. But it’s not all about the cooking, it’s about the expediting of the product and combining with consistency. And maintaining happiness between the front door and the back door amongst everyone, it’s very difficult to keep one person happy, but it’s the team that works with me everyday under my pressure and combines all the elements necessary to put out huge amounts of tasty food in less than two hours in a clean environment. The ideas and inspiration comes from the food, whatever is going on right now, what’s in season, etc. The mood is what I want to eat and share with my customers. If soft-shell crabs are here, I need two flats; some for me, and the rest for you. They’re a lot of labor, but come on, are we not supposed to put in a lot of work to make money? I’m a chef. The ideas keep flowing; it’s quite an amazing river. The restaurant industry has a 95% failure rate for the first year. Since the first day on the sauté-line to now, till the day I die there is no room for slack. I will keep trying to improve any type of cooking; I will try to stay on top.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: I want to feed more people; I want to touch more people’s lives with my food. I’m not forcing my children to follow my footsteps, but I am giving them the opportunity. I’m hoping that I can infect them with the energy and inspiration to live well, eat healthy, and make other people happy through their cooking. If I can make other people happy, it makes me feel terrific. The experience at Wildflour needs to expand across America to make all of America happier. There are so many different avenues to choose from; I am just going to let cards fall. I want to split myself up in every avenue: in the grocery store or adding three Wildflours for every state. Maybe I’ll start 3 or 4 restaurants, maybe 100; I just want to make people happy. I want to have a life, so I would really like to go into grocery stores. But you don’t get to hear about the satisfaction of the customers that way. The spirit of Truett Cathy is within all of his stores, so maybe it is possible to have hundreds of restaurants. Like a good friend that comes and eats all the time with me said, “let’s just have a conversation and see where it goes.”