Chef Q&A: Executive Chef/Owner Michael Francis Ward

Erin's Isle

5375 Hibiscus Drive , Naples, FL

Erin’s Isle Restaurant and Lounge, 6190 Collier Blvd., Naples. Phone: 239-774-1880

Began working at present restaurant?

In 1983— It was just a little pub with a big bar when we bought the business. My brother John and I remodeled it and added 30 feet in front and 30 feet in the back to create Erin’s Isle.

Who or what inspired you to become a chef/cook?

The Wards were raised in the restaurant business in upstate New York — the family owned Ward’s Hotel in Brasher Falls, N.Y., and I ran a restaurant in the area when I graduated from Canton University in Canton, N.Y.

What was your first restaurant job?

The Dew Drop Up Restaurant — because you had to go upstairs to enter — it was really a nice, upscale restaurant.

How long have you been cooking professionally?

More than I care to remember: Actually, around 38 years.

How would you describe your cooking style?

American classic, but I still retain a lot of my European flair in our Erin’s Isle menu.

What is your most popular dish?

Fresh Florida Grouper sautéed with lemon brown sauce or prime rib of beef, 12 or 16 ounce cut. But our wienerschnitzel is popular with our International guests because it’s prepared with fresh, milk-fed veal — the best there is.

Where do you like to eat out on the island?

Marco Polo or Konrad’s, while Kretch’s is nice anytime.

What is your favorite snack?

Raw Little Neck clams on the half shell are good for a fast bite. Sometimes I like a nice slice of New York sharp cheddar cheese.

Do you cook at home? If so, what would we always find in your freezer?

No, I never cook at home — that’s my wife’s domain and she does an excellent job.

What is your specialty? Why?

What comes to mind is — everyone raves about my Lobster Thermidor— and I should mention it’s a daily special at Erin’s Isle.

What annoys you most in the kitchen?

I don’t tolerate a messy kitchen or a mess in the walk-in coolers. I’m in there every morning straightening up everything.

What do you enjoy most about your profession?

The people — I really take pleasure in seeing people eat and enjoy their meal and leave my restaurant smiling. It’s kind of like the feeling kids get from opening their Christmas gifts!

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