He’s got a Michelin star and runs a restaurant empire, she’s a mega entrepreneur and food TV personality, but for Mina and Curry, their new Carmel Valley collaboration is all about family
America’s culinary power couple is pitching camp in San Diego — and cooking with fire.
Michael Mina, the San Francisco Michelin-starred chef and restaurant empire mogul, and Ayesha Curry, the multihyphenate mega entrepreneur-cook-lifestyle guru-food TV personality, will bring their celebrity star power to town July 19 with the opening of International Smoke in Carmel Valley.
The globally inspired, woodfire-infused elevated barbecue eatery is the dining flagship of the new One Paseo mixed-used development project, and the collaboration of Mina and Curry makes it one of the most high-profile restaurant openings of the year in San Diego.
“Both of our love for food relates back to family, and there’s no one thing more family than a backyard barbecue,” said Curry, who is the wife of NBA superstar Steph Curry. “There is grilling all over the world and International Smoke showcases the different styles and methods.”
Using a global spice box, time-tested family recipes and cooking techniques from around the world, the restaurant will serve an international mash-up of barbecued, smoked, live fire-cooked, wood oven-baked, and wood- and charcoal-grilled vegetables, fish and meats. Dishes range from smoked Korean bone-in short ribs to St. Louis-style barbecue ribs, woodfired citrus miso butter-basted oysters to whole roasted cauliflower with za’atar spices.
In a recent conference call with Mina and Curry from the Bay Area, the two talked about cooking authentic food, how San Diego will be represented on International Smoke’s menu and the one word they both used to describe their relationship.
Michael Mina essentials: The Egyptian-born, Washington State-bred, Culinary Institute of America-trained chef launched his career at the Bel Air Hotel in L.A. He rose to fame at San Francisco’s Aqua in the early 1990s. In 2002, he and former tennis great Andre Agassi co-founded Mina Group, which today includes over 40 restaurants, from Las Vegas to Chicago, Dubai to Dana Point. Mina holds one Michelin star at his eponymously named San Francisco fine-dining restaurant in the same California Street space that once housed Aqua.
Ayesha Curry essentials: Curry is a Canadian-American former actress who moved to North Carolina as a teenager. There, she met her future husband through a youth church group. Her multicultural heritage (African-American, Jamaican, Chinese and Polish) helped spark her interest in diverse foods. Her cooking blog and YouTube channel eventually led to the Food Network show “Ayesha’s Home Cooking.” The mother of three founded the multi-product lifestyle brand Homemade, and she is the host and executive producer of ABC’s “Family Food Fight.”
International Smoke’s origin story: Curry said the concept started as a pop-up after they met about four years ago through a mutual friend at Williams-Sonoma. “I went to him (Mina) and picked his brain, made him an ultimatum to cook with me and we haven’t looked back since,” she said. The San Diego location of International Smoke is the concept’s fourth.
Bringing the heat: The menu showcases both their distinct culinary perspectives (Ayesha’s Fresh Baked Cornbread, with Thai red curry butter, Michael’s Ahi Tuna Tartare Poppers, with ancho chile, Asian pear, pinenuts, sesame oil and mint) and their combined ideas on how to express the universality of barbecue. If there’s a way to play with fire, they’re using it, including: Japanese binchotan charcoal grills; a smoker; an oversize wood-burning grill from J&R (in Mesquite, Texas, no less); an Argentine-style wood-box grill, a giant rotisserie smoker, a Josper wood-fired oven; a Mexican coal oven and a Caja China pig roaster. Curry said customers love being able to choose food from all over the map, but the menu still gels. “It’s so cohesive. When you see it and and taste it, it all makes sense,” she said.
Local influence: Mina said the kitchen will take advantage of the San Diego area’s renowned local produce, seafood and ranches. He said about 60 percent of the menu was created by him and Curry, while the local team of chefs helped incorporate influences from San Diego and Northern Baja. “We’re having fun with great ceviches,” Mina said. “The style of food overall is vegetable forward, we have a whole section of barbecued vegetables, many of them vegan. In (San Diego), we have the clientele and we have the product to do that.” San Diego native Ryan Orlando, whose résumé includes stints at New York’s Aureole, Pamplemousse Grille in Solana Beach and Campfire in Carlsbad, has been named executive chef.
Home cooking: Family recipes are at the core of International Smoke. There’s a fish dish influenced by one of the chef’s Pakistani family cooking. The menu includes Mama Mina’s Falafel, and the grilled Sinaloan chicken recipe was guided by what Mexican prep cooks made at home. “You can’t get more authentic than recipes that have been passed down through the generations,” Mina said. “The heart and soul of these dishes come from great family recipes.” And just like at home, most people order the well-proportioned plates to share family style, he said.
The space: The 6,200-square-foot restaurant has the largest outdoor space of any of the International Smoke locations, with a 2,000-square-foot patio. There are 228 seats. American artist Edward Granger, known for his vibrantly colored, geometric works, was in San Diego last week to paint one of International Smoke’s walls.
The vibe: Just because it’s a SoCal barbecue spot doesn’t make it super casual, Curry said. “It’s definitely elevated, it’s definitely a place you want to come to celebrate something,” she said. “Come prepared to have a delicious cocktail or two, or three.” Mina said that while it’s a culinary-driven restaurant, “comfort and accessibility are important to us.” Checks average $35 to $55, Mina said. Curry promised that the music will be fun and diverse. “I definitely take credit for that,” she said. “It’s not obnoxious, that’s for sure.”
Family ties: Curry said she’s grateful to Mina for taking her into his skilled culinary fold as a mentor. But it’s clear from how the two interact — finishing each other’s sentences and allowing each other to have their say — that they’ve developed a close bond. Asked to describe their relationship in a word, they both replied that it’s like family. “Since the day we started working together, it’s just been kind of special, how we’re both able to include each other in in each other’s extended family — and it really makes a difference,” Mina said.
On being in San Diego: Even with restaurants all over the country, Mina and Curry plan to spend time here. Mina said he’ll spend about three months working with the local team. “This is one we’re definitely making time for,” Mina said. “I love it there. It’s an easy place to mark on your calendar to get to.”
Where: 3387 Del Mar Heights Road, Suite 0100
Phone: (619) 331-4528