Food Interviews

The Big Apple Meets Little Rhody

Michael Gabriel perfects the art of the New York City-style sandwich at The Provisioner in North Kingstown

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Mention of an internship generally conjures thoughts of sandwich and coffee runs. For his internship for Johnson and Wales’ continuing education program in culinary arts, Michael Gabriel opted to save himself the trip by opening The Provisioner in North Kingstown instead. Michael has been in Rhode Island for well over a decade, but you really can’t take the New York out of the man. We had a chat about the art of the simple sandwich; once it ended, I felt decidedly short on meatballs.

How was your experience with Johnson and Wales’ continuing ed program?

In my youth I was in the business a little while, but I was coming from a career outside the culinary world. I started going to JWU in the continuing education program for 14 hours a day every Sunday, learning and relearning food. It was a nice way to get into the business and see if it was something I wanted to do. Near graduation they require an internship; you have to get out into the field and work. I had stumbled across this location in North Kingstown and decided that building The Provisioner would be my internship. The people at JWU were really supportive; I can’t say enough about them. From the build-out to testing the kitchen, the entire transition into the business counted toward my degree. To own a business, particularly a restaurant, coming straight out of school was a leap of faith. Instead of just thinking about it and talking about it, I had to get it out of my system.

Why a New York deli?
I was kind of driving around going, “Where can I find a great sandwich?” I’ve been in Rhode Island for 15 years.There are some great restaurants, great delis, great sandwich places, but locally I could never really find a go-to. I hearkened back to when I was a kid and there was a deli almost every mile or so on Long Island and you could stop in for some of the best chicken cutlets, the best roast beef sandwiches, salads, meatball heroes, breakfast sandwiches, anything you really wanted.

How do you define a New York deli? What sets the good ones apart?

In my experience, a deli brings in big tastes and big flavor in house-made products. Whether it’s pasta, meatballs or an Italian sub, you have to have good ingredients and you have to put them together right. We’re more of an homage to a New York deli versus having guys behind the counter cutting lunch meats to order. We’re the other side of a New York deli, with fully prepared sandwiches, lunches and dinners, very similar to a diner. Katz’s Deli, Carnegie Deli, the Goldberg Delis; they all follow that format, with pastrami, corned beef, everything done in-house from start to finish. We’re kind of a mix of all of that. It’s not just the ingredients; it’s what you do with them.

What are some of the ingredients that make a difference?
When we prepare food, its hard to do things from scratch. It’s expensive; it’s time consuming. But if you use simple ingredients, that’s how you get the good product. Food has a tendency to be overthought. When you have really nice prosciutto, you just put some fresh roasted peppers on it, fresh house-made mozzarella, arugula and lemon herb dressing and you have something great without anything else on it; you don’t even need salt and pepper. It just comes across as pure; you taste everything that’s on it.

What did you learn at Johnson and Wales in terms of technique that applies to a sandwich?
On the basic level, sandwiches are sandwiches. I always goof around with the crew and say, “We’re just making sandwiches here.” But every sandwich has at least four or five components, if not more. Our dressings are all done in house, so we have to figure out what ratios work, and how much acidity goes into our dressing so it doesn’t wilt the lettuce or arugula that we use. We have to make sure the meat is perfectly cooked. Our short ribs are braised in red wine and herbs for five hours. Our meat au jus is all done in house. On the surface sandwiches can be very basic, but if you look at each one, in some form or another, they have a lot of careful cooking techniques.

Provisioner Deli
7669 Post Road, North Kingstown
667-0663