Eight-year-old Sammy Mina holds the rib bone steady as his dad, chef Michael Mina, carves perfect slices of slow-roasted prime rib for Christmas dinner. No chef could ask for a better apprentice. Sammy, who has been cooking since the age of three, eagerly joins his father at San Francisco's Westin St. Francis hotel every Saturday, meticulously wiping the plate rims just as any sous-chef would. Sometimes four-year-old Anthony tags along with his older brother, but, as Sammy says, "he's the wild one," as likely to end up under a customer's table as to help with the cooking.
This is a family that feels right at home in hotels. Mina, who opened the spectacular Michael Mina restaurant at the St. Francis last year, even met his wife, Diane Tirado, in a hotel, San Francisco's Clift, where she ran tea service and he was pastry chef. (He wooed her with homemade mocha-almond-fudge ice cream, her favorite flavor.) This year the Mina family decided to have their traditional Christmas Eve dinner at the St. Francis, spend the night in a suite upstairs, and wake up on Christmas morning to waffles in bed. Afterward, they'd head home for Christmas dinner itself.
Mina has always loved Christmas. He was raised in a Coptic Christian family that emigrated from Egypt to rural Washington State when he was a year old. Though his mother baked her own flat breads and made ful, a velvety fava bean puree, Mina wanted to eat only American foods like hamburgers and pizza. "I thought, how could I bring friends home for falafel?" he says.