Michael Santoro, Executive Chef/Owner
Before becoming a chef, Michael Santoro, an Ohio native, enrolled at Cleveland State as a computer science major. It wasn’t until a job at nearby Hyde Park Grille Steakhouse, that he found something he really enjoyed, relocated to Providence, R.I., and enrolled in Johnson & Wales University, where he graduated from in 2004.
Early on, Santoro worked as sous chef at Mill’s Tavern, while completing a number of international stages that would prove invaluable to his development. His 2003 stint at Chef Heston Blumenthal’s world-renowned Fat Duck sparked his deep interest in food science. In London, he spent time with friend and former classmate Michael Dorris, who coincidentally was working across the street at The Waterside Inn—the two would spend their short breaks between shifts planning to one day open their own restaurant.
Continuing a string of stages, Santoro logged time at Martin Berasategui in San Sebastian as well as the acclaimed Mugaritz under Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz. At the latter, Santoro played an intensive research role, developing nouveau techniques that still paid homage to wild-foraged seasonal products and produce cultivated on-site.
New York City later beckoned, and in 2005 Santoro served as a member of the opening team at Gilt, under Chef Paul Liebrandt. In 2007, Santoro moved to Manhattan’s popular Boqueria, where he worked for Seamus Mullen as chef de cuisine leading a large staff while managing labor and inventory.
By early 2008, Santoro relocated to Washington D.C.’s Blue Duck Tavern, which the Washington Post said gave “fresh meaning to the word tavern” thanks to its sophisticated takes on old-school country cooking. Here, under Executive Chef Brian McBride, Santoro’s passion for forming relationships with farmers and purveyors developed, as evidenced by the Blue Duck’s all-American food philosophy—a fiercely seasonal menu, built around food sourced from small producers around the country.
In early 2011, he moved to Philadelphia to pursue an opportunity with restaurateurs Stephen Starr and Aimee Olexy to open Talula’s Garden. There, the elements of his career coalesced, while the restaurant garnered the honor of being one of Bon Appétit magazine’s “Best New Restaurants of 2011,” under his tutelage.
Just less than a year later, Santoro and Dorris are finally executing their early London-town plans to open their first restaurant. Both are excited to open The Mildred in Philly, where Santoro will helm the kitchen as Executive Chef, alongside his long-time friend Michael Dorris, who will operate all front of house operations.
Michael Dorris, General Manager/Owner
While earning a bachelor’s degree in the Culinary Arts from Johnson & Wales, Dorris supplemented his culinary education in esteemed kitchens across the country, as well as under the tutelage of several admired chefs. In Hawaii, Dorris studied under Chef Roy Yamaguchi’s Nicolina’s Restaurant, and in Geneva he gained further knowledge alongside Chef Frank Ferigutti at a stint at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel du Rhone. It was in Geneva that Dorris first came to appreciate the true essence of a Michelin-starred restaurant, the importance of quality, the approach in the kitchen, and the diner’s individual experience that intersects at every dining room table—notes of service that would form his philosophy for hospitality.
After graduating in 2004, Dorris headed across the pond to England, where he worked with renowned French Chef Michel Roux at The Waterside Inn, another Michelin-starred restaurant, for almost a year. While further honing his skills in classical cuisine at the restaurant, he found his culinary classmate, Michael Santoro, who was working across the street at The Fat Duck—the two would spend their short breaks between shifts planning to one day open their own restaurant.
Upon his brief return stateside, he gained experience working as a private club chef, but then journeyed to New York City to assist in the opening of Gilt Restaurant in the New York Palace Hotel. Dorris then travelled as a private chef in Geneva, Switzerland as well as St. Barth in the Caribbean.
In 2006, Dorris returned home to Chester County, Pennsylvania with the dream of starting his own catering and events company. Located just outside of Philadelphia, Michael Dorris Catering would grow to service the tri-state area, organizing events ranging from intimate private dinner parties, to weddings up to 300, as well as local charity events.
In 2012, Dorris and Santoro rekindled their friendship to open their first restaurant together—The Mildred, a seasonal American restaurant in Philadelphia’s Bella Vista neighborhood. At The Mildred, Dorris will continue to leverage his expertise in catering, operating out of the restaurant’s kitchen. Beyond managing The Mildred’s catering business, Dorris leads all front of house responsibilities as General Manager and Partner.
Michael Rafidi, Executive Sous Chef
Growing up in Maryland, just outside of DC, Michael Rafidi developed a passion for food at a young age while cooking alongside his grandfather. It wasn’t before long he decided to gain real-kitchen experience and began working in restaurants throughout his teen years.
Upon graduating high school, Michael enrolled at the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute: Le Cordon Bleu in Pittsburgh. Along with studying, he worked as chef de partie at The Duquesne Club and The Steelhead Brasserie. After graduating in 2006, he relocated to Orlando, FL, where he worked at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress. Then, two years later Michael was offered the opportunity to work at the venerated Blue Duck Tavern in the Park Hyatt in Washington D.C. It was there that Rafidi met Chef Michael Santoro, who he would later become great friends with.
After years in Washington D.C. and a stint at Chef Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak, he was excited to hear from his friend Santoro about a new exciting project. In 2011, he moved to Philadelphia to assist with the opening of Talula’s Garden helmed by Santoro. After spending eight months in Philadelphia, he returned to Maryland to open the Four Seasons Hotel in Baltimore, taking a position as senior sous chef working under Chef Michael Mina at Wit & Wisdom.
More recently, looking to further hone his culinary skills, he traveled abroad, where he staged at the internationally-acclaimed Chef René Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was here he gained further knowledge of foraging, while also discovering new techniques and inspiration from his worldly colleagues.
Returning stateside and back to familiar Philadelphia, Michael is excited to be once again be working alongside Chef Santoro and the team at the newly-opened restaurant, The Mildred.