Culinary Power Players

Chef Michael Schwartz

Known for his delectable and unpretentious food, Chef Michael Schwartz is the owner of one of the most celebrated restaurants in Miami: Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, in the Design District. Throughout his career Michael has received critical acclaim from top publications, and he was a 2009 nominee for the James Beard Award for Best Chef: South. Since the age of 16, Schwartz has been fascinated by the art of cooking. He revolutionized the Miami culinary scene in 1994 with the opening of the South Beach landmark Nemo. Today, he continues to dazzle diners, who flock to his casual neighborhood restaurant to indulge in his special brand of organic farm-to-table cuisine.

Haute Living: Who taught you the tricks of the trade in this industry? What are some of the lessons that have stuck with you?
Michael Schwartz: So many people that I’ve met over the years have influenced me and taught me so many valuable lessons. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that hard work and long hours pay off.

HL: What type of crowd does your restaurant and cuisine appeal to?
MS: Michael’s Genuine has attracted a very diverse group of diners who are rubbing shoulders with the who’s who of the community elite on any given night. We have young families, couples young and old, and a great bar scene with familiar faces. We like to think anyone can come into the restaurant and feel welcome.

HL: How do you continually attract the attention of elite diners in Miami?
MS: It’s not really about a conscious decision to appeal to what we think people might want. I’ve always cooked what I love to eat, what my family loves to eat. I think there’s something about people responding to the honesty of that. The product we’re turning out is very personal.

HL: Miami is quickly becoming recognized as a culinary force to be taken seriously. Why should an Haute Living reader choose to dine at your restaurant?
MS: The ingredients are the stars at the restaurant. Our menu changes daily because we really focus on supporting our local producers. We work around them, what they’re growing, catching, and raising. So readers can expect only the freshest foods, stripped of pretense. Preparations are real and simple.

HL: Who is behind the design of your establishments?
MS: Carl Myers is my designer. He did a great job with the place. He is working on my place that we’re opening in Grand Cayman, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink Camana Bay. It’s a beautiful development with a few Miami transplants, like Books & Books and, soon, Ortanique.

HL: Describe your dream restaurant.
MS: It can’t get much better than what I’ve got, but what I’m going to do eventually here and what is already in the works in Cayman is a restaurant garden—talk about fresh and local.

HL: What is the most elaborate meal that you have prepared for a guest in one of your restaurants?
MS: A 10-course tasting, which is totally not what we’re about, but I did it anyway.

HL: What has been the impact of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival on the local culinary scene?
MS: We owe a lot to Lee Schrager and the Festival. It’s really helped put Miami in the global culinary spotlight. It draws huge names and, with them, huge crowds. So, it’s a nice shot in the arm for tourism but we can’t deny that it has boosted the confidence of our local dining scene. I think it can also be credited with big-name chefs wanting to open up satellites of their flagship restaurants down here. At the end of the day, you hope that this infusion of money and culinary firepower stimulates our local talent, so more chef-driven places crop up.

HL: Where was the last place in Miami that you went for fine dining?
MS: Hakkasan at Fontainebleau Miami Beach. The dumplings are killer.

HL: When not in your kitchen, where would we find you on a Friday night?
MS: At home, cooking dinner with my wife and kids.

HL: Tell us something about you that no one knows.
MS: I was a jewelry maker. I made my wife’s wedding ring.

HL: You never leave home without…
MS: My Converse sneakers.

HL: Describe Miami in three words.
MS: Layered, colorful, and sunny.

HL: What’s your favorite pastime?
MS: Gardening.

HL: What are your predictions for Miami’s restaurant scene and culinary trends in 2010?
MS: More intimate, chef-driven places. At least I’d like to see that. And no more steakhouses or pizza places, please!

HL: What are some of the strangest requests/special orders that you recall?
MS: Those requests that come in from people on very restricted diets. We’re not talking one food allergy…They’re allergic to everything! Hold the peanuts, the meat, the dairy. Sometimes I wonder, what do these people actually eat?