J. Smoke Wallin interview with Michael Schwartz – James Beard Award winning chef/owner of Michael’s Genuine of Miami

Re-Posted From Wine 2.0 in 2011

I recently had the opportunity to sit down at with Michael Schwartz, chef/owner of Michael’s Geniune in Miami.  http://www.michaelsgenuine.com/   Michael’s Genuine is located at 130 Northeast 40th Street
Miami, FL 33137 (305) 573-5550

Michael is an amazing chef and a great person to hang with.  Michael just published his first book – “Michael’s Genuine Food”  

Aside from the incredible food and dining experience, I had the chance to ask Michael some questions about his background, his cooking philosophy and importantly to all of us, his views on wine.

 

“Schwartz’s culinary innovation  puts him at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement. He’s now on a national stage, based primarily on his straightforward, ingredient-driven cuisine, as well as his commitment to supporting local farmers and responsible, seasonal food sourcing.

He was recently honored with the prestigious 2010 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef and has appeared on national TV shows including Top Chef”, Rachael Ray’s Rachael’s Vacation, Throwdown with Bobby Flay, After Hours With Daniel Boulud, Simply Ming with Ming Tsai, and Fresh Food Fast with Emeril Lagasse.”

J. Smoke Wallin (JSW):  What got you into cooking?
Michael Schwartz (MS): Well I grew up in Philadelphia in the ’60s and ’70s.  The closest I came to cooking as a kid was cutting up the Stroehmannwhite bread for stuffing at Thanksgiving dinner!!  My mom didn’t make much from scratch…  Things changed when I was 15 and I got a job bussing tables at Dilullo’s, a Northern Italian restaurant in Philadelphia.  The place was ahead of its time and really swanky, importing expensive, high quality ingredients from Italy. After about a year, I had worked my way into the back of the house.

JSW: What has been the greatest thing about starting Michael’s Genuine?
MS: Meeting great people and doing great things with them.

JSW: When you decided to open another restaurant, why Grand Cayman?

MS: Well it was less of me deciding it was time to open another MGFD than realizing we could when DART approached me.  I have to admit I was a little skeptical at first.  I didn’t think it was possible to replicate the experience of the restaurant, which has so much to do with the process – the responsible sourcing that is so important to who we are.  But I went down there and met with them, and liked who I met and what I saw. There was an emerging farming community poised to embrace a restaurant like ours and we’ve just been learning and growing with each other.  It’s really great.  We’re getting great variety of local product down there, even this past summer – thai eggplant, callaloo, herbs, peppers, amazing mangos, and local pumpkins… Of course there are things we need to bring in, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised.

JSW:  What made you want to write your book?
MS: I’ve always wanted to do a book. Again it was all about timing and relationships. Some executives from Clarkson Potter were in town and ate with us and said they wanted to publish my first book.  I pulled together a proposal and two years later, we have MICHAEL’S GENUINE FOOD: Down-to-Earth Cooking for People Who Love to Eat.  I’m really proud of the work we did to pull it together – I got to work with some pretty talented people, like my photographer Ben Fink.  The photos are beautiful and really capture what the dishes are all about – simple preparations using really fresh product. 
 

JSW: What is your wine philosophy at Michael’s?
MS: Our philosophy is just like food. It starts with the best producers and great product. I’m very lucky to have a sommelier like Eric Larkee. He’s always one step ahead of the game. We’re able to keep prices very reasonable and offer a creative, yet edited list. I’m lucky to have talented friends like Dennis Scholl and Richard Betts with the Betts & Scholl label… Jim Clendendon of Au Bon Climat..The list goes on… We’re of course trying to always to be responsible in every aspect of the business… So I know Eric gravitates towards producers that are using natural methods… and we recycle our corks and bottles (for water service) whenever possible. I’m looking into glass cutters right now so we can recycle the bottles for drinks glasses too.
 JSW:  Describe the perfect meal.
MS: One with my family, cooking food from our friends.

JSW: What’s best about being Michael?
MS: What kind of question is that?! I would say I’m lucky for the people I’m surrounded by, so that’s what’s best.

JSW: what has been your biggest challenge?
MS: Spending as much time with my family as I do with my other family at work.
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JSW: What can we expect when we buy your book?
MS: Well it’s definitely a Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink greatest hits to a certain degree, which is what I wanted out of a first book.  It’s divided similar to how our menu is set up, with a bunch of the dishes that we know and love, and some new things too.  I think what I’m most happy about is that the book really works.  So many times, especially with recipes you find on the internet, nothing works.  My compulsive organization really worked to my advantage on this one!

JSW: When can we get you out to the Bay area and up to Napa to enjoy some wine and share your book and story with our friends?
MS: Um, soon!!

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