Its common to see star chefs, ballplayers, celebs of all sorts and a cross section of Miami powerbrokers lunching at Michaels Genuine Food & Drink in the Design District. Whats odd is to see Chef Michael Schwartz himself sitting down for a bite.
He mixes wild salmon tartare with the runny poached egg that tops it and spoons some onto a brioche crostini. He tastes. He ponders.
So good. Salmon is the only fish we bring in that we dont get locally. And its running right now.
Hes in white, but in street clothes. These days, he rarely gets to don a chefs coat or put in a shift at the stove any of his stoves. Schwartz now rules over a small kingdom of kitchens, which means there isnt much time to actually cook.
There are four restaurants, two ships and the Raleigh Hotel, he says. I spend a lot of time managing the business. To the point that I have to schedule myself to be able to be work in a kitchen for a day, because being in the kitchen is what I love. But my role has changed drastically. I go around coaching people. I taste. I take lots of meetings. The big challenge has been letting go and delegating. I want to be involved in every decision, in every personnel issue. But Im learning to look at everything a little more globally.
Just six years ago as he prepared to open Michaels Genuine in a sparsely populated Design District that was especially deserted at the dinner hour, he had to summon the kind of faith he wasnt sure he had anymore.
In 2002, after a successful run as chef of Nemo, epicenter of South Beach cool in the 1990s, he parted ways with partner Myles Chefetz (by then Schwartz was also overseeing Chefetzs Big Pink and Shoji restaurants.) He went on to do stints at the old Beach House Bal Harbour, Boca Ratons Zemi and South Beachs Afterglo. But none of those gigs worked out.
I had a string of bad luck. I knew that if Michaels Genuine didnt make it, Id be gone, Schwartz says as he samples the char-grilled octopus with Gigante beans that his chef de cuisine at Michaels has prepared.
I was not happy with the partnership with Myles, but I left without really thinking about what I was going to do. And I had young kids. By the time I opened Michaels Genuine with new partners, I had dug a pretty big hole. I was in debt big time. And I was rattled by bad decisions and bad experiences.
Still, Schwartz believed in his concept for Michaels Genuine. At a time when too many restaurants in town were guilty of being glam-over-substance, he wanted to run a high-energy but pretense-free place and turn out a bold but unfussy cuisine that would shine the spotlight on the highest-quality local and seasonal ingredients he could get his hands on.
And he did his homework, traveling to farms from northern Florida to Homestead in search of the finest tropical fruits, tomatoes, greens, herbs, meats, poultry, eggs and more. He sought out fishmongers who delivered the freshest seafood from local waters. And after that he really went to work, stationed at the wood-burning oven in his new restaurants open kitchen day in and day out. He worked five months straight without taking his first real day off.
You can say I was 100 percent motivated to succeed, says Schwartz, 49, who got his start in the restaurant business when he was 16 and still in his native Philadelphia.