A year after Michaels Genuine opened, Frank Bruni of The New York Times named it one of the top 10 new U.S. restaurants. Around the same time, famed British chef Jamie Oliver declared it among his five favorite restaurants in the States. In 2010, Schwartz nabbed the culinary worlds top prize, a James Beard award for Best Chef in the South. By then, culinary heavyweights such as Spains Ferran Adria and Alice Waters the grande dame of the farm-to-table movement plus Anthony Bourdain, Martha Stewart and many others were beating a path to Michaels Genuine.
I served Ferran a bowl of iced kumquats, Schwartz says. Getting a great review is always a great thing for a chef. But what really makes you feel good is to get great feedback from your peers in the business.
At the end of March, Schwartz opened the elegant Cypress Room in the Design District, just a stroll away from Michaels Genuine and from Harrys Pizzeria, which he started in 2011. About three weeks after Cypress Room went on line, he opened Restaurant Michael Schwartz at the Raleigh Hotel, a venture with SBE, new owners of the historic South Beach property. And just a couple of weeks after the Raleigh opening, he was aboard Royal Caribbeans Allure of the Seas, finalizing menus for its fine dining restaurant, which he now helms. He has had the restaurant on sister ship Oasis of the Seas since 2011. Add to these the Grand Cayman outpost of Michaels Genuine. And recently, SBE announced it will open another of their SLS hotels on Brickell Avenue, with plans for a Michael Schwartz restaurant, there, too. Though Schwartz says that project is still a couple of years away.
And while there has been talk of other restaurant projects with SBE outside Miami, Schwartz would rather not project too far into the future.
Ive just opened several places back to back. And I have a relationship with my restaurants that is not unlike my relationship with my three children. Their personalities are all different. And at different times I feel like I have to give one more attention than another.
Which one feels most like his baby right now?
Cypress Room is where I want to be all the time.
The white-tablecloth Cypress Room, in a cozy space at 3620 NE Second Ave., features an Old Florida vibe with its reclaimed pecky cypress paneling and wainscoting, its taxidermied white-tailed deer, wild boar and marlin, its tropical pink toile wallpaper. The cuisine is more sophisticated than at the gastropubby Michaels Genuine, but it still gives the starring role to local ingredients.
We wanted a place that was more upscale, but still about simplicity. There is no silliness, no molecular stuff, Schwartz says. Theres bone china, lots of crystal, proper salad forks and soup spoons. But its not tweezer food. Nothing is too highly composed.
In keeping with the concept, Schwartzs executive pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith (they became a formidable duo back in the Nemo days) brings a new subtlety and refinement to desserts here.
Goldsmith was just up for a James Beard, her second consecutive nomination in a fiercely contested national field. But the award went to Brooks Headley of New York Citys Del Posto.
I was p-----, says Schwartz, who flew to New York for the ceremony sure it would be Goldsmiths year. Shes so good. Shell win it next time.
Things could not have turned around more dramatically for Schwartz in the last six years. But does he worry about keeping so many plates spinning at once?
There are new challenges now. Im no longer the underdog that everyone was rooting for. Even when I was in the dumps, miserable and grasping for the next paycheck, I believed in my talent. And Im incredibly proud of everything that has happened. But I try not to stop and think about it too much. My motto now is Just dont f--- it up.