They came ready to eat, ready to drink and ready to have a good time. What these foodies wanted most however, was to hear what chef Michael Schwartz had to say at a cooking demonstration at Apron’s Cooking School in the Plantation Publix.
“To watch him prepare some of his recipes is very exciting,” said Megan Norman Fass of Weston, one of 50 people .who signed up for the class. Fass said she’s also a big fan of Schwartz, a rising star on the national culinary scene and the owner of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami’s Design District. He also opened a second restaurant in Grand Cayman last year.What intrigued most in the audience was Schwartz’s culinary innovation 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.Schwartz, who lives in Miami Beach, came to prepare four recipes at a class at the Publix Apron’s Cooking School March 11. The recipes are from his first cookbook, Michael’s Genuine Food: Down to Earth Cooking for People Who Love to Eat, which went on sale in February. He says the book is meant to inspire what he calls “kitchen victories”. “It is about cooking from a recipe from a book, having success with it and enjoying it and being anxious to cook again,” Schwartz said. In it, he says, are recipes that are meant to be simple and a reflection of what he and his staff do in the restaurant; basing their menu off what is fresh. “The inspiration comes from the ingredients and what is seasonal,” he said.Schwartz prepared ricotta crostini with apricot-thyme jam, banana toffee panini, braised chicken with apricots, green olives and couscous, and crab salad with ruby grapefruit, pickled radish and pink peppercorn vinaigrette.“The Indian River red grapefruit is a great local treasure for us,” said Schwartz, who began his career in Philadelphia, and worked in kitchens from Los Angeles to New York City before coming to Miami in the 1990s.Schwartz says his favorite ingredient is whatever is fresh at the moment and notes South Florida’s high-quality produce, including Heirloom tomatoes. Schwartz sees more food-savvy customers. “I think people have embraced local and simple food as a concept,” he said.Susan Mahan, of Weston, brought friends Vanessa Rosada and Christine Sturman, to the demonstration. Mahan loves Schwartz’s philosophy of eating locally grown foods, and plans on incorporating more fresh” food into her menus. “I am going to start now that I have seen this,” she said.Sturman, also of Weston, is interested in using local produce, but has a houseful of picky eaters and is worried most of what she makes will wind up not eaten.“Maybe I will learn something here that will make that not happen,” she said.Schwartz helped found the Roots in the City Farmers Market, a local producer-exclusive farmers market, where he helps people on food assistance gain access to fresh foods through a partnership with chef Michel Nischan’s Wholesome Wave Foundation. Through that program, Schwartz also works with Phillis Wheatley Elementary in Overtown as part of the White House’s Chefs Move to Schools initiative, where he helps teach kids, parents, and cafeteria cooks how easy it is to prepare meals from fresh ingredients. With his help, they recently submitted a recipe for a rosemary chopped chicken salad to a national competition. Even though it did not win, he is encouraged by what he is teaching.“The kids are going to be the answer,” Schwartz said. “You have to teach the kids, to teach their parents how to eat.” Apron’s Cooking School, one of only seven in the Publix chain, has offered demonstrations by nationally known chefs like Tom Colicchio, Jose Garces and Paula Deen.“This is what I consider a local celebrity chef, so we are really excited about this,” said Bil Mitchell, resident chef of Plantation’s Apron’s Cooking School, who called Schwartz a “world of knowledge.”The school, which offers cooking classes Monday-Saturday, event planning and its Simple Meals program is designed to get shoppers to cook at home more. “We want people to feel comfortable in their kitchen and love to cook,” Mitchell said. Apron’s Cooking School at Publix is at 1181 S. University Dr. in Plantation. For more information, visit www.publix.com/cookingschools or call 954-577-0542.