Michael Schwartz's success nearly cost him his marriage. It was May 2010 when the bespectacled, increasingly gray-haired chef claimed a James Beard Award for Best Chef South. He was working more than ever, nearly abandoning all other aspects of his life. "I had my head down all the time," the 52-year-old says over lunch at his flagship Design District restaurant Michael's Genuine Food & Drink. "I lived in that kitchen."
In the years
And now Schwartz is busier than ever. His Genuine Hospitality Group runs five restaurants in Miami and six aboard an armada of Royal Caribbean's largest cruise ships. Three more restaurants are coming in high-end buildings under construction in Edgewater, Brickell, and Coconut Grove.
Yet as some high-profile chefs and restaurateurs choose to go it alone and open under their own flag, Schwartz's expansion has come primarily alongside cruise lines, hoteliers, and their management companies.
The reasons are many. He can disperse cooks with his culinary ethos across the city. His favorite farmers receive ever larger orders. Then come the financial benefits:
Whether the three forthcoming restaurants succeed could determine if Schwartz's grand gamble is an ingenious plan or a haphazard mismanagement of all of his success.
It seems a risky endeavor. "I like to have control — the more control the better — but collaboration is important too," he says. So far, he has no complaints about the working relationship on any of his forthcoming projects, although he admits being "scared as fuck" when learning Philippe Starck would design his Brickell restaurant. "I thought they were going to do whatever they wanted, but they didn't," he says.
At the heart of the operation is Schwartz's belief that he can do more outside his restaurant's kitchen than he ever could inside it. "My role now is mentoring," he says. "I feel like I'm able to accomplish more culinarily through these guys by coaching, eating, talking about food, [as well as] doing research and reading."
The philosophy will be tested later this year when he opens his Italian-inspired concept
But looking around the bustling dining room at Michael's Genuine, it's hard to bet against him. Though its menu has swelled and contracted, favorites come and
Schwartz's crispy pork belly, a longtime favorite born in the early days of the preteen Miami hipster's obsessions with all things porcine, also has staying power. The slabs of
Fish preparations can be likened to the later works of Mark Rothko, the painter renowned for his sprawling canvasses with large blocks of color. Here, there's little more than salt, pepper, and a hard sear. A meaty fillet of
Getting to this point was no simple feat. And if Schwartz launched Miami's so-called farm-to-table movement, he no longer has a monopoly on it. Though he says he doesn't feel pressure to keep up, he and his top lieutenants such as executive chef Bradley Herron and director of operations Charles Bell are constantly looking for new ways to remain relevant while updating and improving what's been done. Schwartz admits the menu has at times grown too large for its own good, and the kitchen is constantly resisting the urge to overmanipulate its ingredients. "We let our food speak for itself," he says.
In spite of that, the offerings in recent years have changed a bit to include some technique and far-flung gastronomies. Pleasantly woody caramelized carrots have been glazed in everything from a fragrant, peppy sambal butter to a smoky harissa.
The addition of a raw bar has brought a whole new section. A snapper ceviche offers all the familiar, bright flavors of summer via juicy bits of tangerine and mango alongside
Pasta has also played more prominently as of late. And recently,
Expect more of it, as well as pizza, at his upcoming Brickell restaurant. The latter should be a cinch considering the years of practice and success he's had at Harry's Pizzeria (the second Harry's opened in Coconut Grove late last year, and Schwartz says he thinks the concept can be scaled).
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The other two forthcoming spots are still marinating, but they'll be guided by their surroundings. The one in Edgewater, which overlooks the bay and sits next to a park, will have plenty of "wood-fired apparatus." The Coconut Grove concept is being planned as the "ultimate neighborhood restaurant; it could borrow a lot of elements from [Michael's Genuine] in its familiarity and unpretentiousness," he says.
Despite his move to management, Schwartz still has the trademark neuroses of an overachieving chef. He can't concentrate on any one thing for too long. He's constantly watching how servers interact with guests, observing how the kitchen handles the lunch
Michael's Genuine Food & Drink
130 NE 40th St., Miami; 305-573-5550; michaelsgenuine.com. Lunch Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner Monday through Thursday 5:30 to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5:30 p.m. to midnight, Sunday 5:30 to 10 p.m.; brunch Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Peach salad $10
Pork rillette $11
Snapper ceviche $14
Crispy pork belly $16
Wood-oven-roasted grouper $24