Michael Shikany's food was incredibly memorable. His attention to detail at his eponymous restaurant in Wynwood was the stuff that would propel any chef on an upward trajectory. Alas, his restaurant, located in a neighborhood that had just begun to transition into something more than a warehouse district, was considered "before its time" by many.
Though his food was gorgeously prepared with immaculate attention to detail, when the Miami culinary community learned of his untimely death last week, stories began pouring in of Shikany's spirit and generosity rather than his technique.
Ryan Martin of 180 Degrees at the DRB remembered the time he flew to Washington, D.C., to collaborate on a special dinner with Shikany. "We spent five days straight preparing. It was 15 hours a day for me and 20 hours for Mike," Martin said. "I was doing all the shopping, and Mike asked me to get popcorn because he was planning a dish of corn three ways. I assumed Mike wanted kernels. When I brought the kernels back, he didn't know what to do with them. He was this brilliant chef, but he didn't know how to pop popcorn. That's the one thing that I could actually teach him. We wound up making enough popcorn to feed a movie theater."
Maude Eaton, cofounder of Saffron Supper Club, which presents collaborative dinners with some of South Florida's leading chefs, shared a picture from her first gathering. "Michael always wanted to make everything he touched look beautiful and taste like nothing you've ever tasted before," Eaton said. "He carefully crafted flavors and textures in his mind, and I saw his intense and focused energy bringing dishes together. When we cooked together, he was generous, playful, and passionate. We blasted Michael Jackson songs in the kitchen and sang along. Only the best of the best would do. I cook rustic, and he cooked with artistic precision, so you can imagine the sheer fun I would have teasing him with my presentation. But he always loved the flavors."
Red the Steakhouse's Peter Vauthy remembers the chef in a very personal way. "Michael was one of the first chefs who reached out to me when I came to Miami. Always kept in touch during our challenging first year open, came by to check on me and became a friend first and a colleague much later."
Jorgie Ramos of Barley, American Brasserie, shares, "I never knew Shikany or really ever heard about him until a week after Barley opened in 2013. My cousin and one of Shikany's biggest fans calls me up and tells me she is coming over for dinner tonight with some friends including one of the top chefs in Miami. I immediately looked him up and clinched my butt cheeks. Figured I've faked my way through the past couple weeks and now I'd get called out on it by one of the best. Dinner came, I cooked, and did the logical thing. Stay away from the table so as to not get told dinner wasn't up to standards. So I think I just shook his hand once through the kitchen window and hid.The next day I received a text from him telling me how great everything was and that if there was anything I ever needed he would be there for me. I will never forget how his caring allowed me to gain the confidence to be able to do what I do these days. He will forever be in my memories"
Michael "JoJo" Ortiz of JoJo Tea shared that he and Michael were planning on doing a pop-up dinner at the JoJo Tearoom."Since his spot in Wynwood, we had discussed using tea as an aromatic. One idea he wanted to do was fill our tea bar with jasmine tea so that the aroma would rise up through the grill of the tea bar to infuse fish. We had lunch two weeks ago to set up the dinner and discuss his plans for Miami. He was a frequent visitor to the tearoom, and he was a good friend. Miss him very much."
Ryan Harrison of Preservation Handcrafted Foods (formerly of Preservation in Sunny Isles), says, "I created an addition to the menu one night during service, it was A5 BMS 12 Miyazaki Kobe tenderloin paired with a few other components Michael and I came up with. I painted the entire plate purple with blueberry yuzu preserves, finished plating the rest of the dish, and Michael looks at me and says if you ever paint one of my plates like this again I'll tweeze every one of your eyebrows out. Five minutes later another order comes in and sure enough it's got another Kobe dish on it, painted another plate and both came back clean, I said not bad for an $80 entree and he laughed and said whatever — go paint more plates!"
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Nicole Amelia, brand manager for Double Cross Vodka, responded to New Times' story regarding the chef's love of tweezers by showing a screenshot of Shikany with the caption "Tweezers is back." Amelia said, "I wanted to share this with you because we had a joke about the 'tweezers' which you referenced. In times like this, a smile is everything."
The most amazing story of all came from Gratzi Ela, who met the chef at an event in 2014. Her son Lucas was diagnosed with cancer when he was 8 years old, and she had trouble finding food he wanted to eat. "Michael was there for us. He gave me amazing culinary advice for Lucas," Ela said. Lucas, now 12, is a published author and runs his own foundation, the Lucas Ryan Foundation. Ela said Michael planned to write a children's cookbook, "basically, how to make very healthy food taste amazing so kids would be interested in eating healthy." The proceeds would be donated to charities that help kids fight cancer.
According to an obituary shared on Legacy.com, services for Shikany will be held Saturday, March 18, at 11 a.m. at the Granada Presbyterian Church in Coral Gables.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in his name to Women of Tomorrow, the Chapman Partnership, and Miami Lighthouse for the Blind.