Michael's Genuine Food & Drink's Niven Patel is parting ways with the James Beard Award-winning chef's flagship restaurant to take over the kitchen at Islamorada's Cheeca Lodge while planning a vegetable-centric, Indian-leaning restaurant to open in Miami sometime in the future.
"We're going to be focusing on more vegetables that aren’t commonly used, incorporating a lot of Indian vegetables and stuff that excites me, like the tandoor [oven]," Patel says. Many of them will likely be grown on his two-acre plot on the edge of the Redland.
Patel, 32, came to Michael Schwartz's Design District namesake in 2013 after serving as chef of Dean Max's Grand Cayman restaurant, Brasserie. He soon added his own touches to Schwartz's beloved menu, including helping ramp up the restaurant's seafood offerings and hauling in produce from his home farm. Both say the split was amicable.
"This restaurant is a monster, and for him to put in a solid three years has been amazing for us," Schwartz says.
Bradley Herron, executive chef of the Genuine Hospitality Group, will hold Patel's spot in the interim while Schwartz scours the nation for a new chef de cuisine. Most recently, Herron had been manning the stoves at the Cypress Room while Schwartz switched up the high-end Design District room's concept to more of an everyday place to eat. At the same time, Schwartz is hunting for lieutenants to run his forthcoming restaurants in Coconut Grove, Edgewater, and Brickell.
Patel's restaurant will seem to meld both his time at Michael's and his own culinary heritage. He and his family hail from Gujarat, the sprawling state on India's west coast that borders Pakistan and the Arabian Sea. It's well known for its vast and varied agriculture. The region's food is also far different from the butter chicken and tikka masala most Americans know as Indian cuisine.
Like the food of Gujarat, Patel's restaurant will have a very heavy vegetable focus, but it won't be strictly vegetarian, he says. He's been toying with recipes and ideas on his home farm, nicknamed Rancho Patel, for more than a year. One example is the sprawling patra leaf, also known as an elephant ear, smeared with chickpeas mashed with lemon juice, coriander, sesame seeds, and cumin.
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"You roll it and then you either steam it or pan-fry it," Patel explains. "The leaf gets really crispy, and the chickpea steams and gets really delicious."
Patel says Schwartz, now a wildly successful restaurateur with a fleet of eateries under his command, has been a kind of mentor as Patel has prepared to go it alone after the Cheeca Lodge gig. Patel's project could be another good dining-scene addition that was conceived in the confines of a Schwartz kitchen.