Michael Schwartz stays genuine in the Design District and beyond

The toque who since 2006 has defined farm-to-table fine dining in South Florida still smears butter on bread, and people still eat every tasty crumb. But Michael Schwartz, chef and owner of Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in the Design District (130 NE 40th St., Miami; 305 573-5550), is looking ahead. He's interested in more than just the trend toward serving local products, called locavorism.

"I think it's just become a trend without really people understanding why those things are important," he says, "and making a commitment."

It's not easy to cook local, Schwartz stresses. There's the unpredictability of seasonal products, the expense, and logistical hurdles such as prompt delivery. And of course, one must be flexible with the menu. Food companies such as Sysco have begun offering locally sourced products, which makes buying easier, but he has reservations.

"It's almost not fair when it's Sysco easy," he points out. "The next level for me is to grow my own stuff, and yeah, I'm moving toward that. I used to raise chickens, 11 hens. So it's to go do it — to go and fish, you know."

Schwartz plans to open a second Michael's Genuine on Grand Cayman in spring 2010 and then wrestle with the future. "I'm going to figure out a way to grow the brand without killing myself and it," he explains. "It's the dilemma that a lot of chefs face. When [they] have the opportunity to cash in, a lot do."

For now, Schwartz defines success simply as being able to sleep at night. Reading, eating other people's food, and vacationing are "huge," he says. They help him stay on his game. "The restaurant business and time off... they're kinda not really symbiotic," he says. "But I always think it's funny when people say something like... 'I haven't taken a day off in two years.' That's just stupid."

For more information, visit michaelsgenuine.com

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jackie Sayet