I met Michael several years ago. Maybe the first time I saw him was at an event, though that memory is a bit murky.
What did happen — more important — is that over the years, we became friends.
That might not sound that rare, but I can assure you it is. I have a lot of acquaintances in my job as a food journalist, and, yes, I have friends. But what's a friend?
I would say a friend is someone I see "off the clock." Try that in your own context and see how the playing field narrows.
So Michael was a friend. And he was extremely talented. And a good soul.
A few weeks ago, he reached out to me. And I was busy. And I will always regret that I didn't see him for dinner or coffee. That's a lesson to me and all of us: Make time for friends. You never know.
Let me share a story about Michael.
He was serving at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival's Best of the Best at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. Several thousand people were eating and grabbing plates, typical at a large-scale food event.
Michael had his head down, pushing through. I walked over. His face lit up. We hugged, and I went to take a plate. He stopped me. "I have to make one for you, " he said.
Using several tweezers, each smaller and more precise than the previous, he meticulously placed layer upon layer of tiny, beautiful parts on a crudo plate.
The intricate dish took a few minutes to prepare. When he presented the plate to me, it was perfect, almost too perfect to eat. The chef instructed me to mix the fish and edible flowers together and eat it in one bite — to destroy what he had taken so much time to make gorgeous.
I didn't want to ruin this piece of art. But I did, and it was exquisite. I asked him why he went to so much painstaking effort for something that would be devoured in one second, and he simply said because he had to.
Michael had moved to Washington, D.C., but was traveling and making plans. He posted on Facebook that he had leased a space in Allapattah. If that restaurant had come to fruition, there's no doubt it would have been spectacular.
But food aside, he was a genuinely lovely person who was a joy to talk to. Thirty-eight is far too young to leave this world. So much more needed to be done.
Maybe that dish at Best of the Best is a perfect metaphor for his life: beautiful, short-lived, but to be savored and remembered for years to come.