James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz is about to embark on the busiest South Beach Wine & Food Festival (SOBEWFF) of his career. Though he has participated in the festival in various capacities over the past decade, 2020 will be the year he showcases just how well he can flex his culinary muscles.
Schwartz, who is best known for his American bistro in the Miami Design District, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, runs a roster of other concepts through his Genuine Hospitality Group. This year, each of his restaurant’s will participate in a SOBEWFF gathering, including Michael’s Genuine at the annual tasting event Best of the Best, intimate dinners at Tigertail + Mary and Amara at Paraiso, and the festival’s first-ever late-night pizza party.
“We’re trying to represent all that we do,” Schwartz says. “It’s a lot. We’ve opened so many restaurants in the past two years, and now is our time to show what we have going on at each of them.”
However, Schwartz’s festival highlight is his very own event — Sliced: A Genuine Pizza Party — offering pies in all imaginable forms, including wood-fired, oven-baked, and thin-crust. For the happening in Jungle Plaza in the Miami Design District, he has curated a group of the nation's top pizza makers to serve a seemingly endless supply of cheesy, doughy goodness set to indie-rock beats by Gainesville band the Hails and an open bar of beer, wine, and cocktails. In addition, all attendees will receive a copy of Schwartz’s latest cookbook, Genuine Pizza: Better Pizza at Home.
“Basically, we’re throwing a bunch of pizza ovens in the Design District with a mix of chefs I know and love and others I’ve admired for years but don’t know too well,” Schwartz explains. “Genuine Pizza came out last year, and we’ve thought a lot about different activations we could do. With an event like this, it will truly bring the book to life.”
As with any SOBEWFF event, Schwartz expects his pizza soiree to be among the most gluttonous, offering a selection of at least ten pizza variations from chefs such as Sullivan Street Bakery’s Jim Lahey, Upland’s Justin Smillie, and Best Pizza’s Frank Pinello. Think deep-dish Chicago style, thin and crisp Italian pies, and a New York version with sweet tomato sauce and cheese.
“There’s all sorts of pizza types,” Schwartz says. “That’s the beauty of it. An Italian will describe pizza in a very different way than someone from Detroit or Chicago. At the event, you can definitely expect a healthy variety of it all.”
Though the menu for the evening remains under wraps, Schwartz says he will whip together a béchamel-based, wood-fired pie topped with wild bitter greens, pepper relish, and Parmesan.
“Some people associate pizza-making with a lot of rules and tradition,” Schwartz says. “All of that is true, but for me, I’m more focused on the quality of the ingredients coupled with some thoughtful restraint. What I mean by that is sticking with a few ingredients and toppings but still finding ways to make it creative and memorable.”
As for Schwartz’s secret to the perfect pie: It’s hidden in the dough. At Harry’s Pizzeria and Genuine Pizza, his recipe calls for a smidgen of honey and whole wheat in the dough, along with an oven fired up to approximately 700 degrees, compared to the typical 800.
“It’s a never-ending learning process,” he says. “From the fermentation process to the dough stretching –– it all affects the end result.”
Though Schwartz’s pizza party will include nearly a dozen wood-fired ovens, the chef says you don’t need a special oven to make pizza at home.
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“That’s why people like the book,” he says. “It sounds silly, but the book works. You’d be surprised at how many cookbooks feature recipes that are weird or don’t quite match up to what you would expert. Making pizza is intricate, but it’s not as difficult as one would think.”
Beyond his events, Schwartz is excited to kick back and catch up with friends while eating his way through the five-day festival.
“We’re coming off of huge growth over the last couple of years,” he says. “We’re gearing up to open a Harry’s Pizzeria in Miami Beach sometime in late spring or early summer. Otherwise, we’re looking to stabilize and enjoy all that we have created, and pizza is a big part of it.”
Miami Design District presents Sliced: A Genuine Pizza Party, hosted by Michael Schwartz. 10 p.m. to midnight Friday, February, in Jungle Plaza, 3801 NE First Ave., Miami; sobewff.org/pizza. Tickets cost $95.