No one needs a reason to go back to Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink – and trust me, there’s not a fine-diner in all of Miami who hasn’t been there at least twice. It’s one thing when a situation arises that compels a return, and quite another when said situation comes with an invitation to sit with Chef Michael Schwartz himself. Even a fool would accept. Such was the case last Thursday night when I slipped into Michael’s Genuine for another knockout meal. Of course, it helped that I was accompanied by a knockout, but I bet I could’ve dined solo and still left swooning. Then again, the New York Times and Esquire have both rated Michael’s among the top restaurants in the country, and just last year James Beard bestowed upon him the honor of Best Chef in the South, so it’s not as if I’m telling anybody anything they don’t already know. Michael had just returned from New Orleans when we spoke, where he’d gone at the request of the White House chef. Here’s how and why it all went down.
Tell me about this New Orleans trip. [Michelle Bernstein, Peter Vauthy, and I] were invited by the White House and the Louisiana Seafood Marketing Association in an effort to promote Louisiana seafood, to send a message that the seafood is safe. There were about 20 chefs, and we all went out on a shrimp boat and a crab boat, saw where the shrimp is processed, talked with the shrimpers and crabbers. Then we met with the commissioner of the FDA and had lunch, and she debriefed us on what was happening in terms of testing and the efforts they’re making to monitor the seafood.
Wow! Where did you have lunch? First we had lunch dockside at the marina – they put out a big spread of cooked crab and shrimp. Then we had Po Boys at the Food Museum and listened as the FDA fill us in on everything.
How did the White House chef fit into the scheme of things? You know there’s two, right? There’s the real White House chef – Cris Comerford, a Filipina woman. She’s been there about 15 years. Then Obama’s chef is Sam Kass, and he’s kind of out there more doing media ops. Anyway, Cris was there. And this thing was tied to the St. Bernard Project, which builds and rebuilds homes for people of that parish who were displaced by Katrina. They’d planned this in conjunction with the completion of their 312th home, and welcoming the family that was set to move in. So we had this big block party, cooked for all of these people, and the White House chef was in the house when the family cut the ribbon. It was so cool: they cut the ribbon, entered their new home, and there’s the White House chef cooking jambalaya.
That’s fantastic! Do you cook a lot of that kind of food, though? Well, here’s the thing. We’re known for sourcing locally, and local for us could include the Gulf side of Florida. So we do get “Gulf seafood.” We’re not getting shrimp from Louisiana – but we will. We really start from as close to home as possible; then reach out from there. So it’s not that big of a stretch for us to start sourcing it.
Were all of the chefs known for sourcing locally? I think it was a cross-section of new, younger chefs who had achieved some kind of recognition. I didn’t know a lot of them, actually. I think the common theme was to strategically pick chefs from each region that could go back and talk about what’s happening.
You’ve gotta be honored to have been invited to something like this. It was awesome. We crammed more into a day-and-a-half … I’m telling you, it was non-stop.
You recently opened a Michael’s Genuine in Grand Cayman – is that anywhere near Mitchell’s new Books and Books branch? It’s right in the same community.
How’d that come about? They approached us about it…
They meaning the government? No, the developers of the community, called Camana Bay. And I was like, ‘What? Why?’ But they were persistent, and we went down and looked at it, liked what we saw, so we did it.
What kind of community is it? It’s a town center. There’s an international school, office buildings, apartment houses, a movie theater, they’re building a marina, a park – it’s huge.
Any other plans to expand? No, right now we’re maintaining. I’ve got a book coming out in February with Clarkson Potter [Michael’s Genuine Food: Down to Earth Cooking for People Who Love to Eat]. We’re working on some TV stuff.
That’s actually my next question: When are we gonna see you in TV? We’re working on something. We’re getting ready to shoot some stuff.
Well, good luck with that, and please be sure to let me know… Thanks, I will.