Interview with Chef, Restaurateur and Author Michael Schwartz, Part II
Clean Plate Charlie: You opened up a Michael's in Grand Cayman - how is that going?
Michael Schwartz: We liked what we saw. The restaurant is in a new development called Camana Bay. It's a mixed use community with a marina and a community park. We opened last year in June during off season, so it gave us a chance to connect with the locals who have adopted us. THe restaurant serves a good mix of locals and tourists. I'm not sure of percentages yet, but I'm happy with the local connection. Product is always a challenge so a lot of it comes from Miami but what we did find was that there were a lot of local farmers and we've started farming relationships with local farmers in The Caymans.
You won the Snail of Approval - can you tell us about that?
We got a snail sticker. I haven't put it on the door yet. What it represents is important for us. It represents the slow food movement. The whole local organic sustainable subject is saturated. There are a lot of people who say they use local sustainable foods and a lot of the time it's just BS. It's greenwashing. I know that we have someone on staff called the Forager and their job is to find new farmers and we bring back new products three times a week and it's not convenient, it's not predictable, but we are walking the walk.
Tell me about Paradise Farms and Dinner in Paradise
It gets the chefs out of the kitchen. Gabriele Marewski from Paradise Farms and I started it about six years ago. Gabrielle and I wanted to raise money for Katrina victims and we targeted small family farms that were hurt and that's how we started. I only do one a year now. I used to coordinate all the dinners. This year I'll do one dinner at the end of March.
I understand you're working with Publix to do cooking schools at some select Public locations?
These are demos that are associated with the Publix cooking program and they're also to promote my book. The recipes I'll demonstrate are from the book.This is the first time that I've been working with Publix. I live on Miami Beach. We always use Publix and shop at Publix. I think they do a good job of mixing in organic product so it's not that much of a reach.
Your new book - Michael's Genuine Food - it's pretty comprehensive. It goes from teaching the right way to boil an egg to making slow roasted short ribs. Tell me about the book.
I always wanted to write a cookbook so when one of the senior editors approached me to write a book, we did it. Why not? It's the perfect time. We put a great team together. We styled all the food, we cooked the food and we ate it. What came through in the photographs is this great experience. It was a one week shoot. Five days at a friend's house. A day in the restaurant, a day at the farm a day day on the boat. We ate and drank well and worked hard. It's all about how the people work together.
Can I replicate what I eat at Michael's at home using your book or are the recipes altered?
You know the food in the restaurant is based on good ingredients very simply prepared, so what you see in the book is what you get in the restaurant. How you shop and how you execute the recipes is important, so if you shop well and read the directions you're good to go. A lot of people don't like to follow recipes. Read the recipe through before you start to make it.
Can you share any tips with cooks at home?
If I do, then you don't have to come to the restaurant anymore. Seriously, there are a lot of things we do at the restaurant that can be too complicated. The point for my cookbook is for the recipe to be achievable. Success is important. It sounds stupid, but if you make something and you nail it it's confidence building.
What is your favorite recipe from the book?
I don't have a favorite food, color, child. Those are my least favorite questions. We had some friends over Superbowl Sunday. I made polenta fries from a recipe straight from my book. People were oooing and ahhing. My wife was from Wisconsin and she's the exact opposite of a football fan but all of a sudden she's the biggest Packer fan ever. So I made her drink an Old Milwaukee. I roasted a pork shoulder, buffalo wings, brats in beer and the polenta fries.
On February 19th you're doing an interesting event at Books & Books in Coral Gables. Can you tell us about it?
It's a pot luck dinner and book signing. It's my brand manager Jackie Sayet's idea. We're flying in that morning. So I really didn't want to cook for it. There are about 20 people - friends from the restaurant, bloggers, writers. They each got an advance copy of the book. We asked them to make one recipe each or to double it. We're expecting a lot of people to come so people get a bite to eat and we'll do a q&a and signing. I think it's a terrific idea.
Brussels sprouts are literally sprouting up on every menu yet they're voted most hated vegetable. What's your take on that?
I don't know. That's a statistic that I was made aware of four or five years ago. They're terrific and everyone I know loves them. I love them, people love them and I think someone conspiring against Brussels sprouts.
How do you get people to be more adventurous about eating?
I don't know. You can't teach an old dog new tricks. being exposed to things and not being forced. As far as adults, I can't really go there. I think most of the stuff in my book is pretty straightforward. We stayed away from marrow bones and some of the other more challenging things. No pig ears in the book.
What food trends do you see happening?
Food in its natural form. Back to basics. No more deconstructing. Shopping for properly sourced food is a big trend.