Last Friday, Michael Schwartz was the guest chef instructor at Publix's Apron Cooking School in Plantation (1181 S. University Drive). The state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen, located on the second floor of the supermarket, is equipped with stainless-steel appliances and the latest in audiovisual technology. Schwartz cooked and paired four dishes from his newly released cookbook, Michael's Genuine Food: Down-to-Earth Cooking for People Who Love to Eat, which includes recipes straight from Michael's restaurant menu.
Schwartz is best-known for his restaurant, Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in Miami's Design District, and for being a local crusader for sustainability. He's also a participant of the White House's Chefs Move to Schools Initiative. But under all that clout is a simple man with a simple mission. From his young days as a busboy in Philly to his early days in Miami Beach raising chickens in his backyard (illegally), the intimate group of 40 guests in attendance got a deeper understanding for his love of great ingredients and great food. His simple motto: "Great ingredients make great food." Although some ingredients in the recipes featured are "fancy," like gray salt, they are few and far between. His main goal is to make cooking and eating accessible to everyone, from homemade ricotta to at-home pickling.
You realize early on that it's all about the food and not about him (many chefs tend to be
egomaniacs). With a superfluous way about the kitchen and preciseness in his explanations, he's the type of culinary professor you hope for but rarely get. He is genuine about his enthusiasm for the craft in the way he handles the ingredients and is relatable in the way he is quick to share his experiences from both the kitchen and his personal life, which has greatly influenced his work.
This guy deserves his own cooking show! Food Network? Cooking Channel? Are you reading this?
After the jump, take a closer look at what the guests ate and get some great "in the kitchen" tips from the master himself.
Course 1: Crostini With Ricotta and Apricot Jam
Wine Pairing: The Spanish Quarter, Chardonnay and Albarino blend
Course 2: Citrus-Infused Crab Salad With Pink Grapefruit and Pink Peppercorn Vinaigrette
Wine Pairing: Saint M, Riesling
Course 3: Braised Chicken With Apricots and Green Olives and Herb Couscous
Wine Pairing: California heavy oak Chardonnay
Course 4: Banana Toffee Panini With Chocolate Sauce
Wine Pairing: Bartenura, Moscato
Desserts are self-admittedly not Michael's forte. The recipe for the Banana Toffee Panini with Chocolate Sauce was taken directly from Hedy Goldsmith, pastry chef at Michael's Genuine. Or as Michael calls her: "The world's greatest pastry chef." Michael also spilled the beans that she's working on her own pastry book that is set to come out soon. And for all dessert and chocolate lovers, he recommends a trip to the restaurant for a Chocolate Cremoso. Take it from us, it's heaven on Earth.
Michael Schwartz's "In the Kitchen" Tips
- Buy the book Food Lover's Companion. It is a must-have for any cook. Michael swears by it. Plus, it came in handy throughout the class for such questions as: "What's pink peppercorn?" "What's a roux?"
- When making a vinaigrette, use both olive oil and canola oil, since olive oil can be too bitter and canola oil adds fruitiness and silkiness back to the equation.
- For those who are obsessed with oils (and have ten types in their pantry), there is only a need for two in your pantry: one all-purpose oil for cooking and one drizzling/finishing oil for dressing salads, etc. Michael's favorite oil varieties are canola and grapeseed.
- Raw onions can be bitter and overpowering. When adding onion to a dish, place the prepared product into a bath of ice water. This serves three functions: It crisps the onions, enhances their color, and mellows the flavor.
- Michael's trick to a variety of meals is to add a hint of cinnamon to the dish, as it brings out and complements other flavors. From chicken to rice and dessert, it's great.
- Buy a box of gloves and stash it in your cabinet -- that way, you'll have them for use whenever you want. Why did this come up? He loves chicken but hates touching it raw with his bare hands.
- When making couscous, boil the pasta with both orange juice and water, since it adds hearty flavor.
- It's an industry standard but also helpful at home: Mark containers with date of purchase using a permanent marker. That way, you're not using cinnamon from 2001.
- It is always best to buy good quality spices in small quantities.
- Spending $6 on a small can of dulce de leche? Make it yourself; it's cheaper. Take the wrapper off of a can of condensed milk and simmer the can in water for five hours. Make sure that the water completely covers the can at all times.The longer it stays in the bath, the darker and richer the dulce de leche will be. Hedy does this at Michael's!
The book and the wines featured during the dinner were available for purchase at discounted prices, and everyone left in tow with detailed recipes for each dish (they can also be found in the book). Michael signed books and mingled with guests at the end of the session. Many, like me, just gushed their appreciation to him for heading the event. South Florida should be proud to claim chef Michael Schwartz as one of its own.
Publix's Apron Cooking School aims to establish better eating habits in families and hosts a variety of events every month and features a rotating list of guest celebrity chefs. Bridgette Mohr, a frequent participator said, "It's fun to be around like-minded people. Three hours is not enough to talk about food." There are two locations in Broward and Palm Beach counties. The other location can be found in Boca Raton (5050 Champion Blvd.), where Michael cooked the same meal on Saturday night. Be sure to visit Publix's Apron Cooking School's site
for more information and to view a calendar of upcoming events.