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South Florida's Best and Brightest
Originally published: Monday, August 1, 2011 (12:03:32 a.m. ET)

Michael Schwartz
Michael's Genuine Food & Drink Executive Chef and Proprietor Michael Schwartz. (Photo courtesy of Michael's Genuine).
Michael Schwartz
Easily one of the region's most beloved and recognizable chefs, his name has virtually become synonymous with the very best Miami has to offer gourmands who both come to visit and live in South Florida. Michael's Genuine Food & Drink first opened in the Design District in 2007 and quickly became renowned for its exquisite-yet-simple offerings. So well-received was the restaurant, that in 2010, Michael Schwartz earned the most prestigious of all culinary honors, a James Beard Foundation Award (Best Chef: South). His first cookbook, "Down To Earth Cooking For People Who Love To Eat," hit bookstores earlier this year, and he's made cameos on virtually every national cooking program, some of which include: "Throwdown with Bobby Flay," "After Hours With Daniel Boulud," the wildly popular "Top Chef," and "Fresh Food Fast with Emeril Lagasse." Schwartz is a founding partner of a local-producer-exclusive farmers market called "Roots in the City Farmers Market," the first of its kind in the area.

Q: What advice would you give youngsters who want to embark on a career in your industry?
A: I think the biggest thing for me is for young people to find something that they are passionate about. And that's the key. Let's face it, if you don't like what you do for a living, then you're not going to do a good job. I was lucky. I found this career at a very young age and I was fascinated by it. I was 16 when I had my first restaurant job, so before I turned 17, I knew that's what I wanted to do. That's the biggest thing, not to force something you're not sure about, but to find something that really excites you and pursue that. Within those decisions will be lots of different opportunities to find a niche for your best skill set.

Q: Of what professional accomplishment are you most proud?
A: I'm not great at these questions. But the first thing that comes to my mind, obviously, is winning the James Beard Award. That's a big deal in our profession. It's something we strive for in this business, so I'd that's it.

Q: What's the most challenging part about your work?
A: It's easy to say that it's the hours. But when you're in this business long enough, that just becomes part of your job. Initially, it's a big challenging. Now, it's probably balancing the creative aspect with the business side. And also, you have to accept that it's a business and at some point in your career you have to realize that it's no solely about creating or making great food or even running a tight kitchen. It's more about having a global view of how to run a business and be profitable while maintaining a creative edge.

Q: What did you envision doing for a living when you were growing up?
A: I wanted to be a garbage man. I remember being a kid and watching the garbage truck come. It sounds ridiculous and it is ridiculous. I would watch those guys, when I was about 5 or 6, thinking it was cool. So I can remember that. Beyond that, I didn't really think about. I have kids now, and I always talk to them about what they want to do, and I think that kids just don't know. So in between that time when I thought I wanted to be a garbage man and finding this career in the restaurant business, there wasn't much going on in terms of my professional aspirations. I'm sure my parents wanted me to go to college and I tried that. I went part-time for half of one semester to community college. School wasn't for me, so I think they were disappointed. I don't know if they had an idea of what they wanted me to be, so they accepted my decision.

Q: In ten years' time, I will be _________________.
A: I will have learned how to relax and enjoy myself. It's a difficult thing for me. I'm constantly moving and thinking. This is an important time in my career for me. I'm happily married with three kids, so I'm trying to figure out how to balance that during a time when it's important for me to be home a lot. And it's an important for me to focus on that or else I may miss some great opportunities. In 10 years, my kids will be gone from the house, so I expect to be spending a good deal of time in NYC with my wife and traveling and enjoying life.

Q: Who are/were your professional role models and why?
A: Early on, a guy named Frank Crispo who took me under his wing and taught me a lot about work and work ethic and that sort of thing. He was definitely an early influence for me. After that, I got the chance to work for Wolfgang Puck, who was a huge influence for me. There were others along the way, but those two stand out in my mind. One is obviously very well known, and the other is much more obscure, but he probably had an even bigger influence on me and my work ethic.

Q: If you could do anything else in the world for a living, what would it be?
A: I don't know anything else, so I'd say there would have to be some tie to music. A musician, playing some sort of jazz.

Q: What's the best part about your job?
A: I think the instant gratification component of this business is what drives you. We spend a lot of time creating and organizing or getting to the point where you can satisfy people, in their eyes, relatively quickly, and hearing that feedback. Seeing people come to the restaurant, enjoying their meal, and expressing their satisfaction with what you do.

Q: What's the worst part about your job?
A: The worst part is probably dealing with the many personalities and the stuff that's not so glamorous about what we do on a daily basis. That's the stuff that most chefs struggle with, the business aspects of this business and dealing with personalities on a day-to-day basis, which can be difficult. It can be great. But at times it can be very challenging.

Q: What's the one most important thing that experience has taught you?
A: The importance of experience. The importance of patience. The importance of hard work. I always say that experience and knowledge create confidence. When you're confident about what you do, things come easier. For a chef, for example, confidence could mean restraint in using fewer components on a plate or simplifying the food. And with that, comes better results. The experience and knowledge builds confidence and that's very beneficial for a chef and how they think about food. Experience takes a long time. You're not going to get in two years or five years or even 20 years. You have to accept that your whole life and your whole career are an experience and you're never going to know it all.

Q: What's the best career advice anyone has imparted on you?
A: The obvious one is that hard work will pay off in the end. Especially in this business. Perseverance and dedication and studying and traveling and learning are critical. That's advice that is pretty elementary that everyone who is in this business would give you. Because it's true.

Q: What one thing would you do different/better if you could start it all over again?
A: I would travel more before I settled into my career. And I did a good amount of traveling but that's really key. To balance the act of spending enough time in a place, in a restaurant that you're going to benefit from it and future employers won't look at that and ask why is he bouncing around so much, but also enough so you're moving around and really learning and seeing different things. I did a good amount of it. But if I could do it again, I would travel, specifically out of the country so your senses are challenged and you're meeting people. Just being out there. That experience of traveling to a foreign place and being outside of your comfort zone is really good for this business.
Archive: 20 Good Questions
Best & Brightest: June 2011