Michael Schwartz

Chef, Restaurateur

When Michael’s Genuine opened in Miami’s then-nascent Design District, that single word—genuine—became the yardstick for everything the restaurant stood for: “Is that genuine? Does it feel right? Is it authentic? Is it sincere? Is it thoughtful?” Every dish in his restaurants typically starts with one ingredient that triggers a creative process on how to highlight it in the best way possible. It takes restraint, less fussiness, and a really thoughtful approach. It also means that Michael’s restaurants print up new menus almost daily, so you’re unlikely to have the same dining experience twice. (Michael tries to keep a copy of each and every one… that’s thousands of menus stashed away in old file boxes!)

Michael got his start as a teenager bussing tables at a high-end Italian restaurant in Philadelphia, working his way up the line in restaurants across the country, training and taking inspiration from the likes of Wolfgang Puck and Alice Waters. Michael helped to put Miami’s Design District on the map; today he’s a James Beard Award-winner at the helm of a growing restaurant empire that extends from Ohio to Coconut Grove. For Michael, traveling and connecting with local artisans and farmers is a huge source of inspiration. The only thing that makes him happier is cooking for his friends and family. That, and maybe spending a few quiet hours on a fishing boat, catching his own lunch.

Why We Love Michael Schwartz

Michael understands that in pizza as in life, it’s a question of balance—the freshest ingredients, in just the right combination. He brings that thoughtful approach to everything he touches.

“Travel for me is a huge source of inspiration. Connecting with artisans, farmers, community and culture drives my menu creativity.”

“My goal is to make people feel comfortable. It's as much about what's on the plate as who is serving it, what you're listening to, how you're made to feel when you come and when you leave.”

6 Questions with Michael Schwartz

  1. Is there such a thing as 'authentic; pizza?

    So for me, and pizza, Italian people might look at my book, or what my restaurants do with pizza, and go: “Well, that doesn't follow the rules.” And there are a lot of rules in Italy. This is the birthplace of artisan pizza. These people have been doing the same thing, over and over, for so many years. And for me, what makes a good pie is the sum of all the ingredients. I always say the secret to good food is just that, good food. Source good products, and don't screw it up, execute flawlessly if you can.

  2. What are you most excited about experiencing in Italy?

    For me it is that opportunity to spend time and get to know people who are completely passionate about food. It’s that culmination of seeing people, like the artisans who make that product (whether it's the cheese for the pizza, or those who grow the tomatoes, or harvest the fish), do whatever they're doing, surrounded by a group of people that are equally as interested in that as I am. To me that’s the pinnacle of this trip.

  3. When you think about the word 'genuine', what comes to mind?

    In terms of how it translates into our restaurants, my goal is to make people feel comfortable, and whatever that means to them. It's as much about what's on the plate as who is serving it, what you're listening to, what you're looking at, how you're made to feel when you come and when you leave.

  4. What’s something you won’t leave Italy without eating?

    Fresh sardines, damn it! Fresh sardines are something that I miss. Living in Miami affords us lots of amazing seafood, but sardines, unfortunately, are not one of them. The next best thing to fresh sardines here are tinned sardines, which are still really spectacular. In fact, just last week, a group of us chefs got together and we did a sardine tasting. We went through 15 different tinned sardines and all came to some really interesting conclusions, one of which was that it wasn’t always about the price. The most expensive one wasn’t always the best one.

  5. You’ve written an entire book on pizza. What do you love about a pie?

    I mean, what don’t I love about a pie? It's interesting, about 30 years ago, I worked for Wolfgang Puck and that was my early exposure to elevated pizza. And what I learned from Wolfgang is that you can break the rules, as long as there's a foundation in sound cookery. I'm an equal opportunity admirer of pizza—thick, thin, square, round—doesn’t matter. So long as it's well executed, well thought out. Less is more. Proportion is as important as anything when it comes to good pizza.

  6. What’s the one thing to get right when making your own pizza?

    I would say if you're going to make pizza at home, you should make the dough. If you can’t, buy from someone that has dough you like. One thing I'm trying to teach my own team is that, you know, all ingredients are not created equal. An anchovy is not an anchovy. Pizza dough is not just pizza dough. Take the time to make sure what you're cooking, and what you're using, is quality. That usually means tasting it, and comparing ingredients against other ingredients. In other words, don’t assume the tomato sauce that you got from the store in a jar is the one thing that is going to make your pizza taste good to you.

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Provence with Junior Borges

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