10 Questions for Michael Schwartz
James Beard Award-winning chef and one of Miami’s most well-known restaurateurs, Michael Schwartz, is going back to his roots. Fi’lia (pronounced feel-e-ah) is Schwartz’s new Italian concept that is rooted in simplicity and fresh ingredients. Debuting in Miami this fall, with a second locale bound for The James West Hollywood – Sunset in early 2017, Fi’lia West Hollywood represents a return to the place that inspired his career early on and shaped the simple approach to food for which he is known.
Below, we’ve got 10 questions for Chef Schwartz that gives an inside look at his recipe for authentic, fresh and seasonal cooking.
1. You’ll be opening a Fi’lia in both Miami and LA - what will be unique about each location?
The restaurants will look different but the spirit will remain the same. Menus will stay true to what we're starting here (in Miami). But it's still very early. We really are looking forward to getting Miami open and feeling it out. A lot can happen from now until we get to LA. Miami will do some heavy lifting which LA will benefit from. I'm sure we will learn a lot that will inform what we do on the West Coast. Also, in terms of sourcing, we're going to take advantage of the uniqueness of both locations and their relative seasonality in the kitchen.
2. What commonalities will we find in both locations?
The same genuine approach to hospitality that defines our restaurants and a straightforward approach to food, technique and ingredients.
3. Everyone compares the conditions of California to Italy in terms of growing great wine and fresh fruit and vegetables. How similar is California-cuisine to Italian?
The respect for the “terroir,” the ingredients and a seasonal style of cooking – these things are what Italian cuisine is all about and why I love California. Here in Miami, we have a year round growing season and we are made better cooks each day for making what we have work - which sometimes isn't much! But the bounty out west - it's truly a cook's playground. It's sometimes more about reining it in, not trying to do too much.
4. What ingredients do you always have on hand - your kitchen essentials?
Great olive oil and salt. Something fresh on the counter.
5. You grow your own vegetables and herbs at home. Any advice for novices who want to start their own garden?
Talk to a professional first - and I don't mean me! I got a lot of help from people who do this for a living. And you need some patience. We started an herb garden in the backyard when we redid the kitchen. It's right outside so we can go snip things as we cook - which we love to do at home now even more as a family. We have some tomatoes too and have been collecting a few fruit trees, especially citrus which do really well down here. The calamondin is one I love. The fruit is super sweet and tart and looks like a tiny orange. They are so packed with flavor and a great substitute for lime to squeeze on any slow roasted meat in taco form. Or to perk up a smoked salmon bagel!
6. A recent article touted the health benefits of pasta, do you agree with this new insight?
You know, I'm on a mission right now! Eating better and exercise. You have to do both and be disciplined about it. That's what I've found works for me or it just doesn't happen. We ate a lot of pasta while we were working on the menu for Fi'lia. It definitely catches up to you!
7. Can you tell us more about the Caesar salad "cart" we'll get to indulge in at Fi’lia?
Caesar Salad is such an old school thing and it’s a classic for a reason… because it’s really good! A salad and its dressing are always better when made fresh. Hence the cart. This thing was designed from scratch to be efficient and functional in the room, but some of its best attributes are all about the intangibles...like the ridiculous aroma that will waft through the dining room when the cart is near. Cue the garlic croutons toasted to order.
8. Pizza or pasta?
Today I'll go with pasta. Ask me again tomorrow.
9. If you had to cook with only five ingredients for the rest of your life, what would they be?
A beautiful fish, herbs, olive oil, sea salt and Meyer lemon.
10. As history has it, Fi’lia West Hollywood will be a sort of return home for you. Can you tell us more about that?
I left Philly without a plan and headed out west. It was 1986 and I was in the right place at the right time. Asian Fusion was on fire there and I was working for the man, Wolfgang Puck. That's when the whole thing really clicked for me - a simple approach to cooking, sourcing quality ingredients at the peak of season and letting them speak for themselves on the plate. It's stuck with me ever since.