Drink + Dine

15 Questions for Award-Winning Chef and Fi’lia Creator, Michael Schwartz

October 20, 2016
Written by: Yasha Wallin

To say Michael Schwartz knows about food would be an understatement. The James Beard award-winning chef is behind Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Harry’s Pizzeria, Cypress Tavern, and launching October 26th, he’ll open the highly anticipated Fi’lia at SLS Brickell in Miami, with a second location opening at the James Hotel in West Hollywood in 2017. To learn more about the man behind some of the country’s most coveted meals, we caught up with Schwartz, here.

  1. You’ll be opening a Fi’lia in both Miami and LA – what will be unique about each location? They will look different but the spirit of the restaurant will remain the same, menus will stay true to what we’re starting here. But it’s still very early. We 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 will benefit LA. I’m sure we will learn a lot that will inform what we do on the West Coast. Also, regarding sourcing, we’re going to take advantage of the uniqueness of both locations and their relative seasonality in the kitchen.

    fi'lia dining room

    Fi’lia at SLS Brickell

  2. What commonalities will we find in both locations? The same genuine approach to hospitality that defines our restaurants, and straightforward approach to food, technique, and ingredients.  filia
  3. 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 clicked for me—a simple approach to cooking, sourcing quality ingredients at the peak of the season and letting them speak for themselves on the plate. It’s stuck with me ever since.
  4. 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. There it’s sometimes more about not trying to do too much. Fi'lia Taste of Brickell
  5. What makes Miami’s culinary landscape unique? It’s so dynamic. So many Latin American cultures all coexisting and influencing each other. It’s a very vibrant environment to be a chef.
  6. What ingredients do you always have on hand: your kitchen essentials? Great olive oil and salt. Something fresh on the counter.
    Fi'lia Olive Oil
  7. You grow 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 patience. We started a herb garden in the backyard when we redid the kitchen. It’s right outside so we can snip things as we cook—which we love to do at home now even more as a family. We have some tomatoes and have been collecting a few fruit trees, especially citrus which does really well down here. The calamondin is one I love. The fruit is a super sweet and tart and looks like a tiny orange. They are so packed with flavor, an excellent substitute for lime to squeeze on any slow roasted meat in taco form. Or to perk up a smoked salmon bagel!
  8. A recent article touted the health benefits of pasta, do you agree with this new insight? I’m on a mission right now! Eating better and exercise. You have to do both and be disciplined about it. Or 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 catches up to you! Fi'lia Pasta2
  9. Tell us about the Caesar salad “cart” we’ll get to indulge in at Fi’lia. 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 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. Fi'lia Ceasar
  10. What indicates a great olive oil, and where did you source the one used at Fi’lia? The most important thing is it’s got to be fresh. It seems obvious, but I can’t emphasize that enough – even more important than the flavor profile. We’re getting ours from Italy through a Miami-based company. Right now it’s Italian, and we will only source from the current harvest. The plan is to rotate the product often (go through a lot of it!) at the restaurants.
  11. Best cocktail to pair with pizza? I was going to say rosé! Maybe a spritz before that.
  12. Tell us something interesting about yourself that we might not know. When I was a young cook, at my first restaurant job in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant in Philly, I would work with the pasta cook and help him drop the pasta in the water to boil. One night he wasn’t there, and I had to cover the station for the first time by myself. It was a disaster, and I was thrown off the line for not being able to keep up.
  13. When did you know you wanted to be a chef? Then!
  14. 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.
  15. Pizza or pasta? Today I’ll go with pasta. Ask me again tomorrow.
    Fi'lia Menu and Tablescape