Michael Schwartz cooks at Plantation Publix class

 

Chef Michael Schwartz offers a cooking demonstration in ingredient-driven and sustainable food at Apron’s Cooking School in Plantation.

By Julie Levin | Special to The Miami Herald

They came ready to eat, ready to drink and ready to have a good time. What these foodies wanted most however, was to hear what chef Michael Schwartz had to say at a cooking demonstration at Apron’s Cooking School in the Plantation Publix.

“To watch him prepare some of his recipes is very exciting,” said Megan Norman Fass of Weston, one of 50 people .who signed up for the class. Fass said she’s also a big fan of Schwartz, a rising star on the national culinary scene and the owner of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami’s Design District. He also opened a second restaurant in Grand Cayman last year.

What intrigued most in the audience was Schwartz’s culinary innovation at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement. He’s now on a national stage, based primarily on his straightforward, ingredient-driven cuisine, as well as his commitment to supporting local farmers and responsible, seasonal food sourcing.

He was recently honored with the prestigious 2010 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef and has appeared on national TV shows including Top Chef", Rachael Ray’s Rachael’s Vacation, Throwdown with Bobby Flay, After Hours With Daniel Boulud, Simply Ming with Ming Tsai, and Fresh Food Fast with Emeril Lagasse.

Schwartz, who lives in Miami Beach, came to prepare four recipes at a class at the Publix Apron’s Cooking School March 11. The recipes are from his first cookbook, Michael’s Genuine Food: Down to Earth Cooking for People Who Love to Eat, which went on sale in February. He says the book is meant to inspire what he calls "kitchen victories".

"It is about cooking from a recipe from a book, having success with it and enjoying it and being anxious to cook again," Schwartz said.

In it, he says, are recipes that are meant to be simple and a reflection of what he and his staff do in the restaurant; basing their menu off what is fresh. “The inspiration comes from the ingredients and what is seasonal," he said.

Schwartz prepared ricotta crostini with apricot-thyme jam, banana toffee panini, braised chicken with apricots, green olives and couscous, and crab salad with ruby grapefruit, pickled radish and pink peppercorn vinaigrette.

“The Indian River red grapefruit is a great local treasure for us,” said Schwartz, who began his career in Philadelphia, and worked in kitchens from Los Angeles to New York City before coming to Miami in the 1990s.

Schwartz says his favorite ingredient is whatever is fresh at the moment and notes South Florida’s high-quality produce, including Heirloom tomatoes. Schwartz sees more food-savvy customers.

“I think people have embraced local and simple food as a concept,” he said.

Susan Mahan, of Weston, brought friends Vanessa Rosada and Christine Sturman, to the demonstration. Mahan loves Schwartz’s philosophy of eating locally grown foods, and plans on incorporating more fresh" food into her menus.

“I am going to start now that I have seen this," she said.

Sturman, also of Weston, is interested in using local produce, but has a houseful of picky eaters and is worried most of what she makes will wind up not eaten.

"Maybe I will learn something here that will make that not happen," she said.

Schwartz helped found the Roots in the City Farmers Market, a local producer-exclusive farmers market, where he helps people on food assistance gain access to fresh foods through a partnership with chef Michel Nischan’s Wholesome Wave Foundation. Through that program, Schwartz also works with Phillis Wheatley Elementary in Overtown as part of the White House’s Chefs Move to Schools initiative, where he helps teach kids, parents, and cafeteria cooks how easy it is to prepare meals from fresh ingredients. With his help, they recently submitted a recipe for a rosemary chopped chicken salad to a national competition. Even though it did not win, he is encouraged by what he is teaching.

“The kids are going to be the answer,” Schwartz said. “You have to teach the kids, to teach their parents how to eat.”

Apron’s Cooking School, one of only seven in the Publix chain, has offered demonstrations by nationally known chefs like Tom Colicchio, Jose Garces and Paula Deen.

“This is what I consider a local celebrity chef, so we are really excited about this,” said Bil Mitchell, resident chef of Plantation’s Apron’s Cooking School, who called Schwartz a "world of knowledge."

The school, which offers cooking classes Monday-Saturday, event planning and its Simple Meals program is designed to get shoppers to cook at home more.

“We want people to feel comfortable in their kitchen and love to cook,” Mitchell said.

Apron’s Cooking School at Publix is at 1181 S. University Dr. in Plantation. For more information, visit www.publix.com/cookingschools or call 954-577-0542.

Salad

Crab Salad with Ruby Grapefruit, Pickled Radish, and Pink Peppercorn Vinaigrette

Grapefruit and crab are a classic combo; the addition of pickled radishes is both a colorful and surprising flavorful enhancement. Leftover vinaigrette will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to two days and goes great with shellfish, particularly shrimp.

Salad

1/4 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced on a mandoline (about 1/4 cup)

1 head green leaf lettuce, leaves torn

1/4 cup pickled radishes, drained (recipe follows)

1/4 cup Pink Peppercorn Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 seedless ruby grapefruit, segmented

1/2 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, drained well, patted dry, and picked over for shells

Dressing

3 tablespoons pink peppercorns

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1 teaspoon agave nectar or honey

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup canola oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the salad: Fill a small bowl with water and add 6 ice cubes. Add the onion slices and let soak for 5 minutes. This little trick removes the stinging bite of raw onion and makes the slices really crisp. Drain the onion and pat dry with paper towels.

In a mixing bowl, combine the onion, lettuce, and radishes. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the vinaigrette, tossing with your hands to dress the salad lightly and evenly. Season with salt and pepper. Divide the salad equally among 4 chilled plated. Arrange the grapefruit segments and crabmeat on top. Drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of vinaigrette.

For the dressing: Blend all the ingredients in a blender on high speed until well combined. Makes 2/3 cups dressing.

Entire recipe serves 4.

Main Dish

Braised Chicken with Apricots, Green Olives, and Herbed Couscous

A departure from classic chicken stew, this one-pot wonder with Middle Eastern flair is a little bit exotic but not off-putting or difficult

to make in the slightest. In fact, my kids love it. The sweet apricots and salty olives play nicely off each other and collide under a shower of cilantro

to jack up the flavor even more. The recipe should make a little extra for leftovers, which are even better the next day.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

4 pounds chicken thighs (about 12), bone

in, skin on, preferably free-range

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup canola oil

2 carrots, cut into large chunks

1 medium white onion, cut into large dice

3 celery stalks, cut into large chunks

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup dried apricots (about 20)

1 1/2 cups pitted green olives, such as Manzanilla

3 cups chicken stock

1 cup orange juice

1 cup couscous

6 scallions, white and light green parts, sliced

1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Spread the flour in a large shallow plate. Season the chicken liberally with

salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken lightly in the flour to coat all sides, tapping

off the excess. Put a Dutch oven or large ovenproof pot over high heat

and coat with the oil. When the oil is shimmering, add 5 pieces of chicken and

brown them for 4 to 6 minutes on each side, without moving them around too

much so you get a good sear. Transfer the chicken to a platter and repeat with

the remaining thighs.

To the drippings in the pot, add the carrots, onion, and celery. Cook,

stirring,

for about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables soften and begin to get

some color. Add 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, the cinnamon, apricots,

olives, and stock. Nestle the chicken in the pot so the thighs are covered with

apricots, olives, and stock. Pour any drippings collected from the platter into

the pot. Bring the stew to a boil, then cover and transfer to the oven. Bake for

1 hour, or until your kitchen smells amazing.

Combine the orange juice, 1/2 cup water, and 1 tablespoon salt in a

small pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, stir in the

couscous, and quickly cover to keep in the heat. Let stand for 10 minutes, until

the couscous is soft.

Combine the scallions, cilantro, and mint in a small bowl.

Remove the chicken from the oven and gently stir in the butter until completely

melted.

To serve, put the couscous in a serving bowl and fluff with a fork. Fold in

half of the scallion mixture. Sprinkle the remaining scallion mixture over the

braised chicken, and serve it right out of the pot. Serves 6.

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