Wine Wednesday | Amanda Fraga on Her Slow Fires Dinner Pairing & Star Chefs Somm Slam

ct_slow-fires-cookbook-dinnerFraga got right to the point. “To be honest, this has been one of the most difficult pairings I’ve had to do here.  Sometimes you look at a menu and it’s more obvious the direction I want to go, like the dishes ask for certain wines. I’ll just say that’s not how this went down!”

Consider it part of our Beverage Manager’s preparation for this weekend’s Star Chefs 7th Annual Somm Slam in NYC, where she’ll be representing Miami as one of 12 sommeliers from across the country going for the title (“somms are just competitive by nature!”) and tested on categories including Tasting, Pairing and Wine Theory.  We’re speaking of the current test at hand, the menu for this coming Tuesday’s Slow Fires cookbook dinner with Chef Justin Smillie.  Tasting the pairings will be that much more delicious with a little back story, as I like to think is true of the experience of wine in general.

“When I’m faced with a really eclectic menu with lots going on, my first instinct is to focus, even oversimplify, each course into one key flavor attribute — usually the strongest one — and pair to that,” Amanda explains of the process.  “Then I can extrapolate from there, to make sure each dish is taken into account to offer a balanced pairing.”

Salads, I learn, are actually one of the most challenging of a meal.

“You want something bright, and a little acid to open up the palate at the beginning of the meal.   But dressing can be highly acidic, so you really need to be careful on the level there,” Amanda continues. “You also have an oil cure on the tuna in Justin’s Riviera Salad, which can be quite rich.  So it’s really all over the place.”

Amanda decided that citrus balanced with pronounced fruit would be a good way to go, so she chose the Sauvignon Blanc, La Garde, Pessac-Leognan, France 2011.  She tells me this wine also brings enough richness and round mouthfeel to match the tuna.

Amanda's current gem

Amanda’s current gem

For Slow Fires’ second course, Fraga’s laser beam fixed on Grilled Quail with broccoli rabe and coal-roasted garlic first, and set Clams with avocado and chile butter off to the side, to be contemplated after.  In Amanda’s estimation, something with fuller flavor, fruit and backbone would work well and Bourgogne came calling.

“Leroy (pronounced Le-wah) is my favorite wine right now at Michael’s Genuine,” Amanda says. “I named one of my fish after the winemaker, Lalou.”

Lalou Bize-Leroy was running the operation at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, making some of the most expensive wines in the world.  Known for vineyard holdings dating back thousands of years to its abbey days, DRC is steeped in tradition and aggressively harvests, which means they are highly selective when it comes to what fruit is picked.  One shouldn’t be surprised to see many grapes still on the vine when all is said and done.  Amanda knows, she was in Burgundy for the harvest back in 2014.  Ms. Bize-Leroy, who went off and started her own project, continues similar practices — aggressive harvesting and organic viticulture — but in a much more accessible form [read: we can actually afford to drink it!]

“People look at the label and think it’s basic. But the game changes when Bourgogne is coming from a producer who is so good they can compete with the AOCs out there,” Amanda says.  “Ms. Bize-Leroy’s wines very terroir driven, this one in particular. The 2009 vintage is ripe and fleshy which is why I thought it would go great with the quail. It has body to it, but not enough to overpower the clams. This is when the second dish comes into play to ultimate decide on the pairing. It has to all work together.

Short rib cover shot and our main dish at Cypress Tavern's Slow Fires cookbook dinner.

Short rib cover shot and our main dish at Cypress Tavern’s Slow Fires cookbook dinner.

Amanda accessed her short rib know-how (yes, she has plenty from working Genuine’s menu over the years!) for the entrée course and went with a Grenache blend, Barroche “Signature” Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone, 2013.

“CDP, and this one in particular, has really great acid so it’s light on its feet,” Amanda adds.  “That lemon we serve on the side with the classic preparation of Michael’s short rib is so important to use it. It cuts the fat, and that’s the role the wine plays here.  CDP has 13 varietals and people usually work with 3 of them, Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre.  Here the Syrah plays with the spice of the peppercorn.  There’s a smokiness in tar and tabacco, too, which will always work well with Cypress Tavern’s wood grill fire.”

For tickets, visit, and follow Amanda’s Wine Wednesday and Thirsty Thursday posts this week as more tasting and pairing notes unfold for next Tuesday’s special dinner, including its Bill Pay Buck cocktail featuring Absout Elyx.

Go Figure (It Out) | In Culinary Assistant Life, Attitude Is Everything


Happy Chefs:  Bosslady and her bossman in the Harry’s Design District kitchen, full Beer Slam event mode this past summer.

“I don’t even know where to start,” she begins as we sit in my office on a Monday morning last month.  It’s as fitting a place as any given Ms. Hess’s new role.  Megan has been pretty much everywhere over the past six months since she was promoted to Culinary Assistant, quite a departure from where we last found her on the line at Michael’s Genuine®.  Yet, she’s often still on any given number of lines these days, depending on the day, even the minute, as she can get called from one venue to the next based on what’s going on.  With Megan fresh off Oasis of the Seas and in the corporate office finishing MGFD’s recipe book (“so I don’t get pulled away…”), I thought we could catch up for a hot minute on what chef life is like when you’re a culinary assistant, and what than means exactly.

img_1991“Yeah, so relaunching 150 Central Park… That was my first project,” Megan says of her transition from line cook.  “We actually began in March.  There was a photo shoot for the new dishes, and it was the week of St. Patrick’s Day. Everyone wanted me to go out, and I had to work the next morning at 9!”

Working on the ship menus turned out to be the perfect training for Megan’s new position — not only in learning how to teach people, but giving her a new found sense of independence and responsibility where she’d have to act as ambassador for the company.  In addition to developing and formatting recipes, testing dishes and shooting how to plate them — all done in Miami in advance — she would travel to the three ships to get menus online with Royal Caribbean’s team.  Brand new Harmony of the Seas kicked it all off across the Atlantic.  Snapshots of Megan’s journey overseas to meet the ship for its maiden voyage were an invaluable peek behind the scenes of the launch through fresh eyes.

That attitude tho.

Go Time: Megan holding it down at the Genuine’s Summer Series “OMG! Picnic & a Movie” featuring an Israeli feast off Lynx Grills.

“The first time I went on my own [to the ship] it was exciting, especially because it was first time I had left the U.S.!” she remembers.  “I flew into London, then eventually arrived in Southhampton where the ship was in port. I had no idea where I was going.  I didn’t have cell service or a contact onboard, and I probably looked like a kindergartner lost in high school!  I just went to my cabin first to drop my bags and then to the venue. No one was there, because they were on break, so I just started by tasting some things.  That will tell you a lot.”

She held a meeting to hear from the staff on what was working and what wasn’t, then scheduled a full menu tasting for the second day taking lots of notes along the way and reporting back to the TGHG team through email.  Some corrections and tweaks were made. Nothing was insurmountable, she recalled thinking.

Plating a dish for Michael Schwartz Events alongside Chef.

Plating a dish for Michael Schwartz Events alongside Chef.

“My goal was that when Brad and [Eric] Larkee showed up the day after, that they wouldn’t have to fix anything,” Megan continues.  “I’ve worked closely with Brad for two and a half years now, and I feel like I have a good idea of what he wants, not just from seeing how he works, but also because he tells me.  Also having the experience and time spent in the restaurants — knowing what our standards are — helps a lot.”

Megan identifies three big takeaways that she’s applied to working with the cooks in our kitchens on land: The importance of repetition, showing and doing hands-on rather than telling, and patience. We would add trust — in your support system, but also yourself.  “Problem solving is huge,” she adds.  “Prioritizing. Just getting in there and figuring things out.”

Processed with Snapseed.

Head down, working hard.

Brad also points to an asset you can’t really learn, but that he recognized in Megan from the get-go, essential to all his hires.

“From the very beginning it was about her attitude,” remarks the TGHG executive chef. “Whenever I ask her to do something, the response is ‘no problem’.  She’s on it and gets it done. It’s that can-do attitude that is really the bottom line for everyone right now and why Megan is so valuable.”

Brad also talks about her “universality”.  She has a potent, diverse knowledge base and the versatility that comes with it — Megan can be called upon to jump in anywhere and know what to do — or learn how to, quick.  It could be something planned, like prep for or execution of a Michael Schwartz Events party. Then there are the guaranteed fire drills in this business, like when a cook calls out at Cypress Tavern, Michael’s Genuine or Harry’s Pizzeria® and the restaurants need coverage.  Speaking to his confidence in her adaptability, Brad notes a hypothetical. “If we needed the support there, I could go tell her to go run Harry’s for a week.”


Getting sh*t done at MGFD.

When we spoke, Megan’s attention was laser focused on Michael’s Genuine and its recent menu changes.

“I feel like it is a lot crazier than when we relaunched Cypress last year,” she reflected. “There, they handed me the new menu and were like ‘here is what we are doing’.  At Genuine, I’ve been a lot more involved, supporting Brad, but also Saul and the team in the kitchen. It’s been everything from foundational stuff like writing the recipes, figuring out how plates are going to look, portion sizes, and making the recipes solid so that anyone can make them.  A big part of it has been getting people onboard with the changes in training.  Everyone is excited in the back of house to learn the pickups — they are a little more complex and require more skill sets than the previous menu. Time management is key since a lot of the dishes take longer to make. That’s been something fun for me, a lot of new faces in the kitchen and being able to teach them, getting them to understand the way we do things here.”

Supporting at Fi’lia, Megan is experiencing a restaurant opening for the first time and she’ll be the first to admit not quite knowing what she or Brad is getting her into, but from the looks of it the young chef is just adding another arrow into her quiver.


Warm Up: Megan’s view last week, working the Fi’lia oven’s first fire.

“It’s very exciting that Tim is there,” she says of Fi’lia Chef de Cuisine Tim Piazza, who was a sous chef at Genuine before transitioning to get Michael’s first Italian restaurant open. “I didn’t work with him a lot, but the time I did spend with him was great.  It’s a different relationship now. I see him as a great mentor.”

For all these changes, Megan happily admits, even reassures herself, that she doesn’t feel corporate. She can still get her hands dirty.

“That’s the thing that still excites me the most.  Jumping on the line and getting to cook.”

[10/7, 10/6 UPDATE] Genuine Hurricane Matthew Advisory | Business as Usual at all TGHG Restaurants Today & Tonight


Right now east looks like another day in paradise in Coconut Grove.

10/7 9:45 a.m. EDT  – Today all TGHG restaurants restored to business as usual!

10/6 9:45 a.m.  EDT – Today all TGHG restaurants will be closed all day. We plan to reopen everything tomorrow. Stay safe everyone, and we’ll be in touch again today if anything changes!


Greetings South Florida area guests, this one’s for you.  While we all watch the latest National Hurricane Center advisories come in on the state and path of Hurricane Matthew, a quick update on what to expect from our restaurants TODAY as the storm approaches. We’ll send another update first thing tomorrow morning.  Stay safe and prepared and don’t neglect your tummies in the process.

All restaurants are open business as usual with regular hours of operation and full menus in house.  For those in our radius getting things done at home or running errands to prepare, takeout and delivery are also available per usual at ALL RESTAURANTS through UberEats and Amazon Restaurants with their respective delivery menus — until we are advised otherwise by these services.  UberEats writes to us this afternoon: “Today we are operational. We will send out another update later today based on the storm’s trajectory. “

To order, click the direct links below:
ella: ubereats | amazon restaurants
Harry’s Pizzeria® Design District: ubereats | amazon restaurants
Harry’s Pizzeria® Coconut Grove: ubereats | amazon restaurants
Michael’s Genuine® Food & Drink: ubereats | amazon restaurants
Cypress Tavern: ubereats | amazon restaurants


Slow Fires at Cypress Tavern | Chef Justin Smillie’s Cookbook Dinner & Upland Miami Preview


Chef Justin Smillie is coming to town, and he’s making a stop with Schwartz first! Before Upland — the restaurant he opened in NYC with Stephen Starr, named after his hometown in California — opens in Miami Beach’s South of Fifth neighborhood later this fall, we will welcome him for a cookbook dinner and preview of the deliciousness to come.  Join us Tuesday, October 25 at 7pm for Slow Fires at Cypress Tavern. TICKETS ARE AVAILABLE HERE TODAY!  Included for $195 are passed canapes, welcome cocktail, 4 plated courses including wine pairings, a signed cookbook, and tax and gratuity.  And Justin’s company of course!


Cypress Tavern chef de cuisine Max Makowski knows what's up. He had his copy long before we confirmed Justin!

Cypress Tavern chef de cuisine Max Makowski knows what’s up. He had his copy long before we confirmed Justin!

Drawing on his rural youth — the rustic elements of the outdoors including regular camping trips, foraging for wild ingredients, and fly-fishing — for inspiration, Justin worked his way through some pretty incredible kitchens to get where he is today, making his own mark. From Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Mercer Kitchen to Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern and Jonathan Waxman’s Washington Park and Barbuto, he fell in love with the bold flavors and rustic techniques showcased in the restaurant, and this philosophy would stick with him. We too got bitten by the Smillie bug after memorable meals at Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, where he earned three stars from The New York Times.

In November 2015, the chef released Slow Fires: Mastering New Ways to Braise, Roast, and Grill. His first book, which is published by Clarkson Potter, explores the fundamental techniques of braising, roasting, and grilling–and shows you how to see them in new ways, to learn the rules to break them.  We can’t wait to do just that after trying to wrangle Justin for what seems like forever. Can’t believe it’s happening. Pinch yourself. It’s real!

A quick note on ticketing for this event: We are pleased to try out Mixstir for the first time, a South Florida-based company (which we are always happy to support!) with an easy-to-use and beautiful e-ticketing interface. We think you’ll think it’s a great improvement, too.  Please email me your feedback if you’d like at  We are eager to hear what you think, and look forward to seeing you on October 25!

[Recipe] It’s Lights Out With This Cookbook & These Schwartz Nachos

Trivia time! Which of the following MGFD classic-inspired nachos got the Schwartz stamp of approval when food and travel writer Gina Hamadey — also fellow comrade in Karaoke (where’s that video!?) — asked a recipe contribution for her new cookbook?

A) Sweet & Spicy Pork Belly Nachos — kimchi, kimchi hollandaise, scallions, blue corn tortillas
B) Shredded Pork Shoulder Nachos  fontina, pickled red onions, parsley sauce, serrano peppers, avocado, crispy flour tortilla chips
C) Pastrami Nachos — red cabbage, caramelized onions, thousand island, gruyere, chopped parsley, crispy flour tortilla chips
D) Chilaquiles  Nachos — tomatillo-cilantro sauce, black beans, diced tomato, sour cream, charred corn, cotija cheese, fried farm eggs, corn tortilla chips

Here’s a weekend present for you.  The answer is B, for a bonafide bowl of Michael Schwartz Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder nachos.  Trust me, I tested it — more for incredulity than accuracy — and it’s off the wall amazeballs.  Just in time for a weekend of football!  One small but important bit of advice… Use Florida avocados here. They’re everywhere now and like the companion fruit to the pork shoulder — more juice!  Just like Chef likes it.