Michael Chernow is truly a man on the move. Whether it’s managing his eateries Seamore’s and The Meatball Shop, growing his WellWell drink brand, or hosting A&E’s hit television series Food Porn, Michael is always up to something big.
Having grown up in the restaurant industry, Michael is no stranger to the fast-paced intensity that life often requires. Starting at the age of 13, he’s climbed to the top of the ranks over the past 22 years. Michael graduated from the French Culinary Institute with honors in Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management—and that was after he had already established a loyal following managing the bar at Frank Prisinzano’s notorious flagship restaurant, Frank.
Upon earning his degrees, Michael teamed up with his childhood best friend to open the first The Meatball Shop. The Meatball Shop is now a bit of an empire, boasting a large and successful team, a critically-acclaimed cookbook, and six locations throughout New York City. Having been a bartender himself, Michael gives bartenders at each shop control over a large portion of the menu, leading to one of the more distinguished and unique beverage programs in the city.
The success doesn’t stop there, or anywhere close to it for that matter. The summer of 2015 saw the opening of Michael’s seaside-themed Seamore’s. Serving fresh fish at a casual spot near Chinatown might sound, well, out-of-place, but Michael and his team have created just the type of atmosphere that people are looking for right now. Seamore’s is trendy, it’s healthy, it won’t break the bank, and it’s a great place to hang out. What’s not to love?
Michael’s latest projects include hosting Food Porn and developing WellWell, a drink that helps people “manage the demands of living active, high-intensity lifestyles.” If there’s anyone who needs WellWell, it’s probably Michael. Despite living a lifestyle that sounds like it doesn’t leave time for anything other than work, he makes sure to eat breakfast with his wife and son every morning, and he spends ample time with them near their home in upstate New York on the weekends.
Among the things Michael does for leisure are running—“moving meditation,” as he calls it—and fishing. While he wouldn’t reveal his secret fishing spot, he did say that the secret to his success has been investing everything in his team. Likewise, he said that success in life is a result of treating people with care and kindness, working hard, and constantly learning from everyone you meet. “Treat [your team] like gold,” he told us, “and they will treat you and your guests like platinum.”
That’s what people admire about Michael. Even with his incredibly busy schedule and already immense success, he still makes time for what really matters—bringing joy to the lives of people he loves.
We sat down with Michael (wearing a black Triple F.A.T. Goose Scotia) to learn more about him.
1. You’ve been quite busy lately with the Meatball Shop, Seamores, your TV show, and I understand you now have a juice brand! How do you manage to juggle everything? How do you find time for yourself to unwind?
It’s definitely not as easy at it looks. I have a great team of people that I work with and communication is key. I wake up every morning to have breakfast with my wife and son before I head to work. Fitness plays a huge part in my life and overall happiness, so I always make time to go to the gym for an hour or two to workout. My schedule is pretty routine Monday-Friday. Once the weekend hits, I pack up the truck and head upstate with my family to relax.
2. Do you like spending time outdoors? If so, what kind of activities do you do?
I love the outdoors. One of my favorite things to do is take a long run, especially when I’m upstate at my home in Columbia County, NY. I consider running like a moving meditation, whether in the city or in the woods. I have also been snowboarding for the last 20 years, this is another passion of mine. And lastly, fishing. The things I do to get a good day of fishing in…
3. Do you have a favorite fishing spot? Do you eat what you catch?
Fishing is, as mentioned above, one of my all time favorite past times. I fish all over, but my favorite spot is...secret. However I will say that it’s VERY close to my house upstate, 3lb-5lb bass on the regular and no one EVER fishes there. It’s a pond tucked away in the woods, only accessible by hiking in. When I fish saltwater I typically eat my catch. Freshwater only sometimes, unless it's trout. But fly fishing is not the style of fishing I typically do...yet.
4. The restaurant business is quite difficult, especially in New York, where everybody is a food critic. What is the secret to your success?
The restaurant business is a grind, there are many people and personalities to manage, many costs to control and very little room for error. I spent most of my life growing up in the world of restaurants and it’s something that I’m truly passionate about. The secret to success in any business, in my opinion, is to invest everything in your team. Your team is what will represent and define a good, bad, terrible or great experience for your guest. Treat em like gold, they will treat you and your guests like platinum.
5. You also have quite an interesting collection of drinks available in the Meatball Shop. Where do you get the inspiration for these concoctions?
This goes back to the team of passionate Ballers at TMS, they get all the credit here. We also work with an amazing beverage director at TMS. From the beginning we wanted to have a unique beverage program. We found out that giving the bartenders creative control of a percentage of the menu was our opportunity to distinguish ourselves is exponential.
6. Are you working on any new dishes in the kitchen?
We are always working on new dishes in the kitchen. But some things we have to keep close to the vest to keep you all guessing...haha.
7. Which do you prefer: eating or cooking?
I rarely cook during the week but on the weekends I like to cook a healthy meal for my family.
8. As a chef you were working behind the scenes in the kitchen, but now you have your own TV show, are the face of your restaurants, gracing magazine covers and have reached celebrity status. What was the transition like going from behind the scenes to being in the spotlight? Which do you prefer - being behind the scenes or being in the spotlight?
Truthfully, I don’t consider myself a chef. I have worked in restaurants my whole life, most of that time in the front of the house, sometimes working in the kitchen, and graduated from culinary school at the top of my class. The title chef is no joke. When one is a chef, they have worked for years in the kitchen, climbing the ladder to get to the top. Cooking is a major passion of mine, but chef I am not. I am a restaurateur with a very strong understanding of both the front and back of the house. That said, put me in the kitchen and I can bang with the best of them. As for working in restaurants, compared to owning them and hosting a show, I love both sides of the street. I have worked very hard for the last 22 years in the restaurant business to get to where I stand today. I cherish every moment and step of the way, I regret nothing and look forward to everyday I wake up with a desire to learn.
9. Do you travel a lot? Favorite place to eat outside the US? Favorite food?
I love to travel, not that easy to do with the workload over the years, but I absolutely love to travel. My favorite place to eat overseas is in Spain, specifically Barcelona. The food there is truly unique and special. My favorite in Barcelona is Cal Pep, could be favorite in the world.
10. You are married to a model, have a kid, run a very successful business and live in the greatest city in the world. Is there anything missing? You have everything - what motivates a man with everything?
Oh man, now I’m totally blushing… I feel incredibly blessed with the life I’ve been given and have been lucky enough to lead for the last 12 years. Hard work and treating people with care and kindness truly pays off. A day does not go by where I’m not learning from my mentors, from my team, from my wife and son. As long as I feel like I am learning, I am excited and motivated.