Career Path: From corporate chef to Wynwood restaurateur
By Nicole Martinez for CRAIN’S
Michael Lewis didn’t always want to be a chef.
The co-founder and head chef at Wynwood’s newest dining hotspot KYU said he took a job in a kitchen to put himself through school. After he realized he enjoyed cooking far more than his college courses, Lewis decided ‘chef’ would be his new career path.
But Lewis didn’t want to work at just any restaurant – he wanted to learn from the best.
Lewis landed a job at Daniel under famed celebrity chef Daniel Boulud, he learned the ropes there and helped Boulud launch and open Epicerie Boulud in Manhattan before making a move to even bigger leagues. He became the head chef at Jean Georges Vongerichten’s iconic New York restaurant Jean-Georges, Lewis earned his cooking chops there while getting a first-hand crash course in how to successfully operate a fine dining restaurant.
However, after nine years at Jean-Georges, Lewis was ready to take on a more corporate role. Working for the Zuma franchise in London, Lewis was responsible for designing menu concepts as Zuma expanded the brand. Constant travel began to wear on Lewis and so he decided to stay put in Miami as Zuma’s head chef. There, he earned the respect of Miami’s most discerning diners, and developed a passion for Asian fusion izakaya-style cuisine. He also got to know Stephen Haigh, who worked alongside him at Zuma and shared the same vision for how a restaurant should be run.
Together, Lewis and Haigh decided they would open up a neighborhood restaurant that didn’t skimp on fine ingredients yet maintained a casual, unpretentious flair. In 2016, KYU debuted – tables are booked weeks in advance, and the restaurant is consistently hailed one of the city’s most exciting new culinary destinations.