Brickell Mag., March 2012
I wrote the following "foodie" article for Brickell Magazine; it was a lot of fun interviewing some of Miami's most recognized chefs to learn what being a foodie means to them, and how they discovered their inner foodie. For the digital magazine, click here.
Foodie. While some people cringe at the word, others wear it proudly, like a fashion label. But what is a foodie, anyway? Can there even be just one definition for a term that describes a theme as infinite as food?
“A person having an enthusiastic interest in the preparation and consumption of good food,” says the Free Dictionary by Farlex. I’ll take it. (Un)Official definition aside, what we foodies have in common is a deep fascination for living deliciously, and there are few places to do it better than in South Florida.
From pop-up restaurants (like the wittily-named Phuc Yea!, the first Vietnamese restaurant of its kind to grace Miami with its wickedly good Crispy Pork Belly Bao Buns and Golden Spicy Chicken Wangs for a few months in 2011), to the stalker-spawning food truck bonanza (there are reportedly more than 125 food trucks rolling around South Florida to date with hundreds of thousands following), to the not one, not two, but nine South Florida chefs competing on this season of Food Network’s hit show Chopped, our cuisine scene is booming, and it’s not lacking recognition.
"It felt especially great to bring attention to all that is happening in the Miami food scene,” says Chopped Champion Adrienne Grenier, Sous Chef at 1500 Degrees at the Eden Roc hotel. “There are some really great restaurants and chefs here beyond the typical beach scene."
And you don’t have to be a gastronomic genius or a connoisseur of world cuisines to savor their delicacies. You simply have to love food, from the very best to the most ordinary, and feed your hunger to learn everything about what’s on your plate – where it comes from, how it’s made, and what is in it (or not in it) that makes it taste so unbelievably good. You also have to know where to find it.
A series of blogs have emerged to cover the latest chefs and establishments to entice appetites across Miami, and they are doing it quite well. On my bookmarks bar: Short Order by Miami New Times and Eater Miami. Check these out for information on the latest restaurants to open (and close!), interviews with local chefs, restaurant reviews, “best of” lists, and much more. South Florida even has publications entirely dedicated to food: Dining Out Miami, Edible South Florida, and Dine Magazine.
You don’t have to sacrifice quality to dine on a dime. My good friend Michael Ferraro is Executive Chef at Delicatessen and MacBar in New York City, the Mecca of holes-in-the-wall establishments that offer authentic cuisine for not a lot of dough. The key to finding these hidden gems in any city, he says, is to talk to the locals.
“For real authentic cuisines, I usually resort to a friend that is of that ethnicity and is familiar with that type of cuisine,” he explains. “You can tell when you find a true authentic spot because they do away with all the bells and whistles and get straight to the point of delicious food.”
And, if you want to know more about the cuisine, just ask the chef. He adds. “When I get stopped in the dining room for a question or a compliment, it is always welcomed. At the end of the day, the customers are the ones who fuel my livelihood and passion.”
What about sampling five to eight restaurants in three hours for one price? I love the idea. Founded in 2010, Miami Culinary Tours gives daily, twice daily, and sometimes thrice daily food tours around the Magic city’s most fascinating neighborhoods as it relates to culture, and of course, food.
“From five-star gourmet to hole-in-the-wall delicious, there is always something to learn,” says founder Grace Della. “Foodies leave our tour knowing where to find some of the best food in Miami.”
Having just obscenely indulged last month in the offerings of the Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival, the mother of all food festivals, I can attest to these events being a foodie’s Disney World. On a smaller, yet more accessible scale, food festivals are popping up all around. This month, I have the Miami Taste of Brickell Wine and Food Festival on my mind, where more than 50 of our neighborhood’s restaurants will gather to serve their best dishes. Event Director Cindy Bettner tells me this year they will be housing a Fine Wine and Beer Crafter’s tent and a World VIP Tent with Greek, Italian, Spanish, and Irish cuisine.
A couple of Metro Mover stops north of Brickell is the newly opening Miami Culinary Institute, where non-students can sign up for a variety of courses listed in its Culinarium.
“We offer quality food and wine programs for individuals who are passionate about the preparation and enjoyment of exceptional cuisine,” says Director John Richards. Classes are led by cutting-edge chefs and sommeliers, and range from pastry making to wine and craft beers tastings.
Another way to unleash your inner foodie is to, literally, channel it. From traditional cooking shows to traveling-themed ones, there is endless information to devour about good eats from around the world. I recommend Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel, Unique Eats on the Cooking Channel, and The Layover with Anthony Bourdain, whose Miami layover included meals at Michael’s Genuine, Garcia’s Seafood, the River Oyster Bar, and other of our city’s gems.
Celebrity Chef Ingrid Hoffmann is crossing borders with her new Univision show, Delicioso with Ingrid Hoffmann, which airs Saturdays at 1 p.m. “I try to awaken the foodie inside my viewers by making colorful, delicioso food that is fun, fast and healthy, and by introducing them to new flavors and ingredient combinations,” Hoffmann tells me. “My ultimate goal is to make their mouth water!”
You can also do as I do, and do it yourself. Cooking at home is the most cost-efficient way to try new food combinations. Claire Robin’s cookbook, 5 Ingredient Fix, is one of my favorite guides for preparing meals that are easy, elegant and full of flavor. Her Roasted Beets with Oranges and Goat Cheese are to die for!
Alas, all this food has made me… thirsty? Last month, local mixologist Fraser Hamilton was featured on Food Network’s Heat Seekers shaking up a Vato Loco at Mercadito in Midtown.The tequila-based concoction is so spicy, patrons have to sign a waiver to try it. How’s that for different?
Hamilton is now heading the bar at the new Blackbird Ordinary in Brickell, where he serves up a mean drinks menu born from flavor ideas that sound like they came out of a brunch menu - fresh fruits, spices, herbs, preserves, and infused syrups – all sources of inspiration. At Blackbird Ordinary, he’s partial to the Mourning Dove, made with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Licor 43, vanilla liqueur and Guinness, shaken with a whole egg and topped with grated nutmeg.
“Mixology, for me, is about balance and simplicity,” he says. “It's important to present things in a way that is approachable and understandable. My job is to make sure people feel comfortable, have fun and hopefully try something new.”
I’d say that deserves an extra tip. With spirits, Hamilton says developing a taste for one or more categories is key. Vodka is the easiest base for its very neutral flavor. Graduates should proceed [with caution?] to rums, gins, whiskeys, brandies, wine-based spirits, crème liqueurs and cordials. He sums up, “It’s a simple case of tasting and experimenting.”
I say, isn’t that what being a foodie is all about?
“A foodie is someone who not only enjoys eating good food, but also participates in the local food community. They love to read about food and stay up to date on trends, new happenings and support local events.” -Paula DaSilva, Executive Chef at 1500 Degrees at the Eden Roc hotel.
“A foodie is on the quest for the perfect bite - what's new in the market, the great new restaurant, and what chef is really doing something cool – that’s what drives the modern foodie. It's all based on the real pleasure of consuming in the most natural, ungluttonous manner. It's not about large portions, over the top ingredients or flash -- just that perfect bite that makes you want more.” –Sean Brasel, Chef/Owner at Meat Market
“Being a foodie means knowing your stuff when it comes to food, and not just the basics. How do you layer flavors? What's going on in the local culinary scene? If you cook, where to get the best products, not just the most expensive. Can tell you the difference between a perfect glass of pinot and something so-so? It's not how much food television you watch or where you shop. It's the passion in which you approach food and share that with others.”
–Michelle Bernstein, Chef/Restaurateur