Miami: Food Glitters in the South Florida Sun

by Laura Grimmer
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Sep 20, 2013

Miami. City of natural beauty, man-made splendor and a melting pot of humanity. Welcome to what may be the next burgeoning food capital in America.

With its influx of cultural influences, Miami's restaurant scene is a genuine smorgasbord of culinary options. Émigrés from Cuba and Haiti stand table-to-table with neighbors from the south, from Peru, Colombia and Argentina. And from across the world, restaurateurs from India, Thailand and Japan have made their marks on the Miami food landscape.

August and September are devoted to Miami Spice, a not-to-miss way to experience the city's best and brightest food destinations on a budget. More than 100 restaurants are offering three-course prix-fixe lunches starting at $19 and dinners starting at $33 for an appetizers, entrée and dessert (tax and tip not included).

The Mango Gang

Renowned as the birthplace of so-called New World Cuisine (formerly known as Floribbean, Tropical Fusion or Nuevo Latino), Miami boasts nearly 3,000 eateries ranging from casual alfresco cafés to seriously haute cuisine. The fusion of Latin, Caribbean, Asian, African and American flavors has influenced chefs around the world, and the city’s own master chefs have also made a name for themselves on the international culinary stage.

The patriarch of Miami’s food family is Norman Van Aken of Tuyo, the cherry on the top of the Miami Culinary Institute in downtown Miami. Van Aken (along with Allen Susser of Chef Allen’s, Doug Rodriguez of OLA Miami and Mark Militello) was a founding member of the "Mango Gang" credited with creating the New World style with its focus on high-flavor, low-fat cuisine that showcases exciting combinations of fresh seafood and tropical fruits and veggies.

Today, Van Aken continues his role as culinary visionary as one of the leading members of Miami’s farm-to-table locavore movement. The Tuyo team sources ingredients as close to home as possible and "pledges allegiance to locals - the growers, producers and food artisans of Florida and America’s Southeast."

Slow Food in South Florida

Nearly 20 Miami restaurants and hotels now take part in the "Adopt a Farmer" program to support local agriculture and sustainability initiatives. Paradise Farms in Homestead, Fla., one of the key players driving the "slow food" movement in South Florida, has turned its restaurant relationships into a monthly "Dinner in Paradise" series. The dinners feature area chefs preparing five-course masterpieces using local organic produce and paired with luscious fine wines.

The Mango Café brings the farm-to-table concept even closer by being located actually on the farm. The café is based in the Fruit & Spice Park, a 37-acre public facility owned and operated by the Miami-Dade County Park and Recreation Department and the only tropical botanical garden of its kind in the United States. The Park hosts more than 500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs and nuts, including 160 varieties of mango, 75 types of bananas and 70 different kinds of bamboo, just to name a few.

Reinventing Hotel Dining

Miami is also taking part in the trend of restoring the hotel restaurant to its place as a go-to destination in and of itself.

From the , home to Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s J&G Grill, to Asia de Cuba at Mondrian South Beach, hotel restaurants definitely aren’t just for desperate calls to room service anymore.

While many of the hotel-based restaurants are true celebrity hot spots (Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s eponymous Nobu at Miami Beach at the Shore Club counts Robert DeNiro among his business partners), The Dutch at the W South Beach Hotel & Residences offers another culinary point of view.

One of the many James Beard Award-winning chefs on the Miami food scene, The Dutch chef Andrew Carmellini describes The Dutch’s original outpost in New York City as an American restaurant "inspired by local cafés, country inns, corner taverns, neighborhood bistros, seaside shacks, roadside joints, old school dining halls and the same mix of cultural influences that make big cities great."

At The Dutch Miami, Carmellini has evoked memories of childhood trips from Ohio to visit his grandfather just outside Miami, "and all that local citrus, fresh fish right off the boats and red ripe tomatoes in the middle of winter."

Lyn Farmer, sommelier and head of wine events for VeritageMiami (formerly the Miami Wine & Food Festival), predicts that Carmellini’s predilection is here to stay.

"I see a great surge in down-home comfort food establishments," Farmer said, citing The 50 Eggs Group of restaurants (Yardbird, Khong River House and Swine) and the Pubbelly Group (including Pubbelly, Pubbelly Sushi and PB Steak) among the early adopters.

Next page for Miami’s food truck scene and delectable events scheduled for 2014!

Best Bites on Wheels

Another hot ticket in Miami is its mobile food vendors. Miami’s food trucks had a respectable showing on The Daily Meal’s Best Food Trucks in America listing for 2013 with Jefe’s Original Fish Taco & Burgers, Ms. Cheezious Fresh Made Grilled Cheese, Dim Ssäm à Gogo by Sakaya Kitchen, and Latin Burger and Taco taking national honors.

Miami Food Trucks keeps its followers up to date on truck locations via Facebook and Twitter @miamifoodtrucks. There’s a near-daily food-truck roundup somewhere in the area, giving visitors a terrific way to experience great local food out and about town.

Still, a few longstanding truths apply: Little Havana remains the place to go for Cuban fare (Versailles was top choice from The Travel Channel). And locals tend to explore neighborhoods a bit off the tourist-beaten track like downtown Miami, Wynwood, Midtown and the Design District.

Taking a Bite out of Miami in 2014

In addition to Miami Spice, which runs from Aug. 1 through Sept. 30, the rest of the year brings a steady diet of other exciting food festivities, including:

Feb. 20-23, 2014: The Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival hosts some of the biggest bold-faced names in food today for a jam-packed weekend of tastings, star-studded dinners and culinary seminars.

March 1-2, 2014: Carnaval Miami showcases Miami’s considerable Latin flavor.

March 30, 2014: The 10th Annual Deering Seafood Festival on the Bay (features Florida’s freshest fish and seaford (and that’s saying something).

April 9-12, 2014: VeritageMiami (formerly the United Way Miami Wine & Food Festival) had Chef Daniel Boulud on the docket in 2013, among a wide range of wine- and food-themed interactive events.

June 2014: Miami/Bahamas Goombay Festival is one of the largest Black heritage festivals in the United States, celebrating the culture, food, sights, sounds and smells of the Bahamas.

July 2014: Taste of the Nation South Florida benefits the Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.

You can visit Miami for its beaches, its Art Deco architecture, the shopping, or its pulsating nightlife. But you can’t see any of it on an empty stomach, and Miami’s chefs are turning out innovative, creative and exciting new dishes that are destinations in themselves.

Laura Grimmer is a private chef and trained sommelier based in New York.


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