Miami: Food Glitters in the South Florida Sun
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.
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!