Miami Beach City Officials Name June 13 Top Chef Day
It’s official. Now go eat! (l-r) Commissioner Richard Steinberg, Padma Lakshmi and Vice Mayor Michael Gongora declare June 13 Top Chef Day on Miami Beach. Oh, that’s season two chef Carlos Fernandez’s head in the lower left corner. Looking for show updates? Read our coverage about Top Chef 3: Miami.
The sun was positively scorching this past Sunday at noon when Miami Spice restaurant participants were preparing samples under their tents. All the while, the sound of Top Chef’s opening theme song kept repeating like a bad meal over and over again on loud speakers. Anticipation was thick in the air as a hundred odd fans and random passers-by were waiting to pounce on all that free grub!
Carlos Fernandez (season two) welcomed the crowd on Lincoln Road before Padma Lakshmi, Miami Beach Vice Mayor Michael Gongora and Commissioner Richard Steinberg took the stage to declare June 13 official Top Chef Day on our fair island. No sooner did Padma cut that ribbon than the hungry crowd stormed like French revolutionaries demanding bread from the queen, leaving me with only one nibble of a hearty kobe style slider, served by Nick Fielding, general manager of Table 8. (Note to self, if that one bite is any indication, Miami Spice Restaurant Month will please many a tummy!)
With the feeding frenzy over, I ventured inside the Lincoln Theatre lobby where air conditioning, cool Sauvignon Blanc (an Artesa Reserve 2003 courtesy of Southern Wine and Spirits), as well as delicious appetizers from Mark’s kept the press from fainting in the heat.
My personal quickfire challenge: talk to Padma Lakshmi. Alas, I didn’t interview the leggy goddess even though her publicist promised to give me some interview time after the opening ceremony. I think she whisked herself back to New York faster than a frothy meringue! It’s just as well, I’ve never found her commentary on the show to be particularly stick-to-your-ribs.
THE SOUTH FLORIDA-BASED CHEFS
Far warmer, friendlier and more approachable were this season’s South Florida-based contestants who shared what they could with me without breaking their tougher-than-Calphalon confidentiality agreements!
The one thing they all agreed on: they love South Florida because of its diversity. Take that, Miami haters!
Miami native Howie confessed we’d learn something interesting about him on tonight’s premiere show but kept mum about the facts. Although he has parted ways amicably with The Food Gang since the taping of Top Chef, Howie is looking forward to opening new doors in his culinary career. Howie and I spoke at length about what shows like Top Chef could do to instill an appreciation of good food in everyday folks like you and me. Even though Howie has no children of his own, he sees a disappointing trend in families who spend more time at the computer instead of the table.
As Howie puts it: “Most of us in the US grew up eating crap with preservatives, but in places like Europe, walking to the market and buying fresh food is an everyday ritual. I wish we had a culture that teaches kids how to appreciate good food. Perhaps shows like Top Chef can inspire people to cook with their kids. Cooking and eating is special family time.”
Micah, the chef who tells us “if you don’t love cooking, get the hell out of the kitchen” was ever affable and down to earth in the company of her beautiful daughter. She continues in her role as menu guru/proprietor of The Wandering Chef, based out of Boca Raton. Even though she considers South Florida a transient place, she loves the fact that it’s multicultural. “I get all my ideas from my travels. People have particular ideas about food, but if you get them all in the same place, something exciting is going to happen.”
Sandee, executive chef at Tantra, whom I caught just before she was leaving, told me she loves the heat in Miami. As for the heat in the kitchen and the hard work it takes to become a respected chef, self-taught Sandee is a role model for women. “I have a passion for creating the environment that’s around me. I knew that I would get there if that’s what I wanted. Cooking is my passion. My entire lifestyle is based on women’s energy.”
Sara M dreams of returning to her native Jamaica some day but may soon do a stint in New York. Like Howie and Sandee, Sara told me she was inspired by the weather and the melting pot of cultures.
Is Miami a melting pot? I don’t particularly think so – our cultures live side by side but have not completely assimilated, which is what makes this city unique. But surely, it’s completely understandable metaphor coming from cooks who enjoy fusing flavors from different worlds. Vive la difference!
SIDE DISH - CHEF MARK MILITELLO
“I hate cooking shows.” – Chef Mark Militello
The man who put South Florida’s culinary scene on the world map isn’t exactly a big fan of cooking shows, but he’s friendly and laid-back. Dressed Miami casual in a baseball cap, the preeminent chef was there Sunday to support the event. Mark may not like TV but he has certainly played a role in the lives of two season three contestants – Howie has worked at Mark’s and Sara M. credits him with the beginning of her culinary career.
What does Mark love about South Florida?
“The weather is great. Products are great. Seafood is great.”
Any advice for us foodies cooking at home?
“Hit the local seafood market. Two Bills off Griffin Road in Fort Lauderdale is the best.”
Two Bills Seafood is located at 4501 SW 44th Avenue in Fort Lauderdale. For more information call (954) 583-1280.
NEXT COURSE: Do cooks mince their words as much as their garnishes? Let’s see what happens on Top Chef Miami’s Season Three premiere!
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