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Miami Beach City Officials Name June 13 Top Chef Day

June 13, 2007 By Maria de los Angeles in  | 4 Comments

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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!)

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Oh Padma, you came and you cut but I never got to talk to you.  Love your gorgeous dress and fabulous green leather high-heeled mules though!

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.

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“A Taste of Miami Spice”—Pictured: (l-r) “Top Chef 3 Miami” Contestant Sandee, Miami Beach Commissioner Richard Steinberg, “Top Chef 3 Miami” Host Padma Lakshmi, Miami Beach Vice Mayor Michael Gongora, “Top Chef” Season 2 Contestant Carlos Rodriguez, “Top Chef 3 Miami” Contestants Micah, Howie, and Sara M—Bravo Photo: Glenn Watson

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.”

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No, Chef Micah isn’t a knife- weilding hellion who stabs rubber voodoo dolls, but she’s most definitely a friendly lass.  Win or lose, already one of my favorites!

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

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He may not watch Top Chef, but he’s super coolinary!  (l-r) Chef Mark Militello with daughter Margot and food publicist Susan Brustman.

“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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About the Author: Maria de los Angeles is a freelance wordsmith who loves to write about all things travel in Florida and the Caribbean. She is also the author of the award-winning blog Sex and the Beach.

See more articles by Maria de los Angeles.

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4 Comments on

"Miami Beach City Officials Name June 13 Top Chef Day"

Gus says:

Hey Maria, great write-up on Top Chef Day. Did you take any pictures of the crowd feeding frenzy at the restaurant booths? Nice tip from Chef Mark about Two Bills Fish Market…

>> “Hit the local seafood market. Two Bills off Griffin Road in Fort Lauderdale is the best.”

I’d like to here from other Miami Chefs about their favorite places to shop. Chef Dewey LoSasso from North 110 introduced me to Lorenzo’s Italian Market in North Miami Beach. Chef Michael Wagner use to mention a special produce farm in Homestead, but I can’t remember the name. I’m sure there are lots of food and wine secret spots…Let’s find as many as we can.

>> My personal quickfire challenge: talk to Padma Lakshmi. Alas, I didn’t interview the leggy goddess [...] It’s just as well, I’ve never found her commentary on the show to be particularly stick-to-your-ribs.

I’m with you on Padema. I won’t be disappointed if Bravo removes her from Season 4’s menu . Padema’s drunken slur was sexy for a few episodes, but it has become somewhat draining. Does she snack on pain killers before filming? She seems soooo wasted.

Chef Sandee from Tantra was super cool!

I am confused why Howie is talking about people’s computer habits and the benefits of the nuclear family?

It’s cool too see Miami Beach City Officials name June 13 Top Chef Day.  Does the City have a calender of official dates they can supply?

Posted on 06/14/2007 at 4:18 AM

Stacey Wagner says:

Hi Gus,

I saw your post and asked Michael about the place he would buy produce from in Homestead the farm is PARADISE FARMS. Michael loved the fresh herbs she grew down there. 

Just wanted to let you know he opened his very own restaurant in downtown Hollywood.  Check it out when you get a chance:

Lola’s on harrison
2032 Harrison Street
Hollywood, Fl 33020
http://www.lolasonharrison.com

I know he would love to see you. 
Stacey (Chef Mike’s wife)

Posted on 07/19/2007 at 3:59 PM

Gus says:

Hi, Stacey, thanks for telling us about Paradise Farms, and please tell Mike congratulations on the new restaurant! I’ve heard some great reviews about the place. It doesn’t really surprise me because Michael Wagner is definitely a Top Chef =)

Posted on 07/19/2007 at 4:10 PM

Alaska says:

Now I know what I’ll be doing on June 13th ...I’ll come to Miami Beach and get my belly full. As I live to eat and not eat to live ... Chef day seems like a great idea.

Posted on 05/25/2008 at 6:31 PM

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