This weekend the James Beard Foundation completed the first leg of its annual Taste America tour in Miami. For the third year in a row, the Foundation is traveling to ten cities across the country to host one-of-kind fundraising dinners highlighting local cuisine and headlined by a visiting All-Star chef and a Local Star chef, as well as cooking demos, artisanal tastings, and book signings.
Held at the Forge, located in Miami Beach, Taste America Miami began with a walk-around tasting reception featuring several acclaimed Miami chefs, including Timon Balloo (SUAGRCANE raw bar grill); Cindy Hutson (Ortanique on the Mile); Brad Kilgore (Alter); Giorgio Rapicavoli (Glass & Vine, opening fall 2015); and Cesar Zapata (Phuc Yea). Dishes like Balloo’s braised oxtail and pickled onions on arepas; and Zapata’s Vietnamese-inspired lettuce bundles with pork larb, crispy garlic and shallots, puffed rice, Thai chilies, and nuoc cham reflected Miami’s creative and multiethnic culinary scene.
The evening’s main event was a four-course dinner headlined by television personality, chef, and Taste America All-Star Rocco DiSpirito and Local Star Chris Lee, who also serves as executive chef at the Forge. Formerly based in New York City, Lee relocated to Miami two years ago, drawn to the opportunity to make a splash in an on-the-rise culinary hotspot. "Miami is becoming a true food town, and Taste America coming here is just another step towards achieving that," he said. Lee prepared the evening's second course, a miso-glazed Chilean sea bass with shiitake mushrooms, baby bok choy, and yuzu–ginger reduction, while DiSpirito was on duty for the first and third courses: a tuna crudo with lemon, Italian chilies, and capers; and veal saltimbocca with farro risotto and mushrooms. Sergio Navarro of local favorite Pubbelly was enlisted to make dessert: a combination of milk panna cotta, banana ice cream, and Fruity and Cocoa Pebble textures, dubbed “Breakfast 2.0.”
On Saturday the festivities continued at Sur La Table in Boca Raton, where Rocco DiSpirito deftly demoed the tuna crudo that he served on Friday evening, dispensing useful cooking and nutrition tips at the same time. A self-described “former butter-holic.” DiSpirito says he’s now “healthier than he’s ever been,” insisting that “if you change your diet and lifestyle, you can reverse any sickness.” After the demo, he lingered to chat up customers and sign copies of Cook Your Butt Off, one of his many health-focused cookbooks.
Cindy Hutson of Ortanique on the Mile dropped in for a second cooking demonstration, preparing a kale salad with grilled vanilla-scented pineapple and kefir-marinated chicken skewers. She showed guests her technique for massaging kale and also signed copies of her cookbook, From the Tip of My Tongue. Customers also enjoyed in-store giveaways and free tastings of artisanal products.
The James Beard Foundation's Taste America tour heads to Charleston and Phoenix next weekend. Future stops will be made in Minneapolis, Seattle, Boston, New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Learn more about Taste America at jbftasteamerica.org and follow the tour at #JBFTasteAmerica on Twitter and Instagram.