Greater Miami and the Beaches: A Culinary Hot Spot
When chefs across America began scratching their heads and asking, "What is yuca?,"
Greater Miami had already been dishing it out in savory platefuls for years.
One of the world's culinary hot spots, Greater Miami is the birthplace of some
of the most innovative cuisine to come out of the U.S.
A reflection of the city's multicultural identity, the area’s cuisine has been
described as New World, Floribbean, Tropical Fusion, and Nuevo Latino.
A blend of classic European techniques, the freshest of native ingredients, and a dash of Caribbean and Latin gusto,
Miami's New World cuisine is high in flavor and low in fat, and owes a great deal to the tropical know-how of
local Native Indians and the African heritage of West Indian slaves. With Greater Miami, of course, serving as
the heat that simmers all these rich flavors together.
Along with fresh seafood--snapper, grouper, lobster, stone crabs, shrimp, conch--most of the staples used in
Miami cuisine are exotic fruits, vegetables and spices that are grown right here--citrus, yuca
(a starchy tuber also called cassava), mango, hearts of palm, avocado, guava, papaya, coconut,
banana, cilantro, ginger, garlic, coriander, and scotch bonnet peppers. Beef, either raised in
Florida or flown in from Argentina, is usually marinated and cooked on a wood-burning grill.
Because of their liberal use of tropical fruits, and their habit of breaking rules and indulging
in culinary fantasies, several master chefs in the area put Miami on the gourmet map a decade ago and are
still fondly referred to as The Mango Gang. Two of the most revered are Norman Van Aken of Norman's
in Coral Gables, who was featured on the Discovery Channel's Great Chefs of the South.
And Allen Susser of Chef Allen's in North Miami, winner of the James Beard Award for
Best American Chef in the Southeast.
Van Aken and Susser have both published cookbooks based on their Miami restaurant recipes.
As have JoAnn Bass, author of Eat at Joe's and owner of Joe's Stone Crab Restaurant,
and celebrated food writer Steve Raichlen Miami Spice.
Andrea Curto of Wish, named one of America’s Best New Chefs 2000 by Food & Wine Magazine for
her ability to “create flavors that are impressively bold” , is one of the new wave
of young Miami chefs quickly making a name for themselves. Her peers include: Johnny
Vinczencz of Astor Place, Michelle Bernstein of The Strand in Miami Beach, Robbin Haas
of Baleen on Grove Isle, Barbara Scott of Red Square, and Cindy Hutson of Ortanique on
Miracle Mile in Coral Gables.
What this all means is that dining in Greater Miami and the Beaches is an epicurean
emporium that food gurus from around the world adore. According to the Miami Herald,
ten million visitors ate nearly $3 billion worth of delicious meals in Miami in 1997.
And as food critic Geoffrey Tomb lamented about the local dining scene, "Oh, the choices.
So many restaurants, so little time."
The cornucopia of delectable choices includes: pan-seared grouper dusted in pumpkin seeds,
spicy conch fritters, hot pumpkin soup, chilled avocado soup, fried yuca chips,
Jamaican jerk rack-of-lamb, a side of mango chutney, coconut shrimp, red beans and
rice, corn-crusted snapper, lobster crepes, ravioli stuffed with crabmeat,
smoked marlin, frog legs sautéed in garlic butter, orange sections tossed with wild mushrooms,
Haitian spiced pork, Colombian grilled-cheese arepas, sweet plantain stuffed with cured beef,
Cuban black beans, chicken creole, Miccosukee Indian fried bread, thick steaks smothered
in chimichurri sauce, and alligator tidbits braised in barbecue sauce. And to top it all off,
guava cheesecake, papaya-carrot cake, rum flan, tangerine sorbet, and potent Cuban cafe-con-leche.
Along with the New World cuisine Greater Miami is famous for, the area also offers an array of
restaurants specializing in international cuisines.