February 28, 2009

Dinner in Paradise

Thanks to the folks at Driscoll's (thank you, Alicia and Kim!), I tried something completely new. It was sheer coincidence that I ended up having dinner at Paradise Farms, a 5 acre certified organic farm in Homestead, Florida. I was skeptical at best when, upon my arrival, I saw the handpainted "no cigarettes, no meat" sign at the farm entrance, but I ended up having a beautiful evening despite the fact that I was leaving my worldly comforts behind.

Paradise Farms sells their bounty only to local chefs. They grow edible flowers, vegetables and fruit using no pesticides. Upon our arrival, we were treated to an assortment wines from Schnebly's Redlands Winery. I had been to the winery before- and was looking forward to tasting the sparkling lychee wine again. It is semi-dry with a tropical perfume nose. There were a few beautiful displays laden with Driscoll's berries, and it was all I could do not to dig in, but I didn't want to ruin my dinner. Driscoll's displayed the most incredible raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and blackberries that I had seen.

Back to the farm, we were treated to a tour of the farms and grounds and an explanation of the use of the composting toilets. Here are some of the amazing fruit trees and vegetables I saw growing as I walked along the path:

Paradise Farms' Dinner in Paradise series takes place monthly. This month, in conjunction with the South Beach Food and Wine Festival, the event was also part of The New York Times Dinner Series, and was sponsored by The Food Network, Driscoll's, The New York Times, Paradise Farms and Whole Foods. What a line up! Chefs Jeremy Fox, Andrea Reusing, Michel Nischan and Michael Schwartz all produced Hors D'Oeuvres, Four Courses and Dessert. Hedy Goldsmith created cookies, candies and confections for dessert as well. Her soft pomelo gelled candy was one of the most heavenly things I have ever eaten.

First Course: Paradise "Farm to Fork" Leaves, Herbs, Flowers, Roots and Shoots with Panisse (Jeremy Fox). With Chenin Blanc 2006 Heller Estate, California (100% Certified Organic Grapes)

Second Course: Heirloom Tomato Salad with Shiso and Shallots. With Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Mason Cellars, California (100% Certified Organic Grapes)

(Photo by Ian)

Third Course (my personal favorite): Ancient Grain and Root Vegetable "Risotto", Golden Chioggia Beets, Rainbow Carrots, Purplette Onions, Micro Greens, Roasted Almonds. With Chateauneuf-du-Pape, LaBernardine 2005, Michael Chapoutler, France (Biodynamic Farming)

Fourth Course: Pan Roasted Local Tilefish, Spiny Lobster Panade, Saffron Nage, Micro Cilantro. With Pinot Noir, Estate 2006, Bouchaine Winery, California (Sustainable Farming)

Dessert: Paradise Farms Basil Infused Panna Cotta with Strawberry Consomme. With Riesling, Graacher Himmelreich Spatlese 2006, S.A. Prum, Germany (Sustainable Farming). Hedy Goldsmith's Cookies, Candies and Confections.

(Photo By Ian)

I am certain that this is the freshest food I have ever eaten, and I have to admit I could taste the love and effort along with the unique flavors of everything! I especially enjoyed the grain and root vegetable "risotto" third course, which had the advantage of being something hardy, refined and absolutely bursting with enormous flavor. With the exception of the cilantro, everything else was indeed unique and fantastic. Seeing as Driscoll's was a sponsor of the event, I was curious as to why berries weren't more prominently featured on the menu- they are so versatile and can add much to savory dishes. Nonetheless, it is hard to complain about Dinner in Paradise! It was such a lovely experience. I highly recommend the dinner series- step outside your comfort zone and step into a little piece of paradise...and the eggs.

February 21, 2009

Sharing Bubbles

Some things are too good to keep to yourself. I'm coming out of blogtirement once in a while when something deliciously momentous happens. Last night was one of those times. The Perrier-Jouet BubbleQ at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival was luxurious, elegant and as fabulous as could be.

On the beach behind the Delano Hotel, the gargantuan tents held well-known chefs from around the country with their crews, cooking and serving the most original and varied barbecued items imaginable. We sampled everything from tender buffalo steaks to succulent lamb to melt-in-your-mouth beef with every degree of smoke and heat changing from chef to chef. It was a whirlwind education and I kept on learning with every new plate.

There was Al Roker and his dish.

One of the best was Peter Vauthy's beef- mmmmmm.mmmm.mmmm.  

There was one chef who blew my mind with his dish for the evening. Ilan Hall, winner of Top Chef season 2, created a crispy barbecued chicken skin with pickles sandwich served on fresh, soft rye bread. On the side was a bacon-wrapped matzo ball! A small puff of matzo ball hugged by a strip of bacon? Genius. Although I have to admit that a small bite of the sandwich would have given me as much pleasure as eating most of the sandwich did, I was happy to have too much. I will dream of this sandwich for the rest of my life.  I took the picture when I realized I shouldn't/couldn't eat any more of it but I needed a visual memory of the thing.


Tom Colicchio's barbecue was fine- not a standout but not bad- but his mac and cheese was heaven. The best I have tasted.

Did I mention the champagne?  Riedel representatives distributed glasses and beautifully decorated bars were strategically placed throughout the event.  Anytime the glass was in danger of being empty, all one had to do was waltz on over to one of the bars and in seconds, it was full again.  Like magic.

We walked from table to table, sampling dishes and saying hello to the chefs- from time to time we recognized others in the crowd.  We saw Gail Simmons, Top Chef judge and Special Projects Director for Food and Wine Magazine, enjoying herself sampling barbecue at Tom Colicchio's Craft tent.  Some former Top Chef contestants milled about, as did a few Food Network personalities.  I am sure missed a lot of people because we were too busy just having fun.   TLMM saw Rocco as we walked past him, so we stopped to say hello.  He made us promise to attend his food demo later in the festival, and was really very friendly.   Oh okay!  I admit it!  I love him- I didn't tell him- but I think you can see it in my eyes.  I think he might love me a little bit, too.

The night was so full of highlights, I will have to mention the low-lights for levity.   The event is on sand, so wear comfortable shoes or find a secret hiding place for your shoes and remember, you are going to drink copious amounts of champagne, so hide them somewhere they'll be easy to find later.   The bathroom situation was tricky because there were only two women's stalls.  The event was nearly impossible for anyone in a wheelchair or with a walker to navigate.  It's on sand.  I am sure they'll do something to accommodate, but again, it's on sand.

It makes me uneasy to be critical of any of it, but with such a high ticket price (thank you TLMM for such a generous Christmas gift), they should work out the kinks.  

There is so much more to say.  I met and chatted with restaurant owners and food enthusiasts from all over the country.  I met Alicia, the Convention Coordinator for Driscoll's, who was kind enough to invite me to tonight's event- Dinner in Paradise at Paradise Farms, an organic farm in Homestead, FL.   I anticipate my next blog entry being about just that!  So hi everyone, I'll be here from time to time so don't forget to check back.  I've missed you...and the eggs.