Turns out LeBron isn’t the only super star who brought his talents to South Beach. The FoodTV Network’s annual South Beach Wine and Food Festival fills local hotels, restaurants and bars with the biggest names in the culinary industry, making South Florida the center of the Celebrity Chef Universe for one delicious February weekend.
With live cooking demonstrations by day and star chef’s dinner parties and midnight champagne bashes by night, the myriad opportunities for foodies to get up close and personal with their favorite TV stars drives the event’s success.
Much like a rock star’s concert tour, online ticket sales for the a la carte events are announced in early fall and most of the programs sell out months in advance. Once the chefs arrive on South Beach, truly dedicated fans (with a little high tech ingenuity) can follow their favorite chefs on Twitter, which makes it easy to find the stars out drinking, dancing or dining at the Raleigh Hotel pool.
Reality cooking shows like “Chopped” on FoodTV, BravoTV’s “Top Chef” and Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen” attract millions of devoted viewers to a genre that used to be considered one notch below soap operas on daytime television.
When Julia Child first started demonstrating her French cooking techniques on public television in 1963, the show was largely regarded as an afternoon diversion for suburban housewives. By the 1980′s, caterer-turned-cookbook-author Martha Stewart rocketed to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List, appearing on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Larry King Live” to promote her publications before taking to the airwaves with her own lifestyle program in 1993. By the time the 1995 cover of New York Magazine named Stewart the “Definitive Woman of Our Time,” the notion of a global culinary brand name was born. Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia – which became a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange in 1999 – currently covers cooking, crafts, catering, wedding planning, home & garden design, organizing tips and branded housewares, all neatly promoted through her successful magazine, merchandise catalogs, popular website and syndicated television programming.
Today’s celebrity chefs like Rachel Ray host popular daytime chat shows, prime time cooking competitions and nighttime travel series where chefs Tony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern roam the world in search of unique ethnic foods. Their faces beam from the covers of best selling cookbooks, tell-all memoirs and glossy magazines. Their pricey cookware gleams on department store shelves and their name brand restaurants fill posh resorts from Las Vegas to Dubai.
Oddly enough, some of the most recognizable chefs on television today find their schedules so filled with book tours and personal appearances, there is little time left for actual cooking (unless there is a camera on the scene). Miami foodies have a passion for celebrity chef culture and flock to restaurants where the chefs work on site or have helped to develop the menus.
For travelers who love to watch their favorite chefs on television, here is our quick guide to the top ten toques cooking up some big name chow in Greater Miami right now. As Julia Child would say, “Bon Appétit!”
1500 Degrees at the Eden Roc Renaissance Hotel & Spa
4525 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach
Following a $220 million dollar renovation, the landmark Eden Roc Hotel recruited Gordon Ramsay’s “Hell’s Kitchen” alum Paula DaSilva to run their farm-to-table steakhouse overlooking the breathtaking infinity-edge seaside pool. Turns out 1500 Degrees is the ideal temperature setting for a truly effective grill.
While Miami Beach steakhouses seem an easy formula for attracting tourist dollars, DaSilva’s menu starts with perfectly seared beef and moves quickly forward with a toothsome variety of fresh seasonal veggies and Florida-fresh seafood. The 160-seat wood and leather accented dining room provides a view to the open kitchen, but on a balmy night the poolside patio is the real draw. DaSilva offers a daily chef’s tasting menu, a variety of seasonal small plates and a pristine selection from the raw bar.
With the glitz and glamour of so many South Beach steakhouses and the Vegas-style firepower of the Fontainebleau Resort just next door, 1500 Degrees still manages to turn up the heat for Miami Beach diners who appreciate the efforts of a celebrity chef who survived “Hell’s Kitchen” to get where she is today.
Scott Conant, Alan Yau & Alfred Portale
Fontainebleau Resort & Spa
4441 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach
One of the perks of celebrity chef stardom is the lucrative opportunity to lend your name to a rich variety of restaurants that stand in support of your worldwide brand. Celebrity chefs are some of the most important draws in Las Vegas and the triple threat of Scott Conant, Alan Yau & Alfred Portale make the dazzling updates at the fully renovated Fontainebleau Resort all the more significant.
Five star dining is the hallmark of a luxury travel experience and guests at Miami Beach’s largest resort can enjoy the breathtaking two-story Gotham Steak, the sleek and sexy Asian oasis Hakkasan or the rustic simplicity of Scarpetta’s signature Italian bistro.
Portale’s landmark Gotham Bar and Grill stands as the New York inspiration for his modern American steakhouse by the sea where fresh seafood, specialty cuts of meat and a 500-bottle wine list attract hotel guests and loyal locals year round.
London’s first Michelin-starred Asian restaurant makes it’s US debut at the Fontainebleau serving upscale riffs on traditional Chinese dishes including a wildly popular weekend dim sum brunch that’s the best in town.
Chef Scott Conant has attained super star status for his humble pastas in New York City where great Italian restaurants are easy to find. Recognized everywhere for his role as a judge on FoodTV’s “Chopped,” Conant’s mushroom polenta, braised short ribs and signature spaghetti with tomato and basil are now stars in their own right at his elegant seaside dining room.
Always popular with celebrities and socialites, the Fontainebleau makes it easy to taste these world famous chef’s dishes at some truly elegant restaurants.
J & G Grill at the St. Regis
9701 Collins Avenue, Bal Harbour
Jean-George Vongerichten (JoJo, Vong, Prime Steakhouse, Spice Market) kicked off 2012 with the launch of J & G Grill, a dazzling poolside restaurant and bar at the tony new St. Regis Bal Harbour. Patterned after his successful ABC Kitchen in Manhattan – which was recently named Best New Restaurant of 2011 by the prestigious James Beard Foundation – J & G is one of a handful of upscale waterfront dining destinations in South Florida.
ABC Kitchen serves fresh, organic and local ingredients in an artfully designed dining room under the daily direction of Executive Chef Daniel Kluger. Designed by the ABC Home creative team, over 70% of the menu comes from within 90 miles of the busy kitchen. Showcasing local produce drives Miami’s best restaurants like Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink and Midtown’s Sustain to great success, so this formula will surely make J & G Grill a top spot in Bal Harbour this year. Chef de Cuisine Richard Gras crafts a curated selection of Jean-Georges’ most popular recipes to pair with fresh local seafood and meat, making J & G Grill the haute new spot to experience Contemporary American fare with a proud local influence.
Jean-George’s Fern Restaurant takes pride of place at the St. Regis’ luxurious Bahia Beach Resort property in Puerto Rico. Built from the ground up on the original site of Morris Lapidus’ Americana Hotel, the new Bal Harbour property comprises both luxury oceanfront residences and upscale hotel rooms. Guests may dine indoors or alfresco in full view of the pool deck and the sparkling Atlantic coast.
Makoto at the Bal Harbour Shops
9700 Collins Avenue, Bal Harbour
There’s no doubt a pretty daunting shadow cast by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto as he vanquishes his opponents at TV’s Kitchen Stadium season after season. Standing right by his side for 13 episodes, Sous Chef Makoto Okuwa went on to help Morimoto launch successful Japanese restaurants across the globe.
Working as an executive sushi chef, Makoto recently kicked off another venture in Los Angeles before taking the spotlight at restaurateur Stephen Starr’s 200-seat haute Japanese venture at the Bal Harbour Mall.
Finally taking center stage, Makoto’s menu showcases modern riffs on cooked Japanese dishes plus his own signature sushi creations, boutique sakes and a full robata grill. The indoor/outdoor space is sexy and sophisticated, but definitely designed to keep the focus on the food. Standing by Makoto’s side during the opening months, Top Chef All Star Dale Talde serves as the Director of Asian Concepts for the Starr Organization where he and Makoto helped to open Morimoto together in New York. Chef Makoto remains on site as his first eponymous restaurant develops a strong Miami fan base.
db Bistro Moderne at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel
255 Biscayne Boulevard Way, Miami
Downtown Miamians in need of a little extra lunchtime pampering were recently thrilled to learn that celebrity chef Daniel Boulud’s db Bistro Moderne has added a gourmet sandwich bar serving upscale $15 soup and sammie combos including a house made bratwurst, a mojo-roasted pork “Croque Señor” (think Cuban sandwich with a French twist) and a Cape Cod-worthy lobster roll.
This latest innovation from Miami’s exciting new Franco-American bistro adds a bit of wiggle room to the 5 star dining experience which spans a lofty main dining room, a stylish bar and lounge space as well as a street level terrace facing the busy Miami River.
Popular for lunch, Sunday brunch, and the Lucky Seven Happy Hour (where everything is $7), db Bistro captures the sizzle of Miami but never loses sight of our decidedly casual lifestyle. Appealing to the working man, the pleasure cruiser and a growing Downtown residential population, db Bistro Moderne knows how to gain traction in the highly competitive Miami restaurant scene.
NeMesis Urban Bistro
1035 North Miami Avenue, Miami
After a whirlwind season on BravoTV’s Top Chef, Micah Edelstein landed an executive chef gig at the Design District’s Grass Lounge where her innovative tropical menu captured the imagination of foodies and fickle hipsters for a little while.
In the past few months, she took to the pages of FaceBook to document the development of her own venture on a quiet corner of Downtown Miami where she and business partner Harald Oechsner have crafted a quirky dining room with vintage chairs, reclaimed church pews and mixed Indonesian batik prints.
The eclectic decor is meant to evoke Edelstein’s culinary wanderlust. She’s crafting a brief set menu inspired by her world travels and then adding a daily roster of specials driven by the local markets and her own sense of whimsy.
She hopes to make guests feel like they’ve come to her house for dinner – an idea that will hopefully warm up the rather desolate stretch of Downtown Miami that NeMesis Urban Bistro calls home.
Michy’s (also Crumb on Parchment)
6927 Biscayne Boulevard, Downtown Miami
Miami’s fashionable upper east side is home to Chef Michelle Bernstein’s popular neighborhood bistro where she and husband David Martinez serve friends and families from a quirky small plate menu.
Tucked away in the city’s former red light district, Michy’s celebrates the efforts of local farmers and fishermen who fuel the chef’s creatively crafted “luxurious comfort food.” Bernstein hosts a local public television program called “Check, Please!” in which Florida foodies review their favorite restaurants and is also a frequent contributor to BravoTV’s “Top Chef” where she often serves as a rather prickly guest judge. When former Talula Top Chef Andrea Curto-Randazzo joined the prime time cooking competition, her encounters with Bernstein at the Judges’ Table were nothing short of electric.
Capitalizing upon her success on television and behind the stove, Bernstein has expanded her culinary operations in Miami to include Crumb on Parchment bakeshop where she showcases the talents of her very favorite chef – her mother!
In recent years, star chefs like David Bouley, Emeril Lagasse, Allan Susser and Norman Van Aken have opened and closed some pretty serious restaurants here in South Florida. For dedicated foodies, it is easy to see that time and tide wait for no (hungry) man.
Some of the most promising restaurants on the culinary horizon include a second Jose Andres Bazaar Restaurant at Sam Nazarian’s SLS South Beach Hotel alongside L.A. sushi hotspot Katsuya, a brand new branch of the popular Atlanta Flip Burger Bar run by BravoTV “Top Chef All Stars” winner Richard Blais and a second door for New York seafood spot Catch at the James/Royal Palm Hotel run by “Top Chef” Season Three winner Hung Huynh.
First off the dock was Season Five “Top Chef’s” Jeff McInnis who bounces from his recent successful launch of GiGi Restaurant in Midtown to open his own Yardbird Southern Table & Bar just off Lincoln Road Mall on South Beach. Downtown Miami welcomes “Top Chef’s” most-feared judge, Norman Van Aken to the Miami Culinary Institute with the launch of Tuyo – a dazzling rooftop showcase for the chef’s ever-popular New World recipes. Stay tuned to your favorite foodie TV shows to see who might be cooking in Miami next year…
And don’t forget, the Annual Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival takes place every February on the sunny sands of South Beach bringing the most important names and famous faces in the culinary cosmos right to our shore!