This year’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival kicked off with a bang on February 21st at Moët Hennessy’s The Q, presented by Omaha Steaks and sponsored by Miami Magazine. Previously known as the BUBBLEQ, the shortening of the name has in no way diminished the the grandiosity of this event, the importance of the chefs and cooks participating, nor the quantity of fantastic dishes available to sample. A happy marriage of champagne and barbecue, this year’s The Q was hosted by that queen of indulgent Southern cooking, Paula Deen, along with her sons Jamie and Bobby. The Deen family, however, were not the only celebrities present as foodies were able to meet some of their culinary heroes, like Todd English and Geoffrey Zakarian, as well as sample some of the cuisine that has made them famous. With over 40 of the nation’s top chefs, including many local favorites, it was a delicious challenge trying to sample everything, and while most things were pleasant, there were a few dishes that really stood out.
Chef Paula da Silva of 1500º in the Eden Roc has been one South Florida chef who has been on the forefront of the farm-to-table concept since the restaurant opened a few years ago. Bringing diners the freshest and most local products available, Chef Paula also has a way of blending these ingredients in ways that can sometimes surprise and at other times conjure memories of enjoying grandma’s (or abuela’s) comfort food. There always seems to be an innovative twist to everything she puts on the menu, and this innovation has garnered the attention of Esquire magazine in 2011, which named 1500º one of the best new restaurants in America that year. Ever since then, we have been enjoying some of her menu staples like a perfectly roasted half chicken, meltingly tender pork belly tacos, and perhaps one of the silkiest octopus tentacles to be had in Miami. Last month, Chef Paula introduced some new seasonal items to the menu that continue to demonstrate her ability to expertly source and prepare local produce, as well as showing off some new techniques and new ingredients.