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.
Since Omaha Steaks sponsored the event, most participating cooks and chefs were featuring its products, and beef appeared throughout much of the event. Seared, grilled steaks abounded but were almost completely overshadowed by more creative preparations of beef. Chef Todd English, showcasing his palate for Asian cuisine, brought us steamed Chinese buns filled with pulled hoisin glazed short rib, roasted 5 spice tenderloin, and a sweet and sour cucumber slaw that offered bold flavors and a nice contrast in textures between the chewy tenderloin and soft short rib. Local favorite, George Eric Farge with his newly opened restaurant in Midtown Miami, offered one of the most elegant and delicious dishes of the evening: a very French-inspired 24 hour grilled short rib with aigre-doux (sweet and sour) veal jus served with raclette cheese-enriched polenta and pickled hon-shimeji mushrooms. The meat fell apart and the sweet/sour jus gave a nice punch to the creamy, sharply-flavored raclette polenta.
On the more informal, traditional barbecue side were a couple of sandwiches made by Food Network’s Chef Robert Irvine, as well as Kevin Kehoe and Hans Seitz of Sparky’s Roadside Barbecue in Miami. Sparky’s was the first thing I sampled at The Q, and their perfectly rendered barbecued brisket sliders were hard to beat with their tangy coleslaw, homemade bread and butter pickles, and perhaps the best barbecue baked beans ever sampled. This is definitely one local barbecue joint to check out, and other Miami barbecue fanatics attending mentioned that Sparky’s is among their favorites. Chef Irvine’s creation was a bit more innovative while staying firmly within traditional barbecue aesthetics. His braised pork cheeks on brioche with fried pickles were delicious with a refreshing dollop of creamy chopped slaw containing sweet yellow corn.
Chef Paula da Silva of 1500º in Miami Beach also offered a twist on classic BBQ fare with her homemade miniature hot dogs with a kimchi-inspired slaw and spicy aïoli that offered that delightful snap one gets while biting into a perfect dog. Also presenting a twist on a classic, albeit from north of the border, was Duskie Estes and John Stewart with their take on the archetypical French Canadian post-partying food, poutine. Traditionally consisting of french fries topped with brown gravy and cheese curds, their Pig Face Poutine had a base of confit fries topped with a tabasco-seasoned gravy containing chopped pork parts and was topped with tangy feta cheese and a chopped herbs. The appointed “King & Queen of Porc” and owners of Black Pig Meat Co. that makes some of the nation’s best artisanal bacon also provided festival-goers with a pork-infused sweet: chicharron peanut butter cups!
One of the most unique preparations at The Q was from Chef Mark Zeitouni of the Lido restaurant at The Standard in Miami Beach. He presented tender slices of smoked beef heart that were unfortunately passed up by more squeamish festival-goers but could very well be the next charcuterie item to make it big. It was served on triangles of soft pita with an Indian-style curried chick pea ragoût. Celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian also offered an extremely elegant departure from the heavier pork and beef dishes many of the other chefs and cooks went for with a smoked togarashi (a type of spicy Japanese seasoning) crusted tuna served with couscous and Medjool date salad that had a tinge of orange zest. This was served with a spicy sea urchin emulsion that gave the dish an unrivaled luxuriousness.
Chef John Suley, who formulates the menus for Celebrity cruises, offered perhaps one of the most decadent and delicious preparations with perhaps the most appealing presentation. While I initially had no interest in sampling what sounded to me like an haute rendition of Flannigan’s BBQ egg rolls, the look of sheer bliss from those sampling his creation - as well as the tiny squirt bottle of sauce that everyone got to take with them - made me try the dish...and I was definitely rewarded for doing so. His BBQ baby back spring rolls were flavorful and tender on the inside with a delicate, crispy crust. The chipotle-spiked coleslaw containing raisins was refreshing, but the white truffle BBQ sauce that came in the miniature squirt bottles was perhaps the most surprising element. It would only take a culinary genius to think of infusing barbecue sauce with truffles, but the concept really worked, and I am now squirting what remains in the bottle (which I, of course, took home with me) on practically everything. If this is the type of cuisine that is available on Celebrity, sign me up for the next cruise!
Yannis Janssens of Lee & Marie’s Cakery in Miami offered a sweet rendition of mini hamburgers where the bun was a moist cake and the patty was chocolate ganache. The little burgers were finished with a slice of passion fruit “cheese” and a “lettuce leaf” of dyed white chocolate. Hedy Goldsmith of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, also in Miami, had large apothecary jars of addictive candied bacon that really should be a mainstay at any candy shop.
The Q really whet our appetites for the other events that were to come in the days ahead as part of this year’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival. It is seldom that one finds so many great cooks and chefs all in one place offering such a quantity and variety of great food, which makes Moët-Hennessy’s The Q a definite must-do for any foodie attending future food festivals.