The Village Stand in Miami Shores hosted La Diva Cucina to bring easy, tasty food and drink to invited and walk-in guests last Thursday evening. The Stand, owned by husband-and-wife duo Jorge Espinosa and Alison Duran, set up a display of local treats to whet the appetites of those in attendance before Laura Lafata, La Diva Cucina, gave a lively cooking demonstration.
Duran and Espinosa opened The Village Stand as just that, a stand, within a Shores’ gift shop almost two years ago. The idea came to them after their move to Miami Shores when they witnessed “lots of construction,” but no new businesses in the downtown district, said Duran. The stand was a way for the couple to bring artisanal, and often local, foods to the community while encouraging a small-town feel on Second Avenue.
“We just felt like it was a really good way to meet neighbors,” Duran said. She added that as the couple is not particularly political, the shop enables them to socialize with and serve the Shores in a way they’re comfortable with.
In an effort to take the shop from simply a retail space that serves residents and visitors to a true gathering space for foodies, Duran hosts tastings the third Friday of every month.
The Stand has also partnered up with Lafata to host occasional cooking classes. Thursday evening Lafata, with a great bit of enthusiasm and charm, mixed up lemongrass martinis infused with grated ginger. She repeated those flavors in a wok stir-fry of local shrimp. Both recipes were available for those in attendance to take home, no note-taking required.
Lafata, who has worked in hospitality for 30 years, typically teaches her recipes to corporate gatherings and private parties. It is work she enjoys.
“I like to eat and drink and I get paid to do it,” she said. Beyond the consumable perks of the job, Lafata’s contentment with her work comes from the altruistic nature of feeding people. She said “even people who don’t like to cook” find themselves engaged in her classes, and they let her know after the fact about the results of their culinary efforts.
Previously, Lafata and Duran teamed up on Valentine’s Day to offer an interactive approach to the traditional romantic dinner for couples and singles. That meal included a menu of freshly shucked oysters, seared diver scallops and prosciutto-wrapped prawns paired with champagne mojitos and pomegranate mint martinis.
The pairing of the Stand and La Diva Cucina, much like the pairing of lemongrass and ginger, works well. The shop is small, but bright and neatly organized. It is centered around a cafe table and chairs. Lafata’s drink preparation required the making of a simple syrup that filled the comfortable space with the warm smell of sweetened ginger.
While cooking, Lafata explained the best ways to find, preserve and use the ingredients required by the recipes, but not commonly found in South Florida meals. Ginger, she explained, is best kept in the freezer, as Miami’s humidity can cause it to expire quickly. It can then easily be grated, skin included, into syrups and sauces.
As Lafata cooked, Duran explained more about the Stand and its mission. “I think it’s important for people to know where their food is coming from,” she said. For this reason there is seemingly no item in the store that Duran cannot tell a shopper the origin and history of.
A couple on their way to the Miami Shores’ O Cinema on Second Avenue stopped in to browse. They were fed and engaged in conversation about local popcorn connoisseur Shawnee’s Green Thumb brand within moments. Duran filled them in on the basis of the flavors and the woman behind them.
It is the neuroses of desire that leads a person away from a stable job and into their kitchen that Duran respects. The strawberry jam she served alongside a creamy goat’s milk brie and a smoked gouda is made by a local expat, Pascale, who missed the marmalades of her homeland, France. Pascale’s Confitures Artisanales Marmalades are the delicious outcome of that longing.
Duran and Lafata hope to encourage more South Floridians to taste and cook with all that the area’s many food producers have to offer. The in-store cooking class was a part of their approach, and a tasty one at that.
The Village Stand’s next open house tasting will be held July 19. And La Diva Cucina blogs regularly and details her upcoming public events at www.ladivacucina.com. She is also available for private events.