Some say Irving Fields brought tofu to Miami.
That’s what daughters Marci Fields Kolondra and Lisa Fields Cilli believe. One would be hard-pressed to name another who proved so influential in changing the health food habits of thousands in South Florida.
Fields founded the original Granny Feelgood’s in Coconut Grove in 1971. He turned the healthy foods spot and its brown rice dishes, whole-wheat pasta, and the tofu Reuben into a franchise with locations on Lincoln Road Mall, the Fontainebleau spa, downtown Miami at Plaza Venetia and the City National Bank building on Flagler. There was even a Granny’s in Breckenridge, Colorado.
He sold Granny’s in 2004 but never stopped presenting his concepts in clean eating.
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“I worked for him for 20 years at Granny’s and it was a special relationship,” Fields Kolondra said. “He was not only my father but we were partners in the business. No doubt he was a pioneer.”
Fields, who spent much of the last decade as cafe manager at Books & Books’ Coral Gables branch died on Wednesday from multiple health problems. He was 77.
He was such a life force, and the only person who could get my mother to eat tofu.
Food writer Ellen Kanner.
Tofu not to your liking? No worries. Fields would have won over a Five Guys regular with his demeanor.
“His hospitality was contagious and everybody loved him for that,” said Chef Allen Susser, who worked alongside Fields at Books & Books and who knew him for decades before that. “He loved people and used food as a vehicle to just love people. It is a sad day for Miami to lose such a great man. His soft-spoken laugh and sparkling eye smile would grow wider every time we talked about food.”
Fields wasn’t a vegetarian but he was into nutrition and the organic movement decades before it became trendy, Fields Kolondra said.
One of Susser’s fondest memories is of working together with Fields at the popular mango festivals in town, the fruit fresh-picked, its pungent juices running down their arms. “I loved that guy. What a spirit. I see Irving’s smile reflected in the mangoes we all loved.”
Says Mitchell Kaplan, founder of Books & Books: “Irving was the quintessential host, a humanist. He had a lightness of being and it was amazing for me to see how many people remembered him from Granny Feelgood’s.”
Amusingly, one of Fields’ daughters was named after Kaplan’s sister. Kaplan didn’t know that until he hired Fields years later, daughter Fields Cilli said.
Field’s first wife, the late Barbara Fields, babysat the Kaplan children in Miami Beach. She loved the name Marci so Kaplan’s sister is the namesake for Fields’ daughter.
“It’s a small world. When Mitchell hired my dad they never knew that until one day my dad and mother were talking and mentioned Marci. They realized my mother was the same babysitter they had,” Fields Cilli said.
Fields never forgot a customer. At Books & Books in 2008, he told the Herald, “Not only do I remember them, I remember what they ate.”
Twenty years earlier, in 1989, when former governor Jeb Bush lunched at Granny’s, Fields saw opportunity by kibitzing with the First Son and shared the story with the Herald. Dad George H.W. Bush was the president-elect. “I told Jeb that if he could convince his father to dine at Granny Feelgood’s, I would try to get city fathers to rename Southeast First Street to Bush Boulevard or Avenida Bush. He said he would try, but that his father is basically a meat-and-potatoes man.”
Steve Krull was a regular from the 1970s until 2000. “When Irving opened his first downtown Miami location I became a customer, and ate lunch there every single day until WTVJ moved to Miramar,” he said. “His wonderful food may have made you eat healthier, but it was his warmth and hospitality that made you his friend for life. He will be missed.”
He was the original Miami Foodie.
Miami chef Allen Susser.
Fields, born Nov. 28, 1938, in San Jose, Costa Rica, grew up in Miami Beach, graduated from Miami Beach Senior High and was inspired by the 1960s health-food craze to study nutrition and open his first restaurant, food writer Ellen Kanner wrote in the Miami Herald in 2008. “Everybody thought I was crazy. I had long hair and these guys were pretty straight, conservative,” Fields told her.
“He was such a life force, and the only person who could get my mother to eat tofu,” Kanner said in an email to the Herald.
“I would say he was the original Miami Foodie,” Susser added. “He knew food. He loved food and was into food when no one was into food. And good, healthy, clean food, he brought it to this town. He was an adventurer in his own hippie days and served it for quite awhile at his own restaurants.”
Fields is also survived by his wife Susan “Suji” Fields and grandchildren Vincent Jr., Christopher, AJ and Alexander.
Services will be at 3 p.m. Sunday at Levitt-Weinstein Eternal Light Funeral Service Center, 18840 W. Dixie Hwy., near North Miami Beach. A celebration of life will follow.
IRVING FIELDS’ GRILLED TOFU
This recipe ran in food writer Ellen Kanner’s column in the Oct. 9, 2008 Miami Herald.
A tangy marinade and sweet currants make tofu and brown rice fun and flavorful.
* 1 cup long-brown organic brown rice
* ½ cup tamari (wheat-free soy sauce)
* 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
* 1 teaspoon sugar, honey or maple syrup
* 1 (12-ounce) package firm tofu, drained and cut into ½-inch cubes
* Vegetable oil spray
* 1 cup broccoli florets, steamed and kept warm
* 1 cup cauliflower florets, steamed and kept warm
* ¼ cup currants
Place rice in a large pot with 2½ cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes, or until rice is tender.
Meanwhile, pour tamari into a shallow bowl. Add garlic and stir in sugar until dissolved. Add tofu cubes and set aside to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
Spray a skillet lightly with oil and place over medium-high heat. Drain and add tofu, reserving marinade. Cook, stirring constantly, until tofu is dark and caramelized, 8 to 10 minutes.
Spread cooked rice on a serving platter. Top with tofu, vegetables and currants. Spoon reserved marinade over all. Makes 2 to 4 servings.
Source: Adapted from Irving Fields.
Per serving (based on 4): 304 calories (15 percent from fat), 5.1 g fat (1 g saturated, 1.5 g monounsaturated), 0 cholesterol, 15.9 g protein, 51.3 g carbohydrates, 4.4 g fiber, 2,042.3 mg sodium.