As the 12th South Beach Wine & Food Festival gets rolling Thursday night at the Delano with Paula Dean and sons’ barbecue, there will be a noticeable Spanish accent in the air.
The sprawling, three-day festival has grown from a single-event tent party to a celebrity-chef-studded slate of seminars, dinners, cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and more, thanks in part to the sponsoring Food Network’s stars and marketing machine. And at events all over town, Latin American and Spanish chefs will be sharing the spotlight:
“We really wanted to showcase the Latin influences that are so important to Miami’s food scene,” says Lee Brian Schrager, founder and director of the festival, which boasts of raising $17 million for hospitality-management programs at Florida International University.
Douglas Rodriguez, who first made his mark in the ’80s with Yuca in Coral Gables and now has De Rodriguez Cuba on Ocean Drive, says the Spanish food boom has been an inevitable, from-the-ground-up result of the Hispanic community’s maturation.
“Right now more than 50 percent of the culinary workforce is Latino,” says Rodriguez, who will make smoked pan con lech ó n with clam dipping broth at the sold-out Swine & Wine.
“Nobody except an immigrant wants to be a dishwasher, so Latinos have done this. Now we are on the third or fourth generation, and dishwashers have moved up the line to sous-chef, chef — and even running a chain of restaurants.”
It takes more than high-profile chefs with Hispanic surnames to create a trend. One needs a clientele, and to hook it, one needs appealing flavors.
Latino food has “so much sazón,” Bernstein says. “It hits all different angles of the palate.”
“I grew up in Puerto Rico, where eating was all about the flavor,” says Pubbelly’s Mendín. “You had to have flavor in your mouth.”
Shared Spanish roots provide a unifying element, Mendín adds. “Latin cultures … are not as different as, say, Italian and French.”
Yet centuries of colonialism created diversity within that unity, notes Peruvian chef Acurio.
“It’s a fascinating mestisaje,” or mixing of races, he says. “Spaniards, Africans, Chinese, Arabs, Italians, they all brought their products to these lands and began a new life here.”
And those new lives created new and exciting flavors.
“Other cuisines are flat,” says Samuel Gorenstein, Colombian-born chef-co-owner of South Beach’s My Ceviche, who will show his stuff at a Garden to Glass event hosted by Emeril Lagasse.
“Latin food has very good contrasts, a balance of flavor and texture,” Gorenstein says. “It can be very acid, hot. Sabores punzantes — intense, sharp flavors.”
If Latin cuisine is saying anything, it is that life is a fiesta. The festival (another word for fiesta) is in itself a three-day party, and there is one party within that party that is totally Latin: the sold-out Red Hot Night.
There will be music by the Celia Cruz All-Stars band, food by Emilio Estefan’s Bongo’s and Lario’s restaurants, mojitos and other evocative cocktails and even salsa lessons from Univisión’s Mira Quien Baila dancers.
It will be a celebration, says Nydia Sahagun, senior marketing manager for event sponsor Target, of “the Latino passion point, which is food, family and music.”
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