Only Colicchio could go to Cuba.
Celebrity chef and restaurateur Tom Colicchio grew up around exiled Cubans in Elizabeth, New Jersey. So when Maine U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree — also an organic farmer — planned a trip to the island for next week to scout Cuba’s organic farms as potential trade partners, Colicchio was a natural fit.
It’s a perfect segue — both geographically and philosophically — for Colicchio, who will be in town Friday to host the Slow Food Miami “Snail of Approval” tasting party at his South Beach restaurant Beachcraft at the 1 Hotel & Homes. The event highlights more than a dozen of the most notable South Florida chefs creating dishes that are in line with Slow Food’s focus on ingredients that are grown locally, seasonally and sustainably by area farmers. Tickets, which begin at $95 ($125 at the door) still remain.
Cuba’s many farmers were forced to go organic during the Soviet Union’s retreat when chemical fertilizers weren’t available. And now Colicchio says his goal is to let them know they don’t have to go back.
“We want to tell them, ‘Don’t change what you’re doing.’ There’s a market here for produce that is organic,” Colicchio, a five-time James Beard Award winner and Bravo Top Chef judge, said by phone from New York.
A perfect example is Friday’s event. Alter’s Brad Kilgore, Tim Andriola (Basil Park), Della Heiman (Della Test Kitchen), Todd Kiley (Grown) and Allen Susser (Café at Books & Books) are just some of the chefs who will be working with local produce from places such as the Little River Cooperative, Swank Farms and Paradise Farms.
“For me, this about walking the walk,” Colicchio said. “You want to support local farmers because if we stop buying from them, they’re going to go out of business. ... You want to buy from as many local people as possible. Without them, what am I going to cook? It’s hard to make good food out of bad food.”
Farm-to-table is a throwaway term that Colicchio thinks gets misappropriated, as was shown in a series of recent articles by the Tampa Bay Times that exposed local restaurants that claimed to be using local products but weren’t. Colicchio admits finding fresh ingredients year round in Florida can be a challenge — “Summer in Florida is like the middle of winter in New York,” he said — but that he says is no reason to lie to diners.
“Don’t get lazy,” he told the chefs at his restaurants after the revelation. But he says that’s also good advice for diners.
“If you’re a consumer and you care about this stuff, ask the question,” he said. “There are a lot of people out there claiming they’re doing the right thing and they’re not.”
If You Go
What: The Slow Food Miami “Snail of Approval” event brings together some of South Florida’s top chefs creating dishes with locally, seasonally and sustainably grown ingredients from local farms.
When: 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday
Where: Beachcraft at 1 Hotel & Homes South Beach, 2341 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach
Tickets: $95 a person. VIP tickets for a personal meet-and-greet with chef Tom Colicchio cost $225. Tickets can be purchased online at SFMfreshestnightout.bpt.me.