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Chowing for charity: Taste of the Nation

Chef Allen Susser, one of the Mango Gang, Miami's rock star chefs.
Chef Allen Susser, one of the Mango Gang, Miami's rock star chefs.

The 21st annual celebuchef-heavy Taste of the Nation takes place July 24th at the Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne, to benefit Share Our Strength, a charity that fights childhood hunger. More than 35 top Miami chefs, including Michael Schwartz of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Dewey LoSasso of North One10, Allen Susser of Chef Allen’s and Cindy Hutson of Ortanique on the Mile, will join chef George Fistrovich of the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne’s restaurants to care and feed the huge crowds that love to be wowed by great food and wine — and plenty of both. Of course, there will also be live music and silent and live auctions, but the emphasis, as always, will be on sampling as many different star chefs’ dishes as possible. All, as they say, for a good cause.

“This is my third year doing this event,” says Chef Fistrovich, who has spent time in Singapore, London, China, Paradise Island’s Atlantis resort and South Beach (to help launch the Delano in 1995) and is currently concentrating on Dune Oceanfront Burger Lounge, a new outdoor “cantina” on the Atlantic. “It’s always an exciting time. Especially working with Chef Allen,” the event’s longest-standing chef.

The theme this year is eco-friendly everything, including on-site recycling, biodegradable plates and utensils and free valet parking for hybrid cars. “We’ve always tried to be a little more on the forefront than more traditional Ritz-Carltons,” says Fistrovich. “For example, at Dune, we serve an organic burger with organic gorgonzola cheese from Oregon. We use heirloom tomatoes from Florida and we even fly in our hot dogs from Allen Brothers in Chicago.” Another nice touch for the chef that diners may not even notice is his new custom made “smart” grill, which Fistrovich describes as magical. “It is not just heavy-duty, it is also quite good-looking,” he laughs about his new gadget.

Fistrovich also has tech-savvy chef Jordi Vallès, late of molecular gastronomy guru Ferrán Adrià’s kitchen, as his executive chef. Vallès’s own Miami venture, Mosaico, was, many feel, opened (and shuttered) way before its time. “Jordi is pretty phenomenal,” says Fistrovich. “But it is really hard on a sustainable basis here in Miami to keep people entertained. You need a real special kind of clientele for support. Do we use the techniques [of molecular gastronomy] as an accent, as an amenity? Absolutely. Those chefs, like Adrià or Grant Achatz of Chicago, are real specialists. I don’t know how much experimentation we can do in front of 700 people!” he laughs.

“Simple but well-executed will usually make it every time,” says the chef of Taste of the Nation. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be any surprises.

Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation Miami, July 24th at the Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne, 455 Grand Bay Dr, Key Biscayne

Published: 7/08