Tropical Subtropical Floribbean Cuisine examined

Floribbean cuisine in Fort Lauderdale

Chef Michael Bennett - the Foodbrat's Blog

What the Mango Gang joined together no one can really rend asunder.
By: Jen Karetnick
Published date:
Apr. 4, 2014

wpid-wp-1403884651860.jpegwpid-wp-1403884411251.jpegwpid-wp-1403884534637.jpegwpid-wp-1403884317173.jpegwpid-img_20140518_140512.jpgBook on laptopImage
Puzzled? That’s not surprising. A hybrid of the words Florida and Caribbean, “Floribbean” denotes the blending of these regions’ tropical ingredients – an abundance of fresh tree fruit, ground roots and seafood – with warm-weather-friendly cooking techniques like marinating and grilling. It was, and still is, a term widely accepted by well-educated diners, by those who live here as well as by those who visit. “Floribbean” even appears as a valid category in online dining directories such as Frommer’s.

But while it makes perfect sense for prospective diners to pigeonhole places with a cutesy portmanteau, many of the South Florida chefs preparing this type of fusion reject it. They feel the moniker lacks dignity, and neglects other elements of the cuisine as a whole – namely…

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Tropical Subtropical Floribbean Cuisine examined

What the Mango Gang joined together no one can really rend asunder.
By: Jen Karetnick
Published date:
Apr. 4, 2014

wpid-wp-1403884651860.jpeg wpid-wp-1403884411251.jpeg wpid-wp-1403884534637.jpeg wpid-wp-1403884317173.jpeg wpid-img_20140518_140512.jpg Book on laptop Image
Puzzled? That’s not surprising. A hybrid of the words Florida and Caribbean, “Floribbean” denotes the blending of these regions’ tropical ingredients – an abundance of fresh tree fruit, ground roots and seafood – with warm-weather-friendly cooking techniques like marinating and grilling. It was, and still is, a term widely accepted by well-educated diners, by those who live here as well as by those who visit. “Floribbean” even appears as a valid category in online dining directories such as Frommer’s.

But while it makes perfect sense for prospective diners to pigeonhole places with a cutesy portmanteau, many of the South Florida chefs preparing this type of fusion reject it. They feel the moniker lacks dignity, and neglects other elements of the cuisine as a whole – namely, its Deep South, Asian and Mediterranean influences.

Today, the debate continues, with some Fort Lauderdale chefs calmly acknowledging that their contemporary “farm-to-table cuisine” has Floribbean roots, and others flatly denying that Floribbean by any other name smells just as enticing, even when the evidence is on the plates in front of them.

Floribbean – The History

At the time the name was coined, back in the late 1980s, South Florida chefs – mainly those in Miami who were conducting this epicurean renaissance – were actively trademarking Floribbean cuisine a number of other ways. Norman Van Aken, at a Mano, and Allen Susser, at Chef Allen’s, both called it New World Cuisine, publishing cookbooks on the subject. At Mark’s Place, Mark Militello, who combined the goods from artisans from all over the country with local product, preferred New American. Cuban counterpart Douglas Rodriguez, approaching the dishes from a Hispanic sensibility at YUCA in Coral Gables, termed it, logically, Nuevo Latino.

Together, these four pioneers were labeled the “Mango Gang” for their collective and oft-experimental use of tropical fruit, local flora and fauna and borrowed modus operandi. (Mango Gang is another name, it should be noted, that was also roundly loathed.) Other Miami chefs were quickly added to their circle: Johnny Vinczencz, gaining fame at Astor Place as the “Caribbean Cowboy;” Robbin Haas at the Colony Bistro; Tony Sindaco at Langosta Beach; Michael Schwartz at Nemo; Cindy Hutson and Delius Shirley at Ortanique on the Mile.

No matter what it was called, and which cultural arm it pulled on most, the cuisine was met by critics with a mixture of love and hate, admiration and envy, clarity and confusion. Dishes were a riot of influences with titles as long as those of Fall Out Boy songs, such as Van Aken’s “Snapper Escabeche Ensalada with Salsa Romesco, Arbequine Olives, Avocado, Oranges, and Ribbons of Greens.” One plate could have as many as five or six different components on it – a protein, a starch, a sauce, a salsa, a garnish – built on top of each other architecturally. Successful dishes were just that; failures were like pileups on I-95, with each element spun around in a different direction.

Along with varying appellations, regional chefs had fluctuating definitions for Floribbean fare. Dean James Max, who launched 3030 Ocean at the Harbor Beach Resort and Spa in Fort Lauderdale (then assisted by Hell’s Kitchen runner-up Paula DaSilva, who is now executive chef there) says, “This wave of cooking started as the first wave of farm-to-table. The chefs heavily involved in this were simply showcasing the mangos, guava and other fruits and vegetables like yucca and plantains that were being grown in South Florida. What’s special about it was that it was the first sign of what farm-to-table and local was all about in the region.”

Although Max missed the first flush of Floribbean cuisine in Miami, he was at the forefront of it in Broward County when Mango Gang-era chefs like Johnny Vinczencz, chef-owner of Johnny V. on Las Olas Boulevard, and Tony Sindaco, chef-owner of SEA in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, migrated north. They joined chef Oliver Saucy and Darrel Broek, co-owners of the 30-year-old Café Maxx in Pompano Beach, where Saucy had always followed a fresh-and-local credo set forth by his father, who taught him to cook long before he attended the Culinary Institute of America.

“This was the evolution where the chefs said, in essence: ‘Let’s make the cultural food of the Caribbean flavors [into] fine dining.’ And they did,” Max says. “Some still wanted to use ingredients like foie gras, but they paired it with mango and citrus. Some took lobster and paired it with vanilla and avocado. There also was a lot of flavor blending of different food styles from Puerto Rico to Cuba, to Jamaica and [elsewhere]. Lots of cool things were happening that made the press take a look.”
One of those very cool things was the treatment of Indo-Asian flavors. They came into the mix by virtue of African, Indian and Chinese immigration to the islands and then, by extension, South Florida. These stewed, curried and wok-fried rudiments are an integral part of Floribbean cuisine, one of the reasons why chefs objected to its non-inclusive name in the first place.
Climate, however, plays the main role in introducing those now-familiar fundamentals to the cuisine, argues chef and cookbook author Michael Bennett, who most recently held the helm at Bimini Boatyard Bar & Grill on SE 17th Street.

“The cookery that was born here in South Florida was shaped with incalculable Asian culinary principles. Not only did they help shape methodologies, they espoused the use of locally harvested Asian ingredients that can only be nurtured here in this part of the United States. Luckily for Floridians, seafood especially loves being paired on the plate with Asian ingredients like a variety of citrus, coconuts and lychees.”

AJ Yaari, owner of the recently debuted, ultra-contemporary Tsukuro, where small plates such as oxtail spring rolls blend the best of the region with Asian authenticity, acknowledges the ease with which Asian influences have slipped into Florida. “Because of our proximity to the sea and year-round growing seasons, Floridians are accustomed to fresh foods year-round. It is very similar to the Asian culinary and street-food culture where fresh ingredients are sourced and cooked.”

But he is quick to note that the Fort Lauderdale Beach-situated Tsukuro, which means “where the moon arrives over the water,” is more difficult to classify. “We do not fit in the mold of Floribbean just because we are in Florida or have citrus and mango in some of our dishes, nor are we Asian-Fusion, which marries various Asian cuisines. While ‘Florasian’ has a nice ring, we wouldn’t classify ourselves as that either. We consider our food ‘Asian-Inspired’ because we marry global and Asian cuisines to add depth and flavor; dishes are curiously familiar but surprisingly different. It’s a style we felt strongly would appeal to South Florida’s growing landscape of sophisticated, adventurous diners, as well as visitors who travel to our resort destination from around the world.”

Floribbean – The Present

Given the disagreement over the Floribbean name and definition, it should come as no great shock that many of today’s chefs either refuse to admit that their cuisine is Floribbean, or don’t even know what that means in the first place.

For example, the chef team from the Seminole Hard Rock complex displayed their goods at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in February. The presentations consisted of dishes such as chicharrón bites, mango chimichurri, queso blanco, pickled onion and roasted tomato salsa; an arepa slider (braised carne asada, fresh mozzarella, cilantro garlic aioli, avocado, crispy corn arepa); and chocolate hazelnut panna cotta (Nutella, coffee gelée, toasted banana cake, chocolate cookie crumbs). Even the cocktails, including a caipirinha made with Leblon cachaça, simple syrup, pineapple, mint and lime juice, seemed like a Floribbean given.

But an inquiry to feature the chefs and their fare brought the following answer from their press representative: “The team will be passing on this opportunity. [They] said they don’t have any Floribbean cuisine to offer up at this time.”

Most likely, the reluctance to identify with Floribbean sprouts from the very same kind of thing that gave birth to the label in the first place: a trend. As much as critics were quick to define culinary paradigms in the 1990s, and chefs were quick to align themselves with one, this decade sees the same professionals trying to resist classifying and being classified.

To that end, some see Floribbean cuisine as dead in the warm, tropical water. “It’s a thing of the past. The product is not being used the way it was with the Mango Gang,” Sindaco says. “It had its run, and that’s not such a bad thing.”

Bennett disagrees. He still sees Floribbean alive and well in several establishments, including his alma mater Bimini Boatyard – which he says offers “Caribb-ican cuisine,” a subjective interpretation of Floribbean that he created – and 15th Street Fisheries, which he notes is “currently flaunting a Latino-Floribbean cuisine.”

As far as flaunting goes, Johnny V. continues to be crowded, and not much menu evolution has gone on there. Down the street, the very on-trend YOLO, run by the former Himmarshee folks, delivers some Floribbean dishes, although it leans more Mediterranean overall. At 3030 Ocean, the always in-demand Paula DaSilva has picked up where Dean Max left off, with plenty of sophisticated, far-from-overwrought Floribbean fare. And the much-beloved Café Maxx, unlike southern counterparts Norman’s, Chef Allen’s and Mark’s Place, appears to be like bamboo in a hurricane: unbreakable.
In addition, long-running Eduardo de San Angel can be interpreted as Floribbean-Mexican; Blue Fire Grille in the Fort Lauderdale Marriott North has a Floribbean-Mediterranean vibe; Salt Life Food Shack in Coral Springs has a good number of items that qualify; and Sugar Reef Grill, on Hollywood Beach, has had a long run with items that include tropical fish stew in green curry sauce and Jamaican pork loin. Farther west, you can also find Floribbean dishes at the Banyan Restaurant and Bar Zen at the Bonaventure Resort & Spa.

Floribbean – The Future

Is farm-to-table the culmination of Floribbean fare? Has it evolved to the point of disappearance? Or has Floribbean cuisine turned into Asian fusion, served at swank beach establishments such as Tsukuro?

Perhaps we should define Floribbean, and search for it, based on what it isn’t, as Bennett suggests.

“What Floribbean is not is a cuisine that is solely based on the ideals of a singular chef as it was in 1995. Now Floribbean cuisine is more an ideal rather than an unusual ingredient vat,” he emphasizes. “In Broward, one must look at the dining public to foresee if the Floribbean cuisine we once knew will continue to flourish. Our dining clientele has so drastically changed in the last decade there cannot be a discussion about its future without evaluating the clientele of Fort Lauderdale. Since Fort Lauderdale is a family-centric metropolis, so will be restaurant menus. Restaurants need to serve family-friendly food, so Floribbean cuisine is not seen as regularly as it once was.”

Or maybe we should acknowledge that it has simply been absorbed into the current food culture. In a way, it seems that Floribbean has become an influence all of its own. And for those willing to do a little research, that’s acceptable. As Max, who has himself gone on to other climes with his DJM restaurants in the Midwest and West, notes: “I think if you looked at a lot of the local chefs’ menus you could pull off one or two things that would classify as Floribbean, but I don’t see that many going fully in that style. It’s almost become a part of the menus like Italian tomato [and mozzarella] salad or Caesar salad.”

But in another light, it looks like Floribbean cuisine has been assimilated – which means its destiny as a regional cuisine lies in the hands of a new generation of chefs, much like the ones who created it in the first place.
– See more at: http://flmag.com/features/tropical-subtropical#sthash.lgHIEsHC.dpuf¬

These Summer Cookbooks Will Make the Good Life Even Better ~because they are healthy recipe books.

June 09,

Summer cookbooks are fanciful creatures — high on whimsy and shamelessly devoted to making a good life better. For some that means lingering in the farmers markets or gardening with the kids. For others it’s indulging in some usually forbidden pleasures —the icy sweet, the charred and fishy. And for some, it means crossing oceans to sample less familiar fare — without ever leaving the porch. There’s something for everyone, but all go just fine with bare toes and a sun hat.

 

Marinades

The Quick-Fix Way to Turn Everyday Food into Exceptional Fare, With 400 Recipes
by Lucy Vaserfirer

Paperback, 320 pages

marinades
Cookbook of Marinades

Ah, the glow of the charcoal! the ring of the tongs! The romance of grilling may center around a Weber kettle, but some of its most powerful secrets lie in a zip-top bag. Marinades offers page after page of simple, devastatingly effective baths — and just in case you’re not so sure what to do with your Madeira-Thyme Marinade once you’ve got it — afterward points you in the direction of some nice veal rib chops or other appropriate cuts. Lucy Vaserfirer knows that for all the fire and flair at the end, the success of a grilling adventure often starts hours before, with the silent, humble art of wet baths and dry rubs. Chops and medallions, steaks and kebabs — there’s hardly a cut of protein that doesn’t benefit from a good long soak in an emphatically-seasoned liquid. Five minutes of forethought while you’re cleaning up from lunch is all it takes. After that, deliciousness is in the bag. Meanwhile, you can go for a bit of a soak yourself.

 

All Natural SURF Cuisine

A Study in Seafood Cookery
by Michael Bennett

Paperback, 186 pages

 

All Natural Surf Cuisine
An all natural SURF cuisine by Chef Michael Bennett

You will love how the Chef’s narratives are paired up with the recipes. It was like reading a recipe guide and journal from this chef on his journey through cooking seafood. You will also like the idea that the book is broken up into segments like; spices, salads, sauces and entrees. So, besides having 100 or more recipes squeezed into 188 pages, you actually get a multiple of at least 3 times that much if you interchange the sub-recipes into the entree section. This book is of course featuring healthy cooking of Seafood. Since it is a tropical seafood natural cooking cookbook you expect that but, it is also a GLUTEN FREE cookbook. The chef explains that the recipes are mostly grilled so the need for adding wheat flour is not needed. Chef Michael Bennett goes out of his way to create sauces that are as healthy as they are exotic – to pair with the grilled seafood. Once you investigate the recipes you’ll see that this book might be your favorite cookbook for your weekend family dinners.

 

The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook

100 Delicious Heritage Recipes from the Farm and Garden
by Brent Ridge, Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Sandy Gluck

Hardcover, 275 pages

 

Natural veggie cookbook
Vegetables cookbook

The “lifestyle company” Beekman 1802 celebrates the better bits of farm life (fresh eggs and rustic antiques, not manure spreaders and drought). This third Beekman cookbook outing is suffused with nostalgic, agrarian spirit, from its seed-packet endpapers to its fluted-china still lifes. Even if you can’t be bothered to jot down “Fall Recipes From Your Family” into the quaintly lined journal pages provided, the recipes here go a step beyond your average vegetable ode and are worth exploring: green beans with frizzled scallions and ginger, butternut squash crostini with raisins and brown butter. It’s not vegetarian and heirloom vegetables are not actually required — for Beekman 1802 is all about the joys of the harvest, minus the backache from weeding and the gritty fingernails. To be used in a spirit of indolence.

Vegetarian for a New Generation

Seasonal Vegetable Dishes for Vegetarians, Vegans, and the Rest of Us
by Liana Krissoff

Paperback, 272 pages
This third offering in Krissoff’s “New Generation” series may look just like any other vegetable book, but don’t be fooled! Once you get past the bland title and tiny print, there are some surprising, wickedly effective flavor combinations just waiting to be discovered. Brussels sprouts waltz through a tamarind-ginger dressing; a tamari-butter glaze clings to potato wedges. Even the kale chip, which everyone agrees has overstayed its welcome, gets an alluring makeover in coconut. Not every recipe shines with newness — there are fine old friends like miso eggplant and butternut squash soup — but Kassoff never lets comfort devolve into boredom.

 

The Better Bean Cookbook

More than 160 Modern Recipes for Beans, Chickpeas, and Lentils to Tempt Meat-eaters and Vegetarians Alike
by Jenny Chandler

Hardcover, 272 pages
Protein-filled, healthy beans — everybody wants to love them, but why do they make it so difficult? Even perfectly cooked beans can exhaust your appetite long before you get to the bottom of the bowl, for the blandness of a bean calls for aggressive seasoning to blast open its beige palette. Here at last is a bean book that’s more tempting than earnest, brimming with cosmopolitan flavors and vivid photography. Forget about your hippie-era three-bean dip and boiled lentils — in these pages, dosas and tagines, falafels and burritos rub shoulders. Some are generously herbed, some are richly spiced, but all deliver novelistic detail on the plate compared to the leguminous one-liners of years past. The right-minded should be warned that this is no vegan — or even vegetarian — compendium. Decadent beanery is afoot in these pages; proceed accordingly.

Simple Thai Food
Classic Recipes from the Thai Home Kitchen
by Leela Punyaratabandhu

Hardcover, 227 pages
I have generally found “Quick,” “Easy,” and “Simple” to be disingenuous labels when it comes to Thai cookbooks. They might be actually easy, but then they’re likely more Chinese than Thai. Or they’re not actually easy at all — just easy compared to the hours you’d spend pounding spice pastes in the old country, with no electricity or running water. But Punyaratabandhu seems to pull it off, coming up with recipes that are weeknight-doable yet electric with ingredients you can just about find if you try hard (dried shrimp, kaffir lime leaf, palm sugar). Shortcuts or not, they’re desperately delicious. And as to those curry pastes? Store-bought is fine, according to the author. But diehard readers will still find complete recipes for each in the back of the book. In other words, you can have it both ways.