There is more than one Florida. There’s the Florida of picture postcards, citrus groves, and Disney World. And then there’s Miami, Florida, the sleek city on Biscayne Bay, where your neighbors are as likely to have Cuban or Haitian or Nicaraguan roots as they are those of the American South. In this multicultural city, the food follows suit. It’s easy to find Cuban ropa vieja (braised beef, pepper, and onions) or Jamaican jerk chicken, a mound of good old-fashioned Southern hushpuppies, or a whole fried grouper. And chefs like Michelle Bernstein make it their business to bring it all together in vibrant food that tastes of Miami now.
“We’ve taken a turn from old Florida cuisine, where every dish had to have a mango in it!” says Michelle, whose restaurants Cena (formerly Michy’s) and Seagrape (among others) make her point. Not only does the Miami native mingle Latin and Caribbean flavors with classic French technique on her menus, but she gives her own Argentine and Italian heritage fair play as well.
This quest for more diverse flavors inspired the location for one of our Moveable Feast episodes: the Preston B. Bird & Mary Heinlein Fruit & Spice Park in nearby Homestead, where more than 500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, and nuts from Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America are grown. It provided a lush setting for the feast as well as ingredients for the chefs. Joining Michelle and host Pete Evans to cook were Lindsay Autry, owner of Palm Beach catering company Fin & Feather and Michelle’s longtime colleague; and Cindy Hutson, chef-owner of the island-inspired Coral Gables restaurant Orantique. “There aren’t a lot of ladies cooking down here,” says Michelle, “and I have a tremendous respect for these two. We’ve worked together forever and we share a love of local flavors.”
Strolling the groves of the Fruit & Spice Park with park manager Chris Rollins, Michelle snagged some canistel (eggfruit), which she describes as “very sweet, eggy, and sticky.” Cindy climbed a tree to harvest her own jackfruit (the enormous green fruit with a strong aroma and fibrous interior). “Cindy took that jackfruit and made a pilau that is one of the most addictive things. I have a really sensitive nose, and the smell was amazing,” Michelle says.
Next, a quick trip to Paradise—as in Paradise Farms, also in Homestead, where owner Gabriele Marewski grows tropical fruits, chiles, greens, oyster mushrooms, and a whole lot more. “I always go to Gabriele for my squash blossoms,” says Michelle. Autry chose banana leaves, which she later used to wrap and grill succulent fresh snapper, and okra, charred to perfection as a side dish for the fish.
Michelle took a gamble by choosing to make a dessert of tropical-island-inspired meringue puffs (islas flotantes), starring canistel. “I’ve never made floating islands before,” she says. “But I like to do that when I do TV, to challenge myself; it gets me excited.”
With papaya, lychee (“my favorite fruit!”), Manzano bananas, and edible flowers, she says, “It will look like jewels.”
Gathered for the feast beneath the tropical trees and fragrant plants in the Fruit & Spice Park, guests got a sampling of the literal fruits of the chefs’ labors. “In Miami, our food is fun, modern, and colorful,” says Michelle.“We’re brave with what we have to offer,” and the dishes from this episode are a testament.
Find out when Moveable Feast is showing in your area at FineCooking.tv/schedule.
Chef Michelle Bernstein’s love affair with her hometown encompasses countless places for good eating and good times. Here, five of her favorites:
- At El Palacio de los Jugos, there’s any juice you can imagine. I love how they cut open a coconut and stick a straw in it! And there’s great Cuban food like pulled pork. (elpalaciodelosjugos .com; multiple locations; 786-409-8008786-409-8008)
- Garcia’s Seafood Grille and Fish Market has the best stone crabs in town, when they’re available, along with fried or grilled whole snappers and the creamiest flans imaginable. (garciasmiami.com; 398 NW North River Dr.; 305-375-0765305-375-0765)
- Azucar on Little Havana’s main street turns Caribbean fruit and classic Cuban flavors into amazing ice cream and sorbet. (azucaricecream.com; 1503 SW 8th St.; 305-381-0369305-381-0369)
- Coconut Grove Organic Farmers’ Market is the place for organic fruits and vegetables, fresh treats (I love the coconut water!), and all things vegan. It’s run by Glaser Organic Farms. (glaserorganicfarms. com; 3300 Grand Ave., Coconut Grove; 305-238-7747305-238-7747)
- One of the most beautiful museums is the Pérez Art Museum Miami. Aesthetically, it feels completely open, and the landscape architecture (like the hanging plants in the entryway) makes me swoon. (pamm.org; 1103 Biscayne Blvd.; 305-375-3000305-375-3000)