Thursday, October 29, 2009

Slow Food Miami 2009 annual meeting

Last night was the Slow Food Miami annual meeting. I haven't been to many Slow Food events recently--too many overpriced events [Edit: Actually, "overpriced" isn't an applicable term for an event where some of the entry fee goes to support a non-profit organization--in this case Slow Food Miami's good works in school gardens. I should have said that these were events beyond my ability to afford.] at inconvenient venues with not especially appealing menus. But the annual meeting was being catered by chef Kris Wessel from Red Light about whom I've heard good things and he was presenting a very ambitious spread. I figured it was worth sitting through the convivium business and announcements to check it out.

Trina of was there too and said hello. (I hope it's not inappropriate to say that I liked her dress. Because I did.) She'll likely give you details on the event as an event so I'm going to talk a bit more about the food and my personal take on things. There's also some good coverage on the Miami New Times Short Order blog by Jackie Sayet. She must have been the other gal I saw wandering around taking pictures. I didn't notice what she was wearing.

The food suffered from the usual take-the-chef-out-of-his-kitchen-and-make-him-serve-buffet-style problems (see every other episode of Top Chef for details), but there were certainly some highlights worth pointing out.

On this plate you can see October plum-braised rabbit on the left, boniato (something between a sweet potato and yuca) in the middle, Little Haiti-style goat on the right with butternut squash gnocchi and braised callaloo up top. My favorite here was the callaloo; it's a different sort than what we get in the CSA from Three Sisters Farms with a lighter flavor and better texture, although that may be from the Southern-style braise Wessel gave it.

On this plate are an Apalachicola oyster pie, grass-fed steak tartar and a mysterious seafood dip that wasn't on the menu. I asked the volunteer culinary student from FIU manning the station (who was a dab hand at dishing out the tartar; Look at that perfect quenelle!) but he couldn't tell me anything more. It was really good but the flavors were so well integrated that I hesitate to embarrass myself trying to guess the ingredients. You can also see a bit, in the upper left corner, of a Bloody Mary shot that was bright, fresh and tangy; very nice. There was some buzz in the room about the oyster pie, but personally I found the breading to oyster ratio off and the sprinkling of coarse salt on top overpowering. But it was popular so maybe it was just the one I got.

Next up was a trip to the grain station. From the upper left corner, white and pink lentils, a green lentil salad with wheat grass, cucumber quinoa and Homestead corn and red pepper salad. My favorite of this batch was the corn salad which had a nice combination of fresh flavors.

Local seafood is next with banana leaf steamed mahi mahi over chocolate rice, Haulover snapper over coconut rice and upper Panhandle shrimp in Wessel's signature BBQ sauce. While I liked the balance of citrus and herbal flavors infused into the mahi, I'm a sucker for this sort of Louisiana-style BBQ shrimp. I could eat them by the bucketful, but I just got the one. The very last one in the place, actually.

And if that wasn't enough, more meat. That's a guava-glazed pork rib (not on the menu so I can't give details) and a slab of grass fed prime rib. The rib looks burnt, but that's just my lousy white balance since I tried to get in the glass of calabazza pumpkin soup in the back. It was actually very nicely caramelized and perfectly cooked through. Best savory dish of the night.

In the back you can also see the place setting. Here's a better look:
The little plastic containers are full of microgreen basil and amaranth grown by Thi Squire of C & B Farms who came by the table where we talked about varieties and uses of callaloo--more than you think on both counts. There's also bottles of Italian specialty vinegars which don't really fit into the event theme, but the head of the convivium, Donna Reno, must have some connections there as she does as many regional Italian events as ones featuring local cuisine. And there's a centerpiece of local herbs grown by Bee Heaven Farm that we were encouraged to take home and repurpose. I grabbed the basil and a bottle of the pinot grigio vinegar myself and just made a pretty good sandwich featuring both in supporting roles.

After all that food came the businessy bit. Donna introduced the new board of directors including two new positions--a Farm Liaison and a Community Development Director--and the new director of communication, Mandy Baca who happened to be sitting next to me and with whom I had quite an interesting discussion about the state of Slow Flood Miami and where it might be going next. Also, Donna declared herself President for Life and I was the only one who objected. She probably thinks I was just being a jerk, but I think term limits are important, particularly in this sort of small local organization. Also I was kind of being a jerk.

Then Chef Wessel talked about the importance of chefs working with local farmers and taking inspiration from local culture. It was rousing stuff; he should consider doing some lecturing on the topic.

And finally, dessert:
That's, kind of obviously, pecan and key lime pie. The key lime pie I really like. The drizzle of fresh lime juice over top balanced the sweetness of the filling and the loosely whipped cream was a lovely textural contrast to the custard and the crumbly crust.

And with the food gone, the crowd stampeded for the door. You know, coffee would help slow that down. They should have had some coffee. Otherwise, a well-planned and well-executed evening. Everyone involved should be pleased and proud of themselves.


LaDivaCucina said...

Egad, just cuz the food is slow does it have to be ugly? Wow.

I tried to get info about this event from the Coverings people the month before and they send me to the slow food website. They didn't have their website updated with any info about this dinner and it was only a month out so i lost interest and didn't pursue. I guess they are pretty slow to add events to the website as well!

billjac said...

I think it's because it's a buffet that the food's ugly. It was all nicely styled and arrayed out on the tables, but then just plunked on the plates without any opportunity to pretty it up. The crappy photography doesn't help either.

I have no excuses for the Slow Food Miami website, though. But they've got a brand new webmaster who may do a less crappy job keeping it updated.

LaDivaCucina said...

Yeah, you are right, the food presented on the bowls/platters from jackie's post did look pretty good!

It was unfortunate as I checked back on the website several times and it was getting closer to the date and still no info so I didn't bother looking again as I thought I'd been misinformed. You might want to pass that on to them if you can as they are losing membership/business because of that! I really wanted to check this out!

PS: how's the new rice cooker coming along? Did you know you can do quinoa, polenta, etc. in them?

billjac said...

I think the problem is that the details of the events, particularly the menu, come together at the last minute so there's no hard information to update the webpage with. Also, the events tend to fill up even with weak publicity so there's little incentive to put more effort into it.

As for the rice cooker, the long time it takes for the pre-soak and gentle cooking is starting to annoy me. If I want rice for dinner I have to start it up first thing when I get home from work or first thing in the morning if I want to take rice in for lunch.
I can set a timer, but letting the rice soak overnight makes it turn to mush. On the other hand, that means it makes pretty good overnight congee and oatmeal.

I haven't figured out quite the right water ratio for making quinoa, but the batches I've made have still been better than what the old rice cooker turned out. I hadn't thought of trying polenta since that requires such regular stirring. I'll give it a shot.