For years, Fort Lauderdale was a beautiful beach resort town, known best for spring break and a casual, laid-back atmosphere — and the casual, laid-back dining to match it. That meant that locals on the hunt for a good meal would often travel to Delray Beach or Miami. It's only in the past few years that Fort Lauderdale's dining scene has come into its own with restaurants like S3, 3030 Ocean, Steak 954, and Hardy Park Bistro serving thoughtful dishes.
The restaurant scene is thriving so much that South Beach Wine & Food Festival is hosting its own Taste Fort Lauderdale series with eight celebrity-studded dinners, parties, and brunches. I sat down with three of Broward's hottest chefs (and SoBeWff participants), Michael Bloise (Ocean 2000 at the Pelican Grand Beach Resort), Alex Becker (Kuro), and Chris Miracolo (S3), to talk about how the Fort Lauderdale food scene has evolved and what's in store for the future.
New Times: The South Beach Wine & Food Festival is expanding its reach to Fort Lauderdale. What do you think that says for the Fort Lauderdale restaurant scene?
Miracolo: I think it brings more legitimacy to the local dining scene. Right in the middle of the expanse between [Miami's] Design District to Delray Beach, there has been a void of what you could call credible cuisine. For years, It's been a corporate-dominated landscape. I think the festival brings attention to the talent in this town.
Bloise: A lot of consumers and media don't realize how much talent and how many good restaurants we have in Fort Lauderdale. The problem might be that there was no Fort Lauderdale Vice television show. There never was MTV Fort Lauderdale Cribs. During the late '90s and early 2000s, Miami turned into a place of glitz and glamour. Palm Beach was always like that. Then there's Fort Lauderdale; that's always been a more conservative market.
Miracolo: Now we've got Hiltons and Starwoods; we're getting a different type of clientele. We're more a martini demographic, but we can still offer substance without being pretentious.
Becker: I think we are coming into our own as a dining destination. Chefs are starting to understand the clientele, and the clientele, in turn, are open to more options. Now we're starting to be a little more adventurous, and that's making this a better dining scene.
New Times: We live in a beautiful part of the country, but sourcing locally still proves to be a challenge for some restaurants. How do you source your food?
Bloise: The challenges are getting to be a bit easier. I've lived in South Florida since 1995, and you just have to find the farmers, and you have to find your vendors. I didn't know they were there right in front of my face at some times. When you start cooking in South Florida, then you start finding the sources. I have two farmers in Central Florida where I get my chickens and pork and lamb from. I didn't even know lambs were being raised in Florida. You have to look for it and you have to talk to other chefs, and that poses a problem, because sometimes we are so busy we don't talk to each other.
Miracolo: With Broward becoming more of a dining area, farmers have more reason to spend extra gas and deliver from Palm Beach and Homestead, because more restaurants are ordering from them.
Becker: I start to see new produce and sources every year. You have to realize that the seasons here are different than any other place. The summers are barren, and the winters are fruitful. It's about finding systems that work.
New Times: The South Beach Wine & Food Festival features many celebrity chefs. Do you think Food Network programming and Top Chef has given people more interest in food and maybe allowing them to explore different experiences?
Miracolo: These shows help educate the public and open people up to new things. It's giving us a grander stage in which to show off our craft.
Becker: These shows have brought more ingredients and different styles of cuisine to people, so when they go out to eat, they'll be able to show a little more interest in new and different items.
New Times: Some of the celebrity chefs participating in the Fort Lauderdale events include Robert Irvine, Scott Conant, Geoffrey Zakarian, Marc Vetri, and Todd English. Do you ever get nervous cooking for big names like that?
Miracolo: You can cook for the president, but when you cook for other chefs, it's completely different. You want to really be on your game when you cook for your peers. A good thing to do is reach into your repertoire and find something you've had great success with. Then try to reinvent it. We want to put our best foot forward every day, but that's a night when you definitely want to knock it out of the park.
New Times: If you could custom-design a South Beach Wine & Food Festival event, what would it be, and what celebrity chefs would you invite as a cohost?
Bloise: I would have some kind of Asian-street-food event. If someone gave me five grand and said go somewhere with it, I would go to Vietnam and eat. I'd ask Anthony Bourdain to cohost.
Becker: I'd stick to Japanese food. That's what I do and what I enjoy. I'd bring in some of my chef friends from around the country, and we'd have a great time cooking and eating together.
Miracolo: I'd have to say that I would love to cook with Alice Waters. I love her food philosophy. I'd source local produce and get beef from Clewiston and just make a good Florida dinner on the plate.
Alex Becker will cohost the New Style Remix Dinner with Justin Warner at Kuro at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Saturday, February 27, from 7 to 10 p.m. with an afterparty from 10 to midnight (tickets cost $200 for the dinner, $95 for the afterparty).
For more information on the Taste Fort Lauderdale series or to purchase tickets, visit sobefest.com.
Read the full article as appeard in New Times November 13, 2015 at BrowardPalmBeache.com
Story and Photo by Laine Doss