My mother is a vegetable eater. If she didn't like the occasional protein, I'm quite sure she would eat nothing but vegetables. As a result, I grew up hearing, "eat your veggies" quite a bit. So, when I first experienced Dinner In Paradise as part of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in 2009, I knew it would be a perfect gift to fly her down and take her to one.
On April 11th, my Mum and I made the drive from Coconut Grove down to Paradise Farms, an organic farm located in Homestead, Florida, far removed from the bright lights of the city. The weather was not cooperative at first, with blinding rain pouring down on us as we drove South. A recorded voicemail message let us know that the dinner area was under shelter and that the show would go on. Luckily, the rain ceased just as we pulled in to park outside Paradise Farms. A simple sign greets each visitor - Welcome to Paradise Farms - No Meat - No Cigarettes.
The concept of Dinner In Paradise is simple. Chefs from the Miami area are called upon to create a six-course meal using local organic products. Each course is paired with wine, courtesy of Shari Gherman, President of American Fine Wine Competiton & Gold Medal Wine Tour. This dinner featured Jeff McInnis of The Dilido at Ritz Carlton South Beach, Marco Ferraro of Wish at The Hotel, and John Critchley of Area 31 at the Epic Hotel. After a cocktail hour with passed hors d' ouevres, guests are treated to a tour of the farm. Mum loved the tour and was happy to hear that all but one of the flowers that bloomed all over the farm were edible and could be plucked and tasted as we walked the grounds.
Oyster mushrooms growing @ Paradise Farms
The grounds @ Paradise Farms
At the end of the tour we were seated at communal tables of ten for dinner. After exchanging hellos with the rest of our table, we sat silent as Gabrielle gave an introduction to the dinner and the first course made its way to the table. Chef McInnis had prepared fried green tomatoes with local goat cheese cherry tomato jam, seared sheep's milk cheese with chilled watermelon, and farm cheese with roasted beets and honeycomb. Chef McInnis talked of being raised in Florida and gave a shoutout to his brother who was in attendance and also sporting a kickass handlebar 'stache. I love a good cheese course and this one was a great way to start a meal. My favorite was the seared sheep's milk cheese with watermelon. It was incredibly refreshing.
Chef McInnis introduces his first dish
Chef Ferraro's chilled corn soup being plated
Chef Ferraro provided the second dish, a chilled corn soup with corn hash, toasted pine nuts, corn shoots, basil oil, and lemongrass foam. He explained that no cream was added to the soup. Instead, the soup relied on the natural "milk" from the corn along with a minimal amount of butter. The result was absolutely fantastic. I could have devoured an entire swimming pool of this soup. I loved how the textures of the corn and pine nuts worked in this dish. A truly awesome soup.
Course three brought Chef McInnis back to provide us with a coconut crab salad with avocado, grapefruit ginger, and cashew oil (pictured at the beginning of this post). I liked the flavor of this dish when I was able to get a bit of the grapefruit on my fork along with the crab. Chef Critchley came out with the fourth course which was meant as a palate cleanser. A lychee "sponge" with lychee, curry leaf, a farro crisp, and some bee pollen was plated before us. The most interesting thing was the use of the curry leaf, something I'd never had before. This dish was also paired with a 2009 Il Poggio Sangiovese that was my favorite wine of the night.
I think we were all a bit puzzled looking at the menu and not seeing any proteins listed. That was a minor gaffe. The fifth course wasn't just cherry tomato, easter egg radishes, charred green beans, baby carrots, and mixed herbs with tomato dressing. Chef Ferraro informed us that there was also a nice piece of skate involved that somehow got left off of the menu description. The skate was light and flaky and soaked up the flavor of the veggies and dressing nicely. My favorite part of this dish, however, was the cherry tomato. These tiny tomatoes grow on the farm and are so incredibly flavorful. I remembered them from my last Dinner In Paradise and I hope to find out how I can obtain some for home use.
Gabrielle presents the chefs with hats and knives
Chef Critchley finished the meal with a dessert consisting of a rich bittersweet chocolate seasoned with flecks of sea salt and local mango. Wine flowed freely as things began to wind down and Gabrielle thanked everyone for attending and supporting the farm. She also presented the chefs with a Paradise Farms hat and a knife that I forget what the brand was. One lucky guest also won a knife. Though the night got off to a rough start with some rain that had me shaking my fist towards the sky in frustration, it ended up being just perfect. The skies ceased their crying and we got to experience all of what Paradise Farms' Dinner In Paradise has to offer. The dishes were incredibly fresh and filling and the company was great too. Best of all was that I got to spend some nice quality time with my Mum which is something I don't get to do too often (and kudos to her for all of the great pics!). I recommend that anyone who is looking for a different kind of dinner experience to check out next year's Dinner In Paradise series.