James Beard Semi Finalists Shine in South Florida
On the day before the James Beard Foundation announced its finalists for the coveted “Oscars of Culinary” James Beard Awards, four of the six South Florida semifinalists treated a small group of local journalists and food bloggers to a sample of what makes these chefs so special and recognized by this renowned culinary organization.
It was hosted by Chefs Janine Booth of Stiltsville Fish Bar, Clay Conley of Buccan Palm Beach, Lindsay Autry of The Regional Kitchen & Public House in West Palm Beach and Brad Kilgore of Alter. Fellow nominees, Niven Patel of Ghee and Zak Stern of Zak The Baker could not attend due to prior commitments.
By now, it is no secret that the next day, Chef Bradley Kilgore of Alter was named as the lone South Florida Finalist, making him the first JBFA finalist in a number of years.
But it is the lunch on that day before that stands out for not only its creativity but also the honest comradery of the chefs that leaves the biggest impression. The spirited conversation and laughter among the chefs and the attendees as we enjoyed the delicious menu selections reinforces this unique community of chefs that Miami should be most proud of. No awards are necessary to celebrate Miami's own.
Hosted in the casual ambiance of Stiltsville Fish Bar, we began on our James Beard journey at hi-top tables in the bar feasting on Rising Chef nominee, Janine Booth’s Smoked Fish Dip and Crispy Coconut Shrimp. The delicately kataifi wrapped large shrimp with a key lime dipping sauce is one of the favorite starter menu items.
Moving into the dining area, we were first served a large family style portion of Chef Janine’s Cobia Tiradito, thinly sliced mild white fish in an aji amarillo, cilantro and lime sauce and topped with ripe avocado. The thinly sliced fish was very fresh, and the avocado added a nice touch.
Best Chef: South nominee, Chef Clay Conley presented the next colorful and very flavorful dish, an Octopus Tabbouleh, chock full of tender grilled chunks of octopus, grape tomatoes, chickpeas, parsley, and mint. The use of fresh, local ingredients was obvious.
Top Chef alum and Best Chef: South nominee, Lindsay Autry next dazzled us with what she described as the perfect “picnic lunch”, Cold Fried Chicken, and early spring vegetables like snow peas, radish, grape tomatoes, peas lightly dressed with a lemon pecorino dressing. And it came with a spicy hot sauce to dip that crispy chicken into.
It was accompanied by Chef Janine’s skillet Sweet Corn Bread with buttermilk cream and scallions and to add another level of decadence topped with a poached lobster tail. This is a dish one does not easily forget and should never be passed on when visiting Stiltsville.
The final taste came courtesy of Best Chef: South nominee, Chef Brad Kilgore, and it was the perfect smoky and sweet bite of Pressed Bacon in miso-butterscotch topped with Moroccan olive and dots of smoked banana purée.
It offered a nice balance of the gutsy pork belly with a sweet topping.
Dessert was a trio right off the Stiltsville menu and included a Warm Blueberry Pie with lemon basil ice cream, a Gooey Chocolate Cobbler with passionfruit ice cream and a Banana Cream Pie served with a toffee sauce in a glass jar and topped with a chocolate wafer, and caramelized banana slices.
The final James Beard Foundation Award winners will be announced on May 7th at the black tie gala in Chicago and you can be sure our fingers will be crossed that Chef Brad Kilgore will FINALLY bring a Beard Award home to Miami!