|Thanksgiving noms for me. I could eat a delicious veggie burger every day.|
Leave it to me to attend a food festival one week before Thanksgiving. And in 2015 -- about a year since I stopped eating anything with fur or feathers -- the only turkey I'm going to like is the one who earns the presidential pardon.
If Thanksgiving is about expressing gratitude, then I had no problem nourishing my body with a cornucopia of vegetarian goodness just before the holiday; in less than a year of consciously enjoying a plant-based diet, I lost nearly 80 pounds. And for this, I’m very grateful!
The festival, which humbly planted a seed last year under a single tent in Midtown, sprouted and grew into a multi-day series of events, featuring a first-ever Veggie Burger Battle, which I attended, along with a day-long fair at Mana Wynwood.
So, dear readers, since I'm the kind of crazy foodie who can spend ten minutes describing the taste of one of those sweet tango apples that are in season right now – I actually did this the other day – I’ll offer you a sampler platter of #vicequeenkitchen favorites instead to whet your appetite.
VEGGIE BURGER BATTLEThe chic but casual evening outdoors at the Eden Roc made for a vibrant affair. There were so many restaurants vying for top plant-based burger, I couldn't even try them all as I had to pace myself. If you had ever wanted to take a crash course in becoming a veggie burger connoisseur, this was it.
Guests had a chance to vote for their favorites in a people's choice competition. A panel of judges cast their votes as well. The panel included an old blog buddy who turned his love of burgers into a little empire: the Miami legend himself, Burger Beast!
At first, I sought the burger that tasted most like an original all-beef patty. But all of the culinary interpretations were so good, it was hard to choose.
|Chef Daudi MClean of 2 Good Veggie Kitchen, based in Los Angeles, put on quite a show while he grilled up my favorite with vegan bacon.|
|The people's choice winner: Green Bar and Kitchen from Fort Lauderdale. I also loved the crunchy and spice pickled green beans. At first, I thought they were cornichons. I asked them to hurry up and open a second restaurant in Miami. Their pumpkin soup is something else.|
|No puede ser! Miami's Pincho Factory wowed the Cuban in me with its black bean burger sandwiched inside a perfectly crispy tostón (fried plantain). Mi gente, a tostón is something so easy, but not everyone gets it right. They did.|
|Chef Todd Erickson of Haven Kitchen + Lounge won the judge's choice. I didn't get to try it, but now I've got a good excuse to pay a visit to this chic South Beach establishment.|
More photos on Flickr.
FESTIVAL DAYI thought two hours was enough to cover this event. Boy, was I wrong. Dozens of vendors featured not only food but also health, wellness, books and even gardening booths. Guests speakers took to two different stages. Next year, I'm making a day of it.
Not only did the festival celebrate South Florida's farm to table movement, it also highlighted entrepreneurs on the vanguard of Miami's healthy cuisine options. I met several mom-and-pop entrepreneurs who've made the leap from "I'm cooking this at home because I can't find it anywhere else," to "now I'm selling this at Whole Foods." Eating local by locals never tasted so good. Eating local by locals who use local ingredients? Even better.
I'm sure every single person manning a booth in the cavernous space of Mana Wynwood worked very hard. But when I asked for a smile -- if it wasn't already there -- I got one. And that's the feeling I walked away with: people are just happier when they eat consciously.
|The first dish and smile of many food rounds: chef Assia Dahrouch of Miami's Lemoni Café with a light and fresh quinoa tabouli.|
|I just love these guys, who are based out of Broward. Heck, even if you eat meat, you'll still love their meat-free sausages and dairy-free cheeses, which are serious morsels of yummy. I can't wait for Whole Foods or Fresh Market to start stocking up on Atlas Meat Free deli products.|
|What's nicer than a London expat making you a Bombay Sapphire and tonic? Bespoke tonic made from scratch with heavenly botanical elixirs made of bergamot, fennel and more. I didn't see any wine at the festival, but this libation was perfectly refreshing. Put Gary Hayward on my list of favorite traveling bartenders.|
|I first tried Miami-based Chef Christy's raw sweet treats at a friend's vegan potluck. Mark my words: you won't miss anything cooked when you stick one of these addictive, mouth-watering bites in your mouth. Put them on your shopping list.|
|Mr. Green Dean of the vegetable farm in Homestead. I wasn't kidding about snacking on arugula. Another festival guest and I were sampling the locally grown greens like kids at a candy store, including the sorrel. Fancy that: greens that actually taste like something. Put it on my plate! I've actually ordered from their weekly offerings. Folks, there is absolutely nothing better for your kitchen than calling up a farmer and asking: "What've you got this week?"|
More photos on Flickr.
MIAMI: IT'S NOT JUST CONDOS
My friend and food blogger extraordinaire Stephanie Quilao of @farmtofabulous, who covers many food-related topics including the San Francisco healthy eats and green living scene, told me over the phone that she'd wish the bay area had a similar festival. "How's that possible?" I asked. "Isn't California the mecca for healthy eating?"
My theory: maybe it's because healthy eating has become so second nature over on the west coast that a festival isn't even necessary to raise awareness about plant-based living. But maybe it also means that Miami's doing right by its fruits and veggies, too.
I cook like mad and love to share my passion about food. Follow the #vicequeenkitchen tag.
DISCLOSURE I attended the festival events on a press pass. All opinions my own, as always.