The award-winning chef, TV personality, author and philanthropist will be on the main stage of the 2024 Visit Lauderdale Food & Wine Festival’s Grand Tasting Event on Sunday, Jan. 14. The festival, from Monday, Jan. 8 through Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024, takes place at various locations.
From your personal travels or from other food festivals, does anything stand out to you about how the culinary scene in South Florida has evolved through the years?
It’s gotten bigger that’s for sure. It’s good to see some of the younger chefs coming into their own and doing their thing. I’ve also seen a bunch of chefs who worked with some of my peers coming to the area to plant roots. South Florida is definitely a go-to culinary destination.
Established and new Mexican restaurants in Broward and Palm Beach counties inspire some of the most loyal dining followings in the region. What is it about Mexican cuisine that resonates with people?
Mexican food is made with a whole lot of love; that’s what keeps people coming back for more. The familiarity of it – it’s food you want to share with friends and family. Diners are also more educated about the vastness of Mexican cuisine today. Yes, we’ll always have tacos and salsas, but people are becoming more and more interested in the regionality of Mexican cuisine, which is exciting.
What is the importance to chefs and local restaurants of festivals such as the upcoming Visit Lauderdale Food & Wine Festival that you’re attending?
I think for chefs, it’s a way to get your name out there, to engage with your community and to interact with patrons you might not get to visit when they come to have a meal. For guests, maybe it’s a chance to meet one of your favorite chefs or get to sample dishes from a chef who isn’t local to your market. These festivals are also a great opportunity for young cooks to gain some real, hands-on experience. We’ve had some of our [Aarón Sánchez Impact Fund] scholarship recipients volunteer at culinary festivals in New York City where they attend school and they’ve always loved the experience. For them, they get to meet chefs they admire, get hands-on experience at doing different type of events and network.
What kind of influence does New Orleans have on menus at your restaurants or on your approach to cooking in general?
New Orleans has always been a big part of my cooking because my first mentor, Paul Prudhomme, was born in Louisiana and was all about Louisiana cooking. He shared so much with me about proper seasoning and how flavors develop. While we serve Mexican food at our restaurants, we pay homage to the city by utilizing the best ingredients that are local to us (like Gulf seafood).
Do you have a dish right now that’s particularly joyful for you to prepare or to share with diners?
Albondigas tacos, which are an homage to my grandmother. They’ve been one of my favorite dishes since I was a young kid and it’s always special to share that love with our guests.
When it comes to food pairings with adult beverages, it’s no longer just about wine; spirit pairings with tequila, whiskey, etc. are showing up on menus. Do you have a spirit pairing with one of your favorite dishes that you can recommend?
I’m a big fan of Tequila Cazadores. I like a tequila reposado neat to sip on or I’ll use their tequila blanco in cocktails to go along with dishes. One of my favorite cocktail pairings is carne asada tacos paired with my good friend Manny Hinojosa’s loaded Michelada.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Visit Lauderdale Food & Wine Festival (VLFWF), a week-long series of indulgent and hands-on experiences and innovative culinary concepts.
WHEN: Monday, Jan. 8 through Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024; Grand Tasting, noon, Saturday, Jan. 13 and Picnic in the Park Presented by Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, noon, Sunday, Jan. 14.
WHERE: Various locations with The Grand Tasting and Picnic in the Park at Las Olas Oceanside Park, 3000 E Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
SPECIAL EVENTS AND TICKET PRICES:
- VLFWF Classes and Seminars, starting at $50.
- Grand Tasting, starting at $99
- Picnic in the Park, free admission
- Special events throughout the week