Best of Miami 2014: Here are Some of the People That Made Food Great
The 2014 edition of Best of Miami is live and it's filled with over 300 of our favorite restaurants, bars, shops...and people.
When you think about it, the entire issue is about people. After all, for every delicious burger or soul-satisfying cafe con leche, there's a person lovingly creating it. We've paid homage to some of the most creative people behind the bar and the line in our Best of issue. Read on as we profile some of the best and brightest people responsible for your meal.
See also: Best of Miami 2014
It's May 4, 2014, and Zak Stern, standing atop a wooden counter in his brand new, gleaming white Wynwood bakery, is giving a godawful speech. He begins to talk about the challenges he and his wife, Batsheva Wulfsohn, have overcome, only to interrupt himself every time a familiar face passes through the bakery's open bay door. Zak the Baker, as he is known, smiles and stutters on his way to eventually thanking nearly everyone in the room. But not a person in the audience is put off by his address. First of all, their mouths are stuffed with delicious sourdough bread. Second, the speech is vintage Stern: Goofy, honest, and -- like his loaves -- all natural. It's been a decade since Stern dropped out of college to travel the world, along the way learning how to farm, bake, and make cheese in far-flung locales such as India, Sweden, France, Israel, and Italy. In 2011, he moved to Miami and began using the traditional methods he learned overseas in baking. He rented a shop in Hialeah and sold his loaves to heavyweights such as Steven Perricone and Michelle Bernstein. Soon his bread was in sandwiches at Panther Coffee and on charcuterie plates at Oak Tavern. But none of his past success compares to opening a bakery in the most bustling neighborhood in town. He now has his own mixer and oven, capable of churning out 140 loaves per hour. Tomorrow, Wynwood will wake up to the smell of sunflower and sesame, fennel and rye, olive and za'atar, walnut and whole wheat. So we can forgive Zak the Baker this Sunday evening as he struggles through his inaugural speech. Besides, it's not like we've got anything to say. Our mouths are stuffed with sourdough.
Courtesy Bombay Sapphire
There are many terms for the person who crafts your cocktail: Mixologist, bartender, barkeep. But it's best to just call Julio Cabrera a cantinero, the Cuban term for professional bartender. The word is romantic, conjuring up a sepia-toned image of a gentleman who prides himself on making the perfect drink for his guests at the Regent Cocktail Club; a man who believes that working a bar is a noble profession that requires the skills of historian, scientist, mathematician, chef, and psychologist, all in one. Julio Cabrera is all of that and more. This cantinero, in the classic sense of the word, is a master of all trades. When he's not posing for GQ or winning awards such as Most Imaginative Bartender from Bombay Sapphire's national competition, he's conducting pilgrimages to El Floridita Bar in Havana, where another cantinero, Constantino Ribalaigua, made daiquiris for a writer named Ernest Hemingway. "Bartender," "cantinero," whatever you want to call him, the dapper Cabrera is the epitome of what a master of his craft should be: A man who elevates his field by paying tribute to those before him and serving as a mentor to those coming up.
Courtesy Hector Torres
When Jose Mendin and his partners opened Pubbelly in 2010, it was love at first sight for Miami. After all, who wouldn't fall head over heels for a chef who specializes in all things porcine? Unlike say, your first boyfriend, Mendin didn't become lazy with your adoration. Like a suitor who sends flowers and remembers your birthday, Mendin constantly works to keep the fire burning, creating memorable bites at Pubbelly Sushi and cooking perfect slabs of beef at PB Steak. Then there are his collaborations at the Pubbelly Group's other restaurants. His efforts paid off with a James Beard nod in 2014 and various other accolades, including a People's Best New Chef nomination from Food & Wine. Now Mendin is getting all continental with the highly anticipated opening of L'echon Brasserie, where he will offer his interpretation of classic French bistro fare. Jose Mendin is the gift that keeps on giving.
Most Miami restaurateurs are lost in space. Suffering from delusions of grandeur, they quickly overextend themselves. Like solar systems, they expand beyond the bounds of their own gravitational pull. The farther the food orbits from its star, the colder and blander it gets until, finally, flavor goes hurtling off into space like Sandra Bullock in Gravity. But all is not lost. Like a culinary George Clooney, Andres Tovar is here to rescue Miami from the flavorless abyss. Tovar opened Miami's most succulent restaurant two years ago. Initially called Con Sabor a México Carnitas Estilo Michoacán, the Calle Ocho eatery had a complex name but a simple mission: Delicious tacos. Now renamed Viva Mexico, the restaurant has propelled Tovar from secret genius to standard-bearer for Miami's burgeoning slow-food movement. Instead of opening more stores to maximize his profit, Tovar partnered with Pancho Taco to take his meat to the masses. How many thousands of hipsters have been drinking at Wood Tavern and suddenly catch a whiff of carnitas on the evening breeze? How many have been able to resist? Tovar has won the town's taste buds without store openings or promotional schemes.
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