When Blackbrick's Richard Hales got a call from the James Beard Foundation in New York City to cook for the annual Chinese New Year celebration, he thought they had the wrong number. "I was shocked. I said, 'You know you're calling Miami, and you're in the epicenter of Chinese cuisine in the United States, right?' They said they wanted some excitement. I thought that was cool."
Being asked to participate in any James Beard Foundation event is an honor, but this particular dinner is a special victory for the Miami chef. "Chinese New Year is a big event for them each year." In fact, this celebration of the Year of the Goat was so momentous that Hales enlisted the partnership of some of Miami's best-loved culinary artisans.
On February 19, Chinese New Year, Miami will be in the (Beard) house, represented by Panther Coffee, Wynwood Brewing Company, Azucar Ice Cream Company, JoJo Tea, and Blackbrick. Menus will be designed with artwork by AholSniffsGlue.
Hales explains that, although the foundation has its own coffee and tea sponsors, he wanted to make the evening truly represent the 305 in every detail. "I deal with a lot of really cool people here in Miami."
To accompany the Blackbrick feast -- which includes favorites like General Tso's Florida gator with Peking duck neck skin, dandan noodles, chilled skin-on Hunan chicken thigh with peanuts, and a Blackbrick platter of shrimp wonton-rabbit broth soup, northern Chinese cumin lamb tongue hot pocket, Key West shrimp egg roll with sweet-and-sour pumpkin, char siu pork Parker House roll with hot mustard, and twice-cooked okra -- Wynwood Brewing will serve its award-winning Pop's Porter and Comfortably Numb, custom-made for Blackbrick. "The guys steeped their Rickenbacker Pilsner with Szechuan wildflower peppercorns, dried red chilies, and ginger," Hales says.
"I was real skeptical going in, but the Wynwood guys assured me it was going to be amazing. It was a cool process for me too," Hales adds. "They made these little serums from the ginger and the peppercorns, and we started playing with ratios. We did about seven runs and then it was perfect. It makes your tongue slightly numb. The beer turned out so well that we sold out in three days."
Azucar's Abuela Maria ice cream will be featured as the dessert, along with Wife Hales' fortune cookie and Panther Coffee. JoJo Tea will provide the ever-important tea service with the meal, with Michael Ortiz serving as tea sommelier. Each diner will also go home with a piece of Miami art -- AholSniffsGlue is hand-signing and numbering each menu.
Hales describes the logistics of the event much like a military operation. "We're flying in on the 17th, and we have a commercial kitchen booked for the night. Basically, we'll work straight through for the first 24 hours. We'll do the dinner on Thursday; then Friday morning we're flying back to prep for the 101 Gay Weddings and Chicken Coupe events at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival."
Hales says he's leaving no room for error, going so far as to purchase exact replicas of the China used at the Beard House. "We did a trial run of plating the food. I took pictures, and they'll be taped to the wall. We're all coming together as a team to put Miami in the best light."
If you want to fly in for the event, the Chinese New Year celebration at James Beard House is Thursday, February 19, at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $130 for members and $170 for guests. Tickets can be purchased at jamesbeard.org.