Short Order Award winners
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Coroebus, a cook from the city of Elis, was the star of the first Olympics, held in 776 B.C. The original Oscar and Emmy respectively went to Wings (Best Picture) in 1927 and Shirley Dinsdale (Most Outstanding Television Personality) in 1949. The Boston Red Sox nailed the inaugural World Series (1903), the Philadelphia Warriors took the initial NBA crown (1947), and the Green Bay Packers hoisted the trophy at Super Bowl I (1967). Add this to the list: Michy's and Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill were the big winners at the first annual Short Order Awards held last week at Miami New Times' Iron Fork extravaganza.
They were chosen this way: Local food bloggers, personalities, writers (including me), and chefs voted on a list of nominees for the six categories listed below. Then readers — more than 500 of them — voted. Some results were predictable. The biggest upset was in the Best Pastry Chef category, where Hedy Goldsmith, the odds-on favorite, didn't even come close. Here's how it went down:
BEST RESTAURANT: Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill. It's a landslide: Sugarcane's 220 votes left Michael's Genuine Food & Drink (132) and Palme d'Or (108) in the dust; Hakkasan, Zuma, Eos, and Naoe were way, way behind. Part of Sugarcane's impressive showing can likely be attributed to the strong social network the restaurant has built. But the hip and happy atmosphere, boisterous bar scene, boldly flavored cuisine, and reasonable prices have made Sugarcane a winner in just about everyone's book. Chef de cuisine Timon Balloo — another Short Order Award victor — judiciously juggles three distinct menus: raw bar, robata grill, and small plates of globally inspired snacks. And he does so with a light, minimalist hand that turns out delicate dishes, whether they be hamachi crudo with lava salt, grapefruit, and avocado from the raw bar; chicken yakitori from the robata grill; or steamy white pork buns with apple kim chee and cilantro from the small plates kitchen. Most of Sugarcane's items go for $10 or less, which also helps make this restaurant the people's choice.
BEST CHEF: Michelle Bernstein (Michy's, Sra. Martinez). Bernstein rather handily won this category, her 170 votes easily beating Michael Schwartz's 109, Doug Rodriguez's 107, and Philippe Ruiz's 95. Dewey LoSasso held down the middle with 45 votes, but there was another big drop-off between Dewey and the bottom — Norman Van Aken (20), Allen Susser (18), and Pascal Oudin (14). Although we're talking about a very small sampling, these numbers strongly suggest that the old guard — the pioneering chefs who stamped South Florida cuisine onto the national menu — is facing the same dilemma as aging actors, athletes, and rock stars: They can still bring something to the table, and are respected, but they are clearly no longer driving the scene.
Bernstein, on the other hand, is very much in the driver's seat. It didn't happen overnight: Before reaching the highway to fame, she put in more than a decade of hard road work — at Tantra, Red Fish Grill, the Strand, and Azul. By the time she started her own restaurants (Michy's in 2005 and Sra. Martinez in 2008), she was in high gear.
She is no stranger to accolades. Besides copping the coveted James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef, she has also been voted "One of the 15 Top Latinas in the Nation" by Latina magazine and among the "Top 10 Jewish Women in America" by Jewish Woman International Federation. Plus, it is rumored that France is set to name Bernstein one of the "Top 10 American Women With a French First Name." So now she can tuck that Beard trophy in a drawer and proudly display her well-deserved Short Order Award instead. After all, lots of chefs have Beards, but Bernstein is the recipient of the first and thus only SO Award for Best Chef ever given.
BEST UP-AND-COMING CHEF: Timon Balloo (Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill). Balloo simply blew away the competition — 270 votes to the 80 of runnerup Simon Stojanovic (AltaMare). Born to Chinese and Trinidadian parents, Balloo learned the ropes in the kitchens of Allen Susser, Tim Andriola, Kris Wessel, and Michelle Bernstein before working stints at SushiSamba in New York, Miami's celebrated but short-lived molecular La Broche, and Domo Japones. But it is as chef de cuisine of Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill that he has finally entered center stage. Our voting results, as well as the immense popularity of Sugarcane, seem to indicate he has made the most of being in the spotlight. Balloo and others in this category (Stojanovic; Jeff O'Neill from the Villa; Brandon Whitestone of Chef Allen's; and Jeremiah Bullfrog from Gastropod) will be the ones responsible for keeping Miami gastronomically relevant in the years to come. Judging by the food Balloo creates at Sugarcane, we think his future looks bright.
BEST PASTRY CHEF: Vanessa Paz (Michy's). Every good awards ceremony needs a shocking upset, and we sure got one here: Paz received 213 votes, 112 more than runnerup Oliver Rodriguez from Palme d'Or. Hedy Goldsmith (Michael's Genuine Food & Drink), the only overwhelming favorite in any of our categories, received just 55 votes. "Keep it simple and delicious, and you can't go wrong," the Puerto Rican-born Paz says. Her comforting treats are often modern twists on American classics, whether it's deep-fried apple pie with vanilla-toffee ice cream and apple-cider caramel, or bread pudding with cognac, chocolate chunks, raisins and orange rind. They are indeed simple, delicious, and, according to our readers, the very best desserts out there.
BEST RESTAURANT PLATE: Lechón asado (El Palacio de los Jugos). In a victory for common sense and the common man, roast pork served in a Styrofoam container has been deemed preferable to any swank dish from our plethora of white-tablecloth establishments. El Palacio de los Jugos' lechón asado fairly easily cruised to this populist win. Richard Hale's pork buns at Sakaya Kitchen came in second (82 votes to Palacio's 101); roast chicken with truffle potatoes at Sugarcane came in third (77). The Forge's lobster PB&J, Naoe's bento box, and Eos's smoked octopus salad rounded out the list. But the humble lechón asado, with crisp pig skin atop moist, mojo-marinated meat, proves that great food is great food regardless of cool or the value of the crockery. That the hefty portion of victorious pork plated with mounds of rice, beans, and yuca sells for less than $8 will serve notice to other restaurateurs: Tasty fare doesn't have to cost a fortune.
BEST MIXOLOGIST: Elad Zvi (Living Room at the W South Beach). In the closest of all contests, Zvi (94 votes) squeaked by Ally Plotkin of Mercadito (92) and David Ortiz of Club 50 at the Viceroy (89). Zvi might not be a household name, but folks sure know about him at the Living Room. The Israeli-born mixologist has lived and poured in the United States for more than a decade, along the way creating cocktail menus for the Gansevoort Miami Beach, Social Miami, O Asian Grill, and Domo Japones. He has been at the W since the development of the Living Room, where he also experiments with avant-garde concoctions at Bar Lab — a beverage consulting service he cofounded with Gabriel Orta. Zvi earned a reputation for crafting beautifully balanced cocktails using fresh ingredients, exotic herbs and spices, and intriguing infusions. He received a 2007 James Beard Award for his mixology talents, and now, no doubt representing the pinnacle of his career, Zvi takes home the Short Order Award for Best Mixologist.
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