Saturday night, 19 chefs came together at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival's Croquetas and Champagne event to reinterpret Miami's favorite finger food: the croqueta.
Hosted by superchef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and curated by resident Burger Beast Sef Gonzalez, the event is a far cry from your primo's birthday party. Instead of a cafecito or a can of Coke to accompany the Cuban delicacy, Henriot champagne flowed across Palm Court's lavish outdoor mall in the fashionable Design District. The night's play on high and low cuisine screamed "Only in Miami."
Traditional Cuban chefs Melissa Elias of Latin America Cafe & Bakery and Eileen Andrade of Islas Canarias and Finka Table & Tap represented with tried-and-true ham and bacalao flavors.
Others, such as Vongerichten's Market at Edition, experimented with nontraditional shapes and flavors. The restaurant's black truffle and fontina croqueta was in a smaller spherical shape, but oozed with flavor.
Food truck favorite Ms. Cheezious's Brian Mullins even created a croqueta grilled cheese. "This will be the best thing you taste all night," Mullins said as he handed out sandwich samplers.
Upon entering, attendees were given chips to vote for their favorite croqueta. The competition was tough and the tension palpable. "We wanted to make pure deliciousness; our inspiration is to win," said Greg Brannon of Market at Edition.
By the end of the night, the votes were tallied, and upscale attempts couldn't sway lifelong connoisseurs. Heirs to the croqueta kingdom, the Islas Canarias/Finka family took home the grand prize, a deluxe Henriot champagne bottle.
The Andrade sibings, Jonathan and Eileen, are the chef-owners of Finka Table & Tap. They've been eating croquetas since birth. "My grandma and mom came up with the recipe, and it's evolved and only gotten better," Eileen Andrade says. "My grandfather passed away this year, and we make sure everything he passed on to us is made with the same passion and orgullo. The recipe is very delicate."
The traditional ham croquetas, along with a croqueta pizza and other modern interpretations, are served at Finka, the siblings' Cuban-Korean fusion restaurant in Kendall. "This win is dedicated to our abuelo who started it all," Jonathan Andrade said.
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As chefs turned off their fryers, the rest of the night was spent savoring flan while local Latin band Suenalo performed rumbas and Afro-Latin funk. The sold-out crowd disfrutó sipping, munching, and dancing.