Taste of the Nation, the Miami blowout that features food and drinks from more than 50 of Miami's best restaurants, returns for its 28th turn around the sun this Friday, June 17, from 7 to 10 p.m.
This year, however, the event that benefits Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry Campaign has a fresh, new location and venue. This year, Taste of the Nation will be held at Soho Studios in Wynwood.
Andy Villabona, Share Our Strength’s Southeast regional manager of culinary events, explains that the Loews Miami Beach, the longtime home of the fundraiser, was undergoing renovations. This gave his team the opportunity to approach the party with fresh eyes locked on Miami's hottest destination neighborhood. "For 27 years, the event has always been in hotels and a bit distant from a major part of the community. The timing has worked to bring the event to the city and showcase it to locals in what is the coolest neighborhood in all of South Florida."
Villabona, who secured the event's 60th participating restaurant minutes before this interview, says the key to the evening's success is attracting the best chefs and restaurants in Miami. "I think a lot of that has to do with how long this event has been going on. It's been nearly 30 years, and we have the help of chef Allen Susser, who has been an adviser and consultant for 28 years. That means there's a familiar face. And while it's a fundraiser, it's also a chance for chefs to hang out with each other and have a really great time."
Participating eateries include Izzy's Fish & Oyster, Le Zoo, Kyu, Quality Meats, the Forge, Zest, Beaker & Gray, Coyo Taco, and the Salty Donut. R House will host the afterparty, where participating chefs can mingle with VIP attendees.
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To help spread the word, some participating chefs, such as Pubbelly's Jose Mendin and Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill's Timon Balloo, initiated the hot pepper challenge by eating the spicy vegetables and then naming other chefs to do the same. So far, about a half-dozen can be found on Facebook and other social media platforms. Says Villabona: "The volunteering committee and I were trying to see how we could build on the chefs and their generosity. One of our committee members thought about the ice bucket challenge. Timon [Balloo] and Diego Oka from La Mar decided to eat a chili pepper and challenge other chefs. We're hoping that it continues and grows at our events across the country."
When all is said and done, behind all the good times lies the real reason Taste of the Nation exists: One hundred percent of the evening's proceeds benefits Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign. According to Villabona, last year's South Florida Taste of the Nation raised enough money to provide about 900,000 meals to children, "so you can say that by supporting Taste of the Nation, you're helping to end childhood hunger across the country."
Taste of the Nation
Tickets cost $125 for general admission and $250 for VIP. VIPs receive early entrance to the event at 6 p.m. and exclusive access to the afterparty at R House. Taste of the Nation is open to guests 21 and older. Visit ce.nokidhungry.org/events/south-florida-taste-nation to secure your place at the festivities.