Veritage Miami kicks off this week. Formerly known as the United Way Miami Wine & Food Festival, the four-day event is now its in 19th year. If this is the first time you've heard about it, you have some catching up to do. Luckily, there are plenty of events to get you up to speed.
It starts this Wednesday at Wynwood Walls with a craft beer tasting, which boasts more than 100 craft and microbrew samplings paired with food. Later, there will be a walk-around winetasting at Merrick Park. Indeed, there's something for every palate. But there's more than wine and beer; there's learning too. The highly anticipated Interactive Dinner, taking place Friday, April 11, at the InterContinental Miami, will bring a handful of the Magic City's superlative chefs under one roof to guide 600 hungry guests in making a five-course dinner. Each chef will take the stage to cook one course, while Johnson & Wales culinary students will be the night's sous-chefs and sommeliers, roaming around to help and pairing wine with whatever is cooking.
We asked the participating chefs -- Alberto Cabrera, Cesar Zapata, Giorgio Rapicavoli, Jose Mendin, and Todd Erickson -- to give us a hint about what they'll make, offer advice to participants, and reveal the best cooking advice they've ever gotten.
New Times: Can you hint at what you will make the night of the Interactive Dinner?
Alberto Cabrera (of Bread + Butter): I can tell you it's something from the ocean.
Cesar Zapata (of the Federal): A popular steak dish from the middle of the 20th Century. Her name ends with "Ross."
Giorgio Rapicavoli (of Eating House and Taperia Raca): Unfortunately, we're waiting for the big reveal, but I am making dessert and it does involve maduros.
Jose Mendin (of the Pubbelly Restaurant Group): Hmm. Let's just say a pillowy little Pubbelly classic.
Todd Erickson (Haven): I have been sworn to secrecy in order to keep the menu a surprise for the lucky 750 who got tickets to the big event. I can say it will be very representative of spring, with beautiful seasonal vegetables and bright, crisp flavors.
What's the best cooking advice you can give to everyone participating in the event and in general?
Cabrera: Before you are going to cook -- create something -- go through the process, visualize it. Kinda like Sherlock Holmes does before he kicks someone's ass!
Zapata: Watch your eyebrows, and don't wear too much hair spray. Just kidding. Treat food with love and respect. It will repay you tenfold.
Rapicavoli: Use a recipe as a guideline. Make the food taste the way you want it to, not the way someone else tells you it should taste.
Mendin: To enjoy and have fun, but follow instructions!
Erickson: Don't go too crazy on the wine. The chefs onstage need you to be fairly lucid to execute our menus, and the diners need to be able to eat the food!
The best cooking advice you've ever gotten?
Cabrera: Don't ever be shy to ask questions.
Zapata: Respect your ingredients.
Rapicavoli: Well, when it comes to running a restaurant, the best advice I got was to make your rent in one day's service, especially your slowest night. It's all uphill from there.
Mendin: Always ask why when adding ingredients. You need to understand everything you are doing, and every ingredient should have a clear purpose.
Erickson: Mis en place.
What makes a good cook?
Cabrera: A good cook never lets the situation get the best of him.
Zapata: Willingness -- a willingness to learn and listen, to try, and to fail. Then a willingness to dust yourself off and do it again.
Rapicavoli: I couldn't care less about proper juliennes or if you know what depilaging is. I want a cook who's strong, motivated, and willing to learn -- AKA take a lot of shit.
Erickson: Creativity, determination, thick skin, and big heart.
What's the biggest kitchen don't?
Cabrera: ¡No te creas la ultima Coca-Cola del desierto! Don't think you're the shit because you're a good cook. So was my grandmother, and she was a very humble lady.
Zapata: Complaining. You can call the whinebulance for that.
Rapicavoli: Grabbing a hot pan with a wet towel. That would happen to make steam. Which burns like hell.
Erickson: Don't walk into the kitchen thinking you know everything. Cooking is about learning, interpreting, and expressing. Cooking is art, culture, history, politics, and sociology. If you're not learning along the way, you're doing it wrong.
Any must-have ingredients to always have in stock?
Cabrera: Olive oil.
Zapata: Salt, olive oil, lemon, vinegar, fresh herbs, and lots of butter.
Rapicavoli: Good butter, sesame oil, sherry vinegar, and Jacobsen sea salt.
Mendin: Sea salt.
Erickson: Coarse salt, good vinegar, and fresh thyme.
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Veritage Miami begins Wednesday, April 9, with a craft beer tasting at Wynwood Walls, continues with a fine winetasting at the Village of Merrick Park April 10 and the popular Interactive Dinner at the InterContinental Miami April 11, and ends with an auction and wine dinner on the diamond at Marlins Park Saturday, April 12. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit veritagemiami.com.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha