Forget the James Beard Awards. Miami's own celebration of culinary excellence, Johnson & Wales University's Zest Awards, shines a spotlight on our local chefs, restaurateurs, and culinary innovators.
Created in 2012, Zest gets more prestigious each year, and winning is a big achievement for the professionals singled out for their excellence and creativity. This year's award recipients were chosen by a panel of judges including Veritage Miami director Lyn Farmer, event planner Susan Gladstone, Yvette Mansanet of Nestlé Waters, and Bruce Ozga, dean of culinary education at Johnson & Wales University. Farmer, who pulled double duty as master of ceremonies, explained that the decisions were often difficult given the talent of the nominees.
This year, eight awards were presented. In addition, Rev. Ronald Brummitt was honored with the Community Leader Award for his role as president of Miami Rescue Mission.
The Zests also featured the Eaters' Choice award, where the public was invited to vote on the most iconic and memorable food moment in Miami's culinary scene this past year. Moments included the closures of Hy Vong and Fox's Sherron Inn, the emergence of Doral and Westchester as dining destinations, and Univision's Maria Antonieta Collins giving empanadas to the popes. The winner was Wynwood's the Lunchbox, for being Miami's first zero-waste restaurant.
Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill's Timon Balloo took home two awards, for Culinary Innovator and Best Restaurant.
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Best Boutique Restaurant honors went to R House. Chef/owner Rocco Carull confided that he was running late and almost didn't make the ceremony. Celebrating with a toast with husband Owen Bale, the chef was clearly glad he rushed over in time to pick up his award.
Brad Kilgore's innovative Wynwood establishment, Alter, received the Zest for Best New Restaurant. Kilgore, who, along with Sugar Yummy Mama's Giselle Pinto, also received an alumni award in a separate ceremony Monday, is proud to be graduate of JWU. "The greatest part is that I didn't attend the campus here in Miami. I attended Denver. For Dean Bruce Ozga and JWU Miami to embrace me as one of their own, it shows the pride of the school, and I'm proud to be a part of it."
Other Zest recipients were Matador Room (Best Bar/Lounge), Timo (Best Wine Program), and Antonio Bachour (Baking & Pastry Innovator).