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Founder of Miami Fine Chocolate and Food Show: "Culinary Scene Beyond South Beach Deserves Recognition"

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The Miami Fine Chocolate and Food Show will debut this year at Pinecrest Gardens March 9 through 10. Founder Mario Pi hopes the event -- which will feature small-batch chocolates, artisan cheeses, exotic spices, and charcuterie -- will fill a void in Miami's burgeoning culinary scene.

Part of that, he says, means looking beyond our beaches and exploring the Magic City's mainland.

"Miami is not just Miami Beach. There's a lot more to our city than that," he says. "There's a lot more to our food scene -- more than the hype, more than what you see on TV."

This isn't anything new. Areas with acclaimed restaurants, such as Design District, downtown, midtown, and Wynwood, have been expanding their culinary presence for years.

But Pi's main focus goes further south. "South Miami is full of restaurants that deserve recognition, and our real mission is uncovering those guys," he explains.

He plans on showcasing and granting attention to small, underrated restaurants in the Pinecrest, Coral Gables, and South Miami areas.

"My vision is to address the whole culinary scene in South Florida, because it isn't being completely serviced," he says.

To achieve that goal, the Miami Fine Chocolate and Food Show will feature guided pairing sessions, including trends in beer, wine, spirits, coffees, and teas, with chocolates and cheeses. There will be music and restaurant stands, as well as a live cooking demonstration stage presented by the Miami Culinary Institute.

In a section of the event dubbed "the Miami Fine Food Show," locals such as Spice Galore, a boutique spice and tea shop in South Miami, will display their signature items. Vendors from across the nation will also participate.

The event seeks to distinguish itself from the Annual International Chocolate Festival, which was held at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in January. There will be no hot-dog stands at his inaugural show, Pi says. The Miami Fine Chocolate and Food Show won't be a festival in that sense. There won't be any cotton candy -- just bean-to-bar vendors, such as Flying Noir from Mendocino, California, and other specialty fine-food purveyors.

But it'll take more than just principles for this show to succeed. A fine-food show is only as good as the vendors represented. If Pi gathers a strong group of these so-called underrated, local restaurants, in addition to notable out-of-state vendors, the show might actually contribute to South Florida's culinary ascent.

Tickets to the Miami Fine Chocolate and Food Show are available online: $35 for adults and $10 for children. Each ticket includes 15 sample tickets, which can be redeemed at the event for chocolate, food, and beverage samples.

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