It's hard to figure out exactly what some of the food world's highest honors mean. When it comes to Michelin stars, the descriptions in the French tire company's guide — which lest we forget was launched in 1900 to incentivize greater car use — are no exception. One star indicates "a very good restaurant in its category." Two mean "excellent cooking, worth a detour," while three stars denote "exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey."
Opaque as these descriptions might be, there's an expectation these days, given the gastronomic world's focus on agriculture and local ecosystems, that restaurants of this caliber will serve as an example for others, particularly when it comes to sourcing ingredients. Fabio Trabocchi's recently opened Fiola, a sister restaurant to his Michelin-starred Washington, D.C., flagship, should be no exception. Pristine seafood is flown in from around the world. But the menu, for the most part, seems to ignore Florida agriculture.
The only dish where that might not be the case is the salad called "colors of the garden" ($20). Its blend of biting Italian radicchio and arugula with tart soy, radishes, and pink apples creates an astonishing flavor contrast that many cooks have trouble coaxing out of vegetables. A scattering of edible flowers and a long, crisp plank of toasted flatbread topped with swirls of creamy La Tur cheese make for an appealing presentation.
When New Times spoke with Trabocchi for this week's review of Fiola, he wasn't able to immediately name any Florida farms the restaurant is working with. Some days later, a communications firm working for the restaurant said produce was supplied by Loxahatchee's Swank Specialty Produce. The only problem: Farm owner Jodi Swank said she'd never heard of Fiola and launched into a frustration-fueled diatribe that's been building for years.
"I'm so tired of people calling themselves farm-to-table and they go to Sysco or Cheney Brothers or something like that," she said. "They get away with murder, these chefs. It's not even a joke; it’s really a serious situation."
Chefs and restaurants lying about using local produce is nothing new. Last year, Tampa Bay Times food critic Laura Reily's "Farm to Fable" was a stark reminder of just how many restaurants regularly call distributor- supplied ingredients of unknown source "local."
"If these chefs didn't have farmers, they'd be nowhere, and we don't want to be rock stars. We work hard to produce an amazing product for the community," Swank said. "They think they rule everything, and some of them are really good and they deserve the credit, [but] the food can only taste as good as it's grown."
Earlier this week New Times reached out to Trabocchi, who seemed to say there must have been some miscommunication.
"That farm is on a short list of who we have been recommended to work with; we're establishing contact with them as we speak for product availability," Trabocchi wrote in a text message. "We always support local farmers in search of great local ingredients."
Indeed, that same day Swank said she received a text message from Fiola's executive chef Michael Fusano — who will captain the ship once Trabocchi returns to D.C. — requesting a product list. The farm's first delivery to the restaurant is set for Friday.
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Just how and why this confusion happened is unclear. Fiola is still in its early days, and we'd like to think a chef with Trabocchi's reputation and experience would ensure that any communication about food sourcing is accurate.
Of course, working with local producers isn't easy. It's more costly for restaurants and more challenging, given the seasonality of many ingredients. If it proves too difficult, Swank has a simple solution.
"If restaurants are going to use my name, do it or pay me. I'll gladly let them use it if they pay me," she joked. "If they did, I would be rich, and I wouldn't have to work so
Fiola. 1500 San Ignacio Ave., Coral Gables; 305-912-2639; fiolamiami.com