Michelle Benesch is fighting for South Florida's lettuce.
"Everybody knows California has good lettuce, but so does Homestead. So why does 90 percent of the lettuce we eat come from California and we export most of our lettuce?"
The president of Slow Food Miami, the South Florida chapter of the international nonprofit that started in Italy, is fierce in her mission to promote locally grown food while advocating for what she calls "clean, fair food."
Snail of Approval, now in its seventh year, was launched by Slow Food Miami to help identify chefs who support a sustainable way of life. Participants must present two appetizers and two entrées that are locally sourced and then provide a list of their purveyors, which the organization checks out.
"Our vetting process is thorough. That is how we keep the integrity of our program," Benesch says.
This year's edition will offer 38 tasting stations, including popular restaurants such as Beaker & Gray, Della Bowls, and Glass & Vine. Twenty-two newcomers have signed on, among them Stiltsville Fish Bar — the Sunset Harbour seafood restaurant led by the newly engaged culinary duo Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth, who was a recent semifinalist for the James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year Award.
“It’s an honor to be recognized by Slow Food Miami. Its mission is very much in sync with how Janine and I approach sourcing and cooking," McInnis says.
Guests will be treated to tasting samples while participants compete for the People's Choice award and the judges' Best Bite of the Night, selected by Indulge editor Evan Benn, food writer Victoria Pesce Elliott, and Eater Miami editor Olee Fowler.
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The event will take place at the Palms Hotel & Spa, home to the restaurant Essensia, whose principles are aligned with Slow Food's philosophy. The restaurant offers sustainably produced bottles on its wine list and incorporates herbs from its on-premises garden into many of its dishes.
Benesch is excited that Slow Food's message is getting out. This year is the first time the event is at capacity, and she has had to turn down prospective participants. She has also been concentrating on the next generation of foodies by visiting schools to teach students about locally grown produce.
"Some kids don't realize carrots come out of the ground. And when they see Florida carrots, they shout, 'What? They're flat and purple?' It's a fun conversation."
Slow Food Miami Snail of Approval Tasting Party. 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, March 16, at the Palms Hotel & Spa, 3025 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-534-0505; thepalmshotel.com. Tickets cost $98 via eventbrite.com.