South Beach Wine & Food Festival

Michael Schwartz's Farm to Table: Lack of Vegan Food Crushes Dreams

The phrase "farm to table" to me implies lush green produce being wrenched from the ground, maybe run under a garden hose, and then plopped onto your waiting plate.

Apparently, I need to consult my rural dictionary, because what happened to the locally sourced and fresh fruits and veggies between the dirt and guests' mouths at Michael Schwartz's Farm to Table Brunch at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden this weekend rendered them pretty useless to vegans.

Candied kumquats and pistachios sounded fantastic at Tony Maws' Craigie on Main table... until they were smothered with grilled pork belly confit. The organic fingerling potatoes at Centerplate sounded good, until they got adulterated by peppered bacon and Bearnaise sauce. Same with the ruby grapefruit, guava and spearmint they screwed up by plopping on blocks of bleu cheese. At Michael's Genuine Food & Drink's table, radish and celery salad was polluted by smoked fish dip. And on and on.

I know that animals are raised on farms as well. I guess I just expected one of the four starring chefs at the event to offer an exquisite salad or vegetable dish.

Chef Andrea Reusing of Lantern, an Asian fusion restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, offered the closest thing. Constituting the only savory vegetarian option at the event, she served up the icy heirloom tomato soup with shiso salt and wasabi. It was creamy, flavorful and definitely salty with a powerful horseradish kick. I managed to slurp down a few 2 oz. glasses of the stuff, but otherwise I was stuck waiting for the dessert course toward the end of the three-hour meal for another bite of vegan-friendly food.

All the cocktails and wines at the event were of course fair game, so a vegan would definitely have no problem getting drunk. Of particular interest was the 3 Amigos tequila Fire and Ice cocktail, an organic pineapple margarita with a jalapeno kick. For those in need of some sobering up, on the other hand, the Panther Coffee table offered hot and iced java with both soy and regular milk.

The day was hot and the sunlight was direct as we sat among friendly strangers at our white-decked picnic table in the garden. The combination of heat and hunger made me pretty grateful when Tony Maws finally unleashed his coconut sorbet with strawberry hibiscus soup on the crowd. It was a long time to wait for a little dessert, and I couldn't really say it was completely worth it, but the creamy coconut and sweet strawberry of the dish left no room for anyone to miss dairy.

I didn't get a lot of food, but I did get a lot of pitying looks from people at my table, and a ton of suggestions of where I could go to find a vegan-friendly bite. I felt kind of bad answering questions about why I don't eat animal products; people who'd paid $175 a ticket simultaneously choked down pieces of bone marrow and listened to me talk about how meat causes cancer and degenerative disease. But hey, they asked.

Well, the "Farm to Table" event sounded like a sure win for vegans, but I'd have to chalk it up as a loss after all. I mean, the ticket was pricey even for omnivores, but when you narrow the menu down to just the two vegan options, the food would end up costing about $44 an ounce. That's pretty steep. But hey, I did also walk away with a wine glass lanyard and a complimentary houseplant. Cheers.

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Camille Lamb
Contact: Camille Lamb