Food Industry

Niu Kitchen's Deme Lomas, Pubbelly's Jose Mendin Nominated for Food & Wine Award

If you were one of those griping on social media about the snubbing of Miami during this year’s culinary awards season, you should be out there drumming up votes for Pubbelly’s Jose Mendin and Niu Kitchen’s Deme Lomas.

Food & Wine magazine nominated the pair as contenders for the People’s Best New Chef for the Gulf Coast alongside a strong list of mostly New Orleans cooks.

The widespread grumbling over Miami’s absence for the county’s most coveted awards was palpable, though misguided. The bulk of the complaints were petty or self-serving with PR firms bemoaning the absence of their clients.

Up-and-coming restaurateur Javier Ramirez, for example, grumbled over the absence of pastry chef Antonio Bachour’s name in the James Beard’s Foundation list of those at the forefront of sweets. Ramirez and Bachour, however, are partnering up on a forthcoming Brickell bakery. (Mendin and Eating House’s Giorgio Rapicavoli were both named by the foundation as semifinalists in the Best Chef: South category.)

Though bickering over a lack of awards seems untoward, there are real world consequences when the lazy groups who compile them can’t muster the energy to develop a diverse, worthwhile list that reaches beyond New York City, San Francisco, and New Orleans. The real tragedy isn’t the bruised egos of Miami’s culinary cognoscenti. It’s the missed opportunity for Miami restaurants and a loss for the underserved, wandering foodists who follow such lists and will surely end up in Miami at some point in the coming year.

Like appearing on TV or earning a good review being named to on one of them can mean a flood of customers. That means added resources for better staff, better product, better space.

But Lomas and partner Karina Iglesias’ pocket-sized Niu Kitchen has been jammed practically since they opened. Whether or not they’ll expand remains to be seen, but the demand is there and hopefully the nomination will intensify it.

“We do our best to accommodate whoever comes, but I’m convinced that our size helps us do things the way we do and control quality,” Lomas said.

Given that this is a voting award, it’s up to Miami to help them along and in the process elevate the city’s overall culinary landscape. It’s can be a message to the likes Food & Wine Editor Dana Cowin. Tell her she can’t get away with coming to Miami to launch a cookbook and canoodle with South Beach Food & Wine Festival founder Lee Schrager without paying serious attention to what’s happening here.

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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson