The South Beach Seafood Festival offered a weekend of stone crabs, Chardonnay, and the return of Ralph Pagano to the stage.
Clad in a black shirt and pants and a bright-yellow sport jacket, the chef was greeted to thunderous applause as he addressed the thousands of people who came to enjoy food from local chefs such as Andre Bienvenu (Joe's Stone Crab), Peter Vauthy (Red the Steakhouse), Sean Brasel (Meat Market), and Bernie Matz (Bodega Taqueria y Tequila).
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Pagano sustained serious burns in a gas explosion in Bimini this past June and spent nearly two months at Jackson Memorial's Ryder Trauma Center. The evening marked a return to public life since the accident. Pagano says of the evening: "Being back with my friends and seeing everyone throwing down onstage was way better than the operating room and not half as dangerous."
The Friday event featured the popular Chefs' Showdown — eight head-to-head competitions in which Miami toques cook for seafood-centric bragging rights. The big winners were as follows:
- Battle Crab: Andre Bienvenu of Joe's Stone Crab
- Battle Surf 'n' Turf: Sean Brasel of Meat Market Miami
- Battle Taco: Bernie Matz of Bodega South Beach
- Battle Tuna: Jim Pastor of the Rusty Pelican
- Battle Shrimp: Nicolas Cabrera of Lure Fishbar South Beach
- Battle Fish: Demetrios Pyliotis of Poseidon Greek Restaurant & Outdoor Lounge
- Battle Sushi: Masatomo Hamaya of Dragonfly Izakaya & Fish Market
- Battle Oyster Pit: James Versfelt of Shelborne South Beach
This past Saturday, thousands of revelers took to the beach to dine on stone crabs, smoked oysters, and jumbo shrimp as the festivities continued. Dozens of Miami restaurants, including Pagano's Naked Crab, set up minicafés on the sand. The chef held court for several hours, greeting fans and well wishers while sampling his own seafood offerings.