Food Industry

The Ten Most Shocking Miami Food Stories in 2015

Miami has its fair share of crime and ne'er-do-wells. It's also filled with excess wealth and glamorous people. That melding of extremes makes the Magic City fascinating. Our culinary scene is a reflection of all of that plus hole-in-the-wall cafés and over-the-top palaces of glitz that have experienced dramas and scandals.

This year, the Miami food scene was a seesaw of events — from viral videos that showed us at our worst to national television exposure that portrayed us at our finest.

Here's what shocked 'em in the past year.

10. Five Guys Beating
It takes only a few idiots to give South Beach a bad rap — like these geniuses who apparently fought with a patron of the South Beach Five Guys. Of course, there's always someone there to film the event, and the cell-phone footage shows an employee throwing what looks like a stack of cups at a woman. Then, other Five Guys workers join in on the melee. One employee hits the patron and pulls her wig off. 

The incident occurred this past Halloween weekend, and Miami Beach Police said they had no reports of the fight until the video went viral, with more than a half-million views on YouTube. A Five Guys spokesperson later told NBC Miami: "The actions displayed in the video are simply unacceptable. We are working with the franchise owner to do a full investigation and ensure appropriate disciplinary actions are taken."

9. Miami Dominates Best New Restaurant
When James Beard Award-winning chef and Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio was searching for America's best new restaurant on the show Best New Restaurant, he headed to Miami. His new Bravo show pitted 16 restaurants against one another in grueling challenges, with five of them local. The Federal Food Drink & Provisions, Buns & Buns, R House, Dolce Italian, and the recently shuttered Tongue & Cheek represented the 305 as well. Ultimately, Miami proved victorious, with Dolce Italian taking the win and the title home to the 305.

8. Alinea Coming to Miami
You know you've hit the big time when three-Michelin-starred Alinea wants to hang out in your neighborhood. Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas are bringing their Chicago-based powerhouse to the Faena Hotel Miami Beach (2301 Collins Ave.) for a limited run. Tickets went on sale December 2 for the multicourse tasting menus that run from February 17 through March 13, 2016. A frenzy broke out among die-hard Miami culinarians, who thought nothing of ponying up $275 to $385 per person for a spot at the table. There are actually some reservations available if you want to give someone a truly decadent holiday gift. Dinner service is presented Wednesday through Sunday evenings from 6 to 10:45. Wine pairings are an additional $150 to $495 per person. One-percenters and gastronomic thrill-seekers can purchase tickets at  

7. Kareem Shaker
Miami New Times lost one of its own this past year with the untimely passing of Kareem Shaker. He contributed to our food community for several years, with an eye toward the unusual and quirky. According to his nephew David Michael, Kareem passed away in his sleep at the age of 33 this past March. He was living in New Jersey at the time, pursuing a career in real estate, though he would reach out to New Times from time to time. 

Kareem was a passionate and creative man who wrote some memorable pieces, such as his story about the prevalence of diabetes in Hispanic communities. Though it's been nearly a year, his Facebook page is still quite active, with friends and family posting pictures and notes to him. Ironically, Kareem nearly lost his life last year in a single-car accident. According to CBS, a Florida Highway Patrol officer performed CPR on Kareem, right on I-95, after finding him without a pulse and not breathing. The trooper, Yudiel Santana, along with Miami Beach Police Officer Tino Serrano, were later honored for their heroics. 
6. Woman Gives Empanadas to the Pope
What do you get the man who has everything? If you're Maria Antonieta Collins, you bring a tasty treat. When Pope Francis visited Cuba to hold Mass in Havana's Revolution Plaza, the Univision senior special correspondent was invited on the papal jet to cover the historical moment. Not wanting to arrive empty-handed, the journalist brought a box of empanadas from Coral Gables restaurant Rincón Argentino. To make sure they arrived safely, Collins packed the empanadas in her carry-on bag, sometimes holding them in her arms "like a baby." The treats took quite a detour, traveling from Miami to Rome, with a layover at the Vatican press office, before the pastries boarded the plane. Prior to presenting them to the pope, Collins used hair dryers to defrost the empanadas. 

5. Versailles Patriarch Felipe Valls Sr. "Completely Incapacitated" 
In 2014, Little Havana's iconic Versailles was involved in a series of lawsuits alleging misconduct by employees and owner Felipe Valls Sr., including a whistleblower and defamation lawsuit filed in March 2014. The Versailles story gets curiouser and curiouser. In March 2015, attorneys for Valls filed a document in Miami-Dade Circuit Court claiming the 82-year-old had been medically diagnosed with a series of illnesses including "peripheral neuropathy of the legs, hypertension, arrhythmia, and obesity, which has caused compression of his spinal cord and renders him unable to sit for long periods of time without experiencing extreme back pain and which also results in numbness and weakness of the legs." The original complaint, filed on behalf of former Versailles general manager Rigoberto Hernandez and former waiter Adriam Mena, lists numerous charges the two men claim they witnessed at the famous eatery, including sexual harassment, wage theft, and voiding the receipts of prominent members of the community. Among the freeloaders: Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. After reading all the court documents that list numerous alleged sexual peccadilloes, enjoying a croqueta will never be the same.

4. Halloween Bondage Party at SushiSamba
Miami Beach's Halloween weekend usually consists of people dressing in their finest or weirdest and parading up and down Lincoln Road. Sometimes, however, the line between dressing like a submissive and actually being one gets blurred. That was the case at SushiSamba's cosplay-themed Halloween party. Apparently, some Miami residents didn't get the memo that a BDSM lifestyle party was being held inside the restaurant and snapped a picture of what Miami Beach resident Heidi Calvin described as "a topless woman, evidently wearing a thong underneath her tutu, bent over, being beaten by two men, each with whips in their hands. The woman’s buttocks was riddled with red welts. There is also another topless woman standing to the left watching." Calvin wasn't actually there — it was her friends who spotted the event sometime between midnight and 1 a.m. 

Danielle Billera, managing partner of Samba Brands Management, issued a statement about the incident, saying, "Every year, the Halloween parade and party in Miami draws thousands. As in years past, SushiSamba was pleased to join our Lincoln Road neighbors in the celebration. Miami authorities are present and, as always, they did a great job monitoring the evening. We were grateful to celebrate with the community and look forward to continuing to participate in these events."  

3. Piripi's Wild Ride
On April 1, 2015, Piripi opened at Coral Gables' shopping playground, Merrick Park. The much-anticipated restaurant was helmed by chef Najat Kaanache, who had an impressive resumé that included a stint at El Bulli. Two months later, however, Kaanache was fired from her position. She told New Times that she learned of her ousting through social media. The restaurant's owners claim the chef was fired when they heard of numerous employee complaints, including an eight-page letter written by Juan Jose Saber Duran, the restaurant's former bartender. Duran accused Kaanache of offering false promises to lure 15 workers to Miami from around the world and then badly mistreating them, failing to process their work visas, and paying them less than their agreed-upon wages. The restaurant looked like it was getting back on track with the hiring of 25-year-old Angelina Bastidas. The Le Cordon Bleu graduate worked in some high-profile kitchens, such as Area 31, the Bazaar by José Andrés, Palme d'Or, Taperia Raca, and, most recently, Tongue & Cheek, where she served as chef de cuisine. Almost immediately, Bastidas left the restaurant. She is now competing on Top Chef and is the chef de cuisine at the Federal Food Drink & Provisions. 

2. Le Cordon Bleu Closing
Since this venerable institution opened its doors in Paris in 1895, it has launched the careers of thousands of chefs, including that of Julia Child, who would become one of the most beloved figures in culinary history. The school branched out into dozens of locations throughout the world, with 16 in the United States. This week, the school's parent company, Career Education Corporation, announced it would begin a gradual process of discontinuing the operations of its Le Cordon Bleu North America colleges. The schools will no longer take new enrollments after January 2016, and students will be part of a "teach-out" in which they will be able to finish their courses. The Miami college, located in Miramar, will also close, with its faculty and staff slowly losing their positions as their tasks are phased out. There are about 70 people employed at the school and 789 students were enrolled at the campus as of the end of 2014, according to the most recent filing with the U.S. Department of Education. 

Le Cordon Bleu alum Janine Booth, who is working on two Miami restaurants with partner Jeff McInnis, says this about her alma mater: "I am extremely saddened to hear of the closing of all Le Cordon Bleu campuses throughout the United States. I had a wonderful experience and have very fond memories of studying at the Miami campus. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to learn lessons from some very talented and inspiring instructors that I put into practice every day."

1. Schizophrenic, Bipolar Woman Gets Naked at South Beach Johnny Rockets 
This tale began October 9, when 22-year-old Angelic Valle decided to strip at Johnny Rockets on Ocean Drive. Of course, cell phones captured every moment — including what happened next. As Valle pranced naked, a group of men doused her with water and ketchup. Some fondled her. Others taunted her. One man threw straws at her. No one — including women at the restaurant — did anything to help Valle until a restaurant manager and an employee broke up the growing crowd. The video, posted to World Star, has amassed more than 2 million views. Valle was arrested three weeks later oncharges of indecent exposure, lewd and lascivious behavior, and disorderly conduct. What makes this story even sadder and uglier is that her family confirmed the young woman suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Her father, Jose Valle, said she takes three medications for her condition. 

The incident has local business owners saying enough is enough with bad behavior on South Beach. Mitch Novick, owner of the Sherbrooke Hotel, told New Times that loud music from Ocean Drive establishments "acts like a siren call to the drunk and rowdy" and calls that area of South Beach "a cesspool of lawlessness."
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss