The South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s Tribute Dinner is always a banquet fit for kings. This year, the banquet honored some true culinary royalty, and, with the likes of José Andrés and Alex Atala in the kitchen, culinary royalty were serving the food as well.
Hosted in honor of the legendary Basque cuisine pioneer Juan Mari Arzak, of the eponymous three Michelin-starred restaurant in San Sebastian, Spain; and wine executive Ted Baseler of Ste. Michele Wine Estates, the meal, held in the Loews’ Grand Ballroom, showcased the best that both had to offer. Arzak’s influence was obvious in each of the dishes served, and wines in the Ste. Michele portfolio were served.
The meal began with a salad by Andrés, composed of baby Japanese peaches with burrata, hazelnuts, and burrata. Accented with edible flowers and an edible “glass” olive oil pouch, this dish showcased everything that’s so loveable about Andrés’ cooking: it was fun, playful, irresistibly delicious, and featured something that most diners had never seen before (green baby peaches that were entirely edible and bursting with a slightly vegetal peach flavor).
“It’s amazing how much Juan Mari influenced me,” Andrés told the well-heeled crowd. "Spain has the most avant-garde cooking in the world, and it’s because of guys like him.”
The second course, a cold red fruit soup with lobster and (once again) lots of edible flowers, was prepared by Quique Dacosta of the three Michelin-starred restaurant in the Costa Blanca that bears his name. The course was fun and interactive: diners were encouraged to pour their soup over the lobster, flowers, and other garnishes. The lobster was perfectly cooked, and the soup was perfectly balanced; just sweet enough.
Up next was D.O.M.’s Alex Atala’s prawn with tucupi and tapioca, both native Brazilian ingredients. The prawn was large and impeccably cooked, and the use of tapioca and flavorful manioc-based tucupi as the sole accompaniments was daring and brilliant, as the tapioca was the perfect vessel for the flavorful sauce.
Loews Miami Beach’s own Frederic Delaire served the evening’s main protein: a fork-tender braised short rib with a bacon-foie gras jam and a truffle risotto cake. Well-balanced and flavorful, the short rib was rich and elegant.
For the final course, chef Andoni Aduriz of San Sebastian’s Mugaritz (ranked number six by The World's 50 Best Restaurants in 2014) served a dessert he called “Several spoonfuls of clashing contrasts: heavy cream, sweets, and leaves,” which, in reality, was a fun and satisfying dish of ice cream, crumbled cookies, fruit, and microgreens. It may sound simple, but it proved to be a perfect bookend to a spectacular meal.
When receiving his award, Arzak displayed his usual humility: “I wouldn’t be where I am today without my team, especially my wife and daughter,” he said, with Andrés serving as interpreter. After thanking the participating chefs who joined him on stage, calling Atala the “King of the Amazon,” he also recognized the press, saying that “without them, nobody would know what we do.”
While Ferran Adrià and Andrés may be the most famous avant-garde Spanish chefs these days, it was Arzak who pioneered modern Catalan cuisine when he took over the family’s namesake restaurant in the early 1970s. At this year’s tribute dinner, he was given a hearty thanks by some of his most renowned disciples.