During the past year, it seems as though South Florida has seen more pop-ups, chef collaborations, and one-off dinners than ever.
Perhaps it's because South Florida is developing a real culinary identity and prowess. Menus are becoming more creative and diners are more willing than ever to put their trust, and their palate, in the hands of the chefs and cooks.
However, in the restaurant industry -- where burnouts, freakouts and turnover are common -- breaking out of the day-to-day routine with a special dinner and totally new menu is as much for those behind the line as it is for those sitting in the dining room.
"Any time you see something else or something different, it's a good thing," said Clay Conley, owner of Buccan in Palm Beach, who schlepped to Miami last week to cook a five-course menu with Tongue & Cheek chef and partner Jamie DeRosa.
Breaking away from the set menu gives also chefs a chance to breathe and flex their skills and is also a kind of a morale booster for a kitchen's rank and file.
"As an owner and a chef, you want to inspire the people around you," DeRosa said. "Seeing staff come in early to clean sea urchin is one of the best parts."
DeRosa and Conley know each other, have followed each other's careers, but had never actually worked together. Rather than each claiming a dish, the two worked together to develop each dish, which at first glance seems a dangerous proposition.
Both admitted there's not great profit margin on high-priced, ticketed events. Preparation is extensive and product is costly, but at the end of the day, it's about chefs and restaurants positioning themselves and developing a kind of creative culinary community that flourishes in other cities.
"I worked in L.A. for many years, and one thing I liked was the central hub at the markets," DeRosa said. "You knew you'd see everyone there.
It's rare for these events to bring chefs together from across county lines. Occasionally a meatball-and-ceviche fundraiser brings together some of the region's best, but more often than not, people are reluctant to take the drive up and down I-95. Most recently DeRosa brought in Sundy House chef and Top Chef contestant Lindsey Autry for a dinner.
On Thursday night, it was clear there's still some ground to cover in bringing together all of the South Florida culinary community. Miami restaurant luminaries Michael Schwartz and Dena Marino were in the house, but we didn't see any of Broward or Palm Beach's top toques.
Sure, getting to Miami for a 7 p.m. event is a hassle, but think about it as brand development. The gas and the ticket price can be deducted as a business expense, and restaurateurs can begin laying the groundwork for another location or find a chef pal to bring in for your own apple foam and caviar party.
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