Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Miami Rum Renaissance 2016

I think they need a much bigger banner!
This past weekend I visited the 2016 Miami Rum Renaissance taking place at the Miami Airport Convention Center. This was like my 5th time I think, pretty cool event.

There were some definite returning favorites and some new solid entries along with some of the usual gimmicky brands. Heck, there were rums from Mexico and India!

Captain Jack was again roaming the aisles and there were definite rum hotties too. Some Polynesian performers danced and played music throughout the day. Bayou had a few live alligators to promote their brands!

I started with Hot Sex and finished as the Doc Brown's mermaid was rolled back to her room on a luggage cart! Some of the people I usually see working at my favorite liquor store even took a road trip down to check out the festival. What a day!

Favorites included all of the rums from Siesta key (all got Golds except the ones competing against each other), especially the coconut and spiced rums, and I hear that there is a banana rum that's going to blow your minds pretty soon! The Vintage rums from Plantation (along with that beautiful Pineapple rum) were fabulous. Marauda had a really nice rum that was a blend of rums from several Caribbean countries finished in South Carolina.

The Mezan Single Distillery Rum from Guyana (2005) had an awesome Scotch like flavor, and their Jamaican XO was great. Cocktail Whisperer Warren Bobrow just finished his 4th book, and he was there to prepare "a tasty little treat." Was fantastic! I really couldn't believe that all the ingredients and bitters and atomized 160 proof rum spray could possibly turn out so well. Impressive.

One of the other things that caught my attention and hadn't in the past was the excellent overproof rums. Usually too alcoholic and a good mixer (from my perspective), I had at least half a dozen that were very flavorful despite their potency.

I had a very good time. However, to be honest, attendance seemed way down (maybe because it was on Sunday). But for sure, the vendor number has been down for a few years. The first few years in Miami Beach and even the first year at MACC were really great. But with many top brands not showing and some weaker brands not capable of filling the void, that part was disappointing. I hope they can turn that trend around!

Anyway, I'll definitely be back again next year!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Cochon555 Miami 2016

Sunday afternoon, my wife and I attended the Miami Cochon555 event at The Ritz-Carlton in Miami Beach. Cochon555 is a traveling culinary competition featuring heritage breed pigs and benefiting Piggy Bank, a genetic sanctuary created by founder Brady Lowe to provide free heritage breed pigs and business plans to start-up farmers.

Cochon555 features 5 local chefs, 5 heritage breed pigs and 5 winemakers. Get it? This year's competing chefs were Anthony LePape of host Ritz-Carlton South Beach, Xavier Torres of Drunken Dragon, Alex Chang of Vagabond, Michael Fiorello of Beachcraft /1 Hotel Miami and Diego Oka of La Mar by Gastón Acurio, the winner to be crowned Prince of Porc and headed for the Grand Cochon finale in Aspen in June.

This was my third Cochon555 and I must say I had a blast again! The chefs were really accessible as always, talking about each of their dishes. Totally creative. The special side stations were awesome: an oyster bar, charcuterie galore, tartare bar, ramen bar, wine bar, etc.

And the super-special spirits stations kicked ass! I wore my "Respect the Buffalo" t-shirt in honor of The Perfect Manhattan bar, by far my favorite of the afternoon. The two fabulous bartenders used Buffalo Trace (and Eagle Rare, if you preferred) bourbons along with Luxardo cherries to create a spectacular drink. Heck, I gave one of them to DJ Lord from Public Enemy, and I'm pretty much in the band now! Seriously, DJ Lord was there playing "Cuba is Back," the first of five tributes to influential eras in Cuba. DJ Lord featured the Buena Vista Social Club album. Excellent music!

Prince of Porc Chef Diego Oka of La Mar by Gastón Acurio
So let's talk about the food and some favorites. After a few slices of salami and a some oysters in the reception area, we entered the main ballroom where all the competing chefs were located. First stop was at Chef Diego Oka's station. I tried all of the dishes but the tamales (Tamal de Quinoa) were definitely my favorite! And the cool thing about Diego was that he had a print of his menu arranged inside a pig outline. It was so cool that I asked him to sign it for me. What was awesome is that because of that interest he gave me one from an edition of 50 that he had signed and numbered beforehand!

We tried all the offerings from each chef. Besides Chef Oka, our other favorites were Chef Fiorello and Chef Chang. Chef Adrianne Calvo was there with a welcome station showcasing her restaurant. What an awesome bite that was, highlighted by a think slice of candied bacon!

While I didn't drink any wine, the entire center area of the room was filled with a very impressive set of wine makers. Instead, I stuck mostly (and frequently) to The Perfect Manhattan though I did also fall in love with this moving rum cart and the Diplomatico and Plantation rums (especially that awesome pineapple one).

There were also stations featuring The Perfect Margarita with Don Julio tequila and The Smoked Breckenridge Manhattan. Oh, and don't forget Punch Kings preparing some terrific cocktails. My only disappointment was that there wasn't any beer sponsor at the event. Gravity Brewlab and Goose Island from prior years were great additions. Oh well!

Of course, one of the highlights of the Miami Cochon happens when the guys from Miami Ink give the "6th pig" a tattoo before it's butchered by Andres Barrientos of Miami Smokers and sold for charity in a pop-up butcher shop. Very cool tattoo this year and my wife actually asked artist Jose Cordova for a picture afterward when he was admiring his work (I'm pretty sure no other photographers caught that moment, maybe one).

Attendees had a few hours to sample the food before voting for their favorite chef's food. In the end, Chef Diego Oka prevailed as the Prince of Porc creating 5 dishes using the Large Black breed of heritage pig.

An excellent event and I'm already thinking about 2017! Below are more of my photos and be sure to check out the Flickr album created by Cochon.

And check out Chef Oka's signed and numbered menu art series...

Chef Xavier Torrws and his crew
Chef Michael Fiorello
Chef Anthony Le Pape
Chef Alex Chang