by Eric Barton | September 29, 2020

It’s Official: Florida’s Restaurant Scene is Way Underrated

And we have an idea about the troubled James Beard Awards...

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Chef Antonio Mermolia at the Four Seasons Hotel in Surfside can even turn a simple spaghetti with red sauce into a dish you won’t soon forget. Photography courtesy of the Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club.

There’s no telling how you all feel about eating out these days, so I’ll share a story, and hopefully you can live vicariously through this incredible meal.

It happened the other night at the Four Seasons in Surfside. We put ourselves in the hands of the chef, Antonio Mermolia, a real talent who likes to reinvent the dishes from his childhood in southern Italy. 

The highlight was a dish you’ve had a million times—spaghetti with red sauce. But Mermolia spends a couple days fussing over his handmade pasta and marinara. He was kind enough to share his intricate recipe, and you’ll read about it in the fall issue of Flamingo—coming soon to your inbox.

The meal, in the elegant Champagne Bar space that looks like something out of a 1920s hotel in Havana, was also a reminder of just how good you can eat nowadays in Florida restaurants. This level of cooking isn’t rare, especially in South Florida, where there are at least a dozen chefs worthy of acclaim.

As we reported recently, however, the James Beard Foundation has snubbed Sunshine State chefs for the past 10 contests. Food writers, chefs and others we spoke to confirmed an anti-Florida bias that has kept our restaurant stars from the attention they deserve.

So, what do we do about it? Since beginning the reporting on that story a few months ago, the idea of how to fix the James Beard Awards flummoxed me. But now, I think there’s a solution. 

First, there’s the very serious problem the James Beard Foundation has with its awards being given mostly to white men. It’s not possible to guarantee that the awards will simply be divided among gender and racial lines—how do you decide which categories in a given year will be the ones that go to a minority chef?

In recent years, the foundation has taken steps to add more diversity to its panel of voters, but it hasn’t done enough to make sure the end result is diverse in its winners. To do this, it needs to begin by making sure the field of nominees selected by its committee is divided in equal parts, men and women and among ethnicities. Turn in a ballot that’s not equally divided, and it would be sent back to be corrected. It would not only assure diversity among the winners, but it would also mean these influential awards judges would likely seek out more restaurants with female and minority chefs

As far as the bias against places like Florida, that might be even simpler to fix. It seems that the number of judges in New Orleans has grown far quicker than the number of Florida judges in the past decade, likely leading to Louisiana dominating our regional awards. Instead, the foundation needs to do better about having an equal number of judges per state. 

Will that fix the rampant problems with the awards, and is there a better solution? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the awards as well as who you think are Florida’s best and brightest culinary talents. Drop us a note at newsletter@flamingomag.com.

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