Perennial Favorite: Farmer Michael Borek and The Cypress Room Tackle the Raring-to-Go Everglades Tomato

Everglades Tomato_Borek

IT’S A JUNGLE OUT THERE: Everglades tomatoes on the vine at Teena’s Pride, Homestead, FL.

Slow Food Miami’s Ark of Taste Benefit Dinner nominates a new ingredient each year to the organization’s national catalog of over 200 delicious foods in danger of extinction – threatened by industrial standardization, the regulations of large-scale distribution and environmental damage. This year The Cypress Room is representing The Genuine Hospitality Group to celebrate a fruit close to our hearts.  Just when we thought we’d seen every tomato possible, enter one that grows wild in our own backyard — the Everglades tomato — ripe for the picking thanks to the efforts of Teena’s Pride in Homestead to grow them.  The farm raised the seminole pumpkin of 2011’s Ark of Taste dinner.

“Deciding to do the event in January this year was key so we could embrace our main growing season down here, especially since tomatoes are at their peak.” Michael says.  “Tomatoes have always been really important and special to us at the restaurants. As a chef it’s fun to have a new heirloom variety to work with, and I think, like usual, Michael Borek was happy for the challenge of growing something new, as well!”

Everglades Tomato_Borek2And a challenge the Everglades tomato was and very tricky to grow at first, ironically because it needs little to no attention at all!  Borek explains, “I treated it like all the other heirlooms and it did not like it one bit!  We usually have to prune and trim.  The secret is you sort have to leave it alone. it did like plenty of water and fertilizer. When it finally caught, it grew vigorously.  The vine spurted to 12 feet in the greenhouse.”

Like the farm’s other tomatoes, it did not like being grown hydroponically.  It likes to be in soil and does a lot better in the field, unless there is bad weather, in which case the greenhouse offers protection.  Seed supplier Southern J Ranch’s Linda Rodenbaugh, a third generation farmer out of West Palm Beach, started growing the plants in their nursery four years ago from seeds foraged off their property. Birds drop them and they take on their own in the soil.  It’s now their best seller.
“All I did was give it water and fertilizer – it’s a very independent tomato and very vigorous. I had to learn as I went, trial by error,” Borek continues. ” I would probably grow the Everglades tomato on a small scale and mix it into the baby heirlooms medley for our CSA and restaurant customers.  It’s not a bad tasting tomato but the production might not work on a large scale as it has a tendency to split.”

Everglades Tomato_Borek2

Splitting happens from the rainy climate.  To deal with lots of water, tomato plants suck it up from the soil and pumping out through the skin.  The older varieties have thinner skins than modern day commercial plants, so hence more chance of breakage.  After an unsuccessful planting last summer with the then October event date in mind, Borek made sure to plant plenty this fall for this event, now scheduled for Tuesday, January 28.  A 1/2 acre, equal to 1800 plants.  “Even though the probability of them taking was much greater in the fall and with the experience of the summer, I didn’t want to not have fruit for the event!”

TCR AOT menuv4The crop is almost ready for harvest and the timing couldn’t be better. The Cypress Room chef de cuisine Roel Alcudia has already been playing with some samples delivered by forager Chris Padin.

“They’re interesting. Visually really pretty but they need help on flavor. The initial pop is great but has little finish,” Alcudia explains. “I slow dried them in the oven to concentrate them more, flavor-wise.”

This is Michael’s fifth year of anchoring the annual event, and all proceeds will benefit both Slow Food Miami’s Edible School Garden Program and the Kampong National Tropical Botanical Garden.  The meal will be held Tuesday, January 28 at the historic and incomparable Kampong National Tropical Botanical Garden. The evening unfolds at 6:30 p.m. under the stars and overlooking the same lush grounds Dr. David Fairchild and his famous visitors once enjoyed. A spirited cocktail hour begins with selections from the restaurant’s The Beverage Book and an original Grey Goose Cocktail by The Genuine Hospitality Group beverage director Ryan Goodspeed, accompanied by passed hors d’oeuvres.  A seated four course dinner featuring the menu above paired with wine follows orchestrated by Schwartz, The Cypress Room chef de cuisine Roel Alcudia, two-time James Beard Award Outstanding Pastry Chef finalist Hedy Goldsmith and The Genuine Hospitality Group executive chef Bradley Herron. A cold tea cocktail and Panther coffee, two specialties served at the restaurant, will cap a magical, candle-lit night.

Opened in spring 2013 in Miami’s Design District to a 3.5 star review from the Miami Herald and a place atop Bon Appetit’s list of 50 Best New Restaurants in America, The Cypress Room is a throwback to 1920s fine dining in polished food, service and décor. The menu features elegant American cuisine with French touches, staying true to Schwartz’s hallmark – sourcing only the freshest, highest quality ingredients for the menu, including Royal Red Shrimp, honored at last year’s Ark of Taste Benefit Dinner. By promoting and eating Ark products, Slow Food Miami and its supporters help ensure they remain in production, in the grocery isle, and on the plates of America’s best restaurants. Tickets are $250 per person and can be purchased through Brown Paper Tickets. The Kampong of the National Tropical Botanical Garden is located at 4013 South Douglas Road in Coconut Grove, Florida.

We’re not the only ones excited about the Everglades Tomato. Check out John Cohen of on-site at Southern J Ranch for some fun and tips for growing your own (watch from minute 10:50-on.)  A seed packet will be included as you take home gift for the event.  Happy planting!

2 thoughts on “Perennial Favorite: Farmer Michael Borek and The Cypress Room Tackle the Raring-to-Go Everglades Tomato

  1. I am excited to grow these this year. I have some cuttings that have rooted and that I hope will thrive in my North Florida Garden. I love tomatoes for my salads!

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