When Perfect Pigs Fly

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Miami has more to it than meets the eye, literally. For every square foot of sandy beach, there are square miles of sprawling neighborhoods. For every block of Ocean Drive there are wide flat avenues that run west, away from the sparkle of Brickell towards home. Sure Brickell and South Beach are home to many, but if you are still having trouble finding heart in Miami, it’s because you haven’t headed far enough west. Don’t get me wrong, somewhere between the Deuce and The Room the east side has heart, but out west, there is a culture of family, fueled by Cuban coffee, living the true American Dream, and it’s pork-flavored. So I followed my nose to Medley last week, and to the smell of a pork belly cold smoking in a La Caja China, I learned the story of the Guerra’s.

It started in 1984, “I was in charge of roasting the whole pig that year for the family,” says Roberto Guerra, CEO of La Caja China, “and every year it was a pain. You had to get cement blocks, the grill would disappear from the last year. I was complaining, you know, telling my dad what a mission this was every year, and he said he had seen something in Havana, in Chinatown, that would work. You know the Chinese built the railroads in Cuba.” Just like they did in America. “It was just a wood box with a tin cover, so we started doing prototypes for times and amount of charcoal.”

La Caja China opened as a company in Medley in 1987, named for the people who inspired it. “I got angry I said ‘Cuban bread is from Miami, Cuban coffee is Italian, I’m going to give credit where it’s due! It was a joke!’” At the time Roberto wasn’t serious about the company, “in my mind it was a hobby to keep my dad busy.” But simple products only need to function to grow, and he’ll be the first to tell you what a simple product it is. So much so that they guarantee your first pig will be perfect.

“Imagine, you’re having 20 people over. You’ve never cooked anything bigger than a turkey. You’re colleagues are coming. You’re sweating. It’s so simple, you add charcoal every hour and the ashes lower the temperature. Lower temp makes better pork. When you reach 187 degrees you open the box, score the skin, and flip it over. Then crisp it to your likings. Your guests will be talking about it for weeks. They leave as ambassadors of the box.”

He’s right. To see it in action and to taste the pig is to become a fan. Which is why in 2002 when Douglas Rodriguez, godfather of Latin cuisine, requested two boxes for a dinner at the CIA in Napa, La Caja China found an ambassador in Bobby Flay. Two years later, Bobby told his friend Sam Sifton, then dining editor of the New York Times, how much he loved it. Soon after an article about this family owned and operated company out of Medley, Florida ended up on the front page of the Food section on the Times.

“Back then we were getting about 70 hits a day on our website, that week we got 46,000.” Now, sales are predominately out of the snow belt in what Roberto aptly calls Gringolandia, apart from two weeks in December when the Latin’s come knocking. The boxes are also distributed in Europe, mostly sold to Germany, Lithuania, and Slovenia. “I don’t know how it happened, maybe a little marketing help from upstairs,” Roberto said. His dad still comes in the shop every day, and his son Avian is the General Manager.

“It’s just a box,” Roberto says again and again. And we love nothing more than keeping it simple here in Genuineland, which is why when founder Brady Lowe asked Bradley Herron to participate in this year’s Cochon 555, we only had to follow our noses to The Cypress Room, where sous chef Michael Beltran is part of that western-bred pork-roasting family. And so out of a high school friendship, we are the first outside of the company to use the next generation La Caja China today, a box big enough to fit our 226 pound homegrown pig!

“I always consider them like Cuban cousins,” Michael says of the Guerra’s, and with good reason, his family was cut from a similar cloth. A piece of denim to be exact, with which Michael’s grandmother started a jean business that grew to be three factories in Miami and the Dominican Republic, and why he was inclined to start his own t-shirt company. P.I.G Inc Apparel was born out of a late night after the kitchen was closed, with the idea of combining design with food and creating something fun for cooks and people who love to eat. “I was the class clown,” he said, “I had an eighth grade teacher who told me I ‘d graduate high school when pigs fly, so I thought it would be cool to use the Banksy piece of a floating cow, but make pigs fly.”

Win or lose, we celebrate heritage hogs today, repping the side of Miami that loves them most. Clad in “Notorious P.I.G.” we present to the chicharron-loving, bourbon-slugging COCHON 555 judges, guests, and friends, a La Caja China Berkshire hog, passed from High on the Hog Farms in Clermont to Dale Volkert at Lake Meadow Naturals, then one Genuineland chef to the next from the graveyard shift to dawn, pulled apart and served in each of these forms.

Head, Neck & Heart
caper, anchovy, boiled egg

tonnato, kumquat, fennel, arugula

clam ceviche, crispy lentils

Legs & Shoulders
fermented rice pancake, kale kimchi, herbs

Blood & Liver & Skin
chocolate, peanuts, strawberry

Passion: Brewed

Pete Seeger, an American folk singer and songwriter who died this week, said that “the key to the future of the world, is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.” If this is true, then one of those key holes is specialty coffee flavored, and is known all over Miami and soon to be the world, if barista Camila Ramos has anything to say about it. Jackie and I were lucky enough to sit down with her on Monday to talk about her win at the Big Eastern US Coffee Championships a week ago, the myriad 3 a.m. coffee tastings that paved her way, and most importantly the farmer whose vision gave spirit to a mountain.

If it happens to be a perfect Miami day, as it was this past Monday, then Panther Coffee in Wynwood is a living, breathing social phenomenon. Serving most often as hipster-central, on a weekday at 3:30 under the breezy shade of its bicycle-wheel blooming tree at the center of their newly perfected outside seating, one can find a mingling of suits from downtown, tourists in the know, shoppers and passersby trickling down from Midtown or the Design District, and the specialty coffee drinking elite. Inside there is a feeling of growth, an energy breathing new life into an already magic city. And then Camila walks in. A whirlwind makes her way through the store front, “I’m so sorry I’m late,” she calls through hugs and kisses, then she’s off and our anticipation peaks as we wonder what we are about to experience.

“This is Wottuna from Ethiopia” she says placing a carafe of batch-brewed black drip coffee and three stemless wine glasses in front of us, and brighter than her perhaps overly caffeinated eyes is the radiance with which she speaks the name of the coffee. A passion within which you can feel the respect and knowledge she carries, all indicating how deep the relationships in the chain goes. Just as we serve fish that has been touched by happy hands passed from the fisherman to our chefs and pigs from farmers that we’ve known for years, so Panther has its history, its coffees flavored with friendships as strong as the brew we taste, which is strikingly more nuanced when instead made V60, or poured over Japanese paper filters. Lovely, fruit forward and somehow cooling to the tongue.

In the competition Camila chose to tell a bit of the story of the farmer Maximo Ramos Gutierrez and the farm he calls Kailash after its Himalayan inspiration. It was a winning move, and I would be remiss to think I could do any better.  So please watch his story, and if you’d like to take a glimpse into the specialty coffee arena being cultivated in this country then watch her competition piece.  Either way, be inspired. Be optimistic, and know that everything you eat or drink today has the potential to be passion driven. Stories like these tell the tale, and you have the capacity to make it so.

Love, Magic & The Art of the Image at The Cypress Room

Fine food is fine art – it has to be. You wouldn’t pay a week’s pay check for a lunch in Paris (and Antonio Bachour wouldn’t have more than eleven thousand followers) if there wasn’t visual beauty accompanying the taste. Aesthetics set the stage, which is why restaurants spend so much time and money on design. The intent is to feel creativity all around you, not just coming out of the kitchen. To capture this in an image is yet another form of fine art. And while we do our best, to share the thoughtful decor of The Cypress Room through its Instagram, it deserves unfiltered, professional attention to behold its essence. Fred-LoveMeet Fred Love, an artist who uses the camera as his utensil and the computer to create. His images are rich with depth; they tell a story that begs your eye to linger, like the taste of roasted bone marrow on your tongue. I sat down with Fred last week on a perfect South Florida winter’s day to chat about photography, please enjoy his images and insight below.

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Are you from Miami?

Yes, born and raised.

How did you get into photography?

I studied art and art history and television production in college, but not photography. Then I did graphic design for a while and had a graphics design company called Elements Design Group, then EDG Miami. I started doing photography more and more for clients and eventually sold the business.

How did you translate that into shooting beautiful women on the beach?

That’s a good question, I don’t even know. It just started out as something to do for fun, it wasn’t intended to be a career.

How do you like working with food?

I enjoy taking pictures, and I appreciate the art of food. Really good food, high end food, well designed and well put together food. I love all forms of art. I see food, and the interior of the restaurant, in the art form that it is and that’s why I enjoy it. To capture the magic.

So you think The Cypress Room is magical?

Yes, after one Old Pal it’s absolutely magical.

What’s your preferred subject to shoot?

I do it as an artist, so there’s no subject; it’s just a feeling of wanting to create.

Does the passion ever fail you when you do it for a paycheck?

I have been lucky enough to have the freedom to say no to jobs. I like looking at it as a challenge, The Cypress Room is small so it was a challenge to capture things like the bathroom or the space without adjusting the light because the lighting is so much of that restaurant you don’t want to change it. It’s exciting and it’s a thrill trying to solve the issues and make it look good.

Do you shoot scenery?

I am working on a Miami Beach coffee table book, so yes, but mostly for myself.

What landscapes inspire you?

All of it.

How long have you been in the business now?

I’ve been a photographer for 8 years.

How has technology changed photography?

Work flow. Image quality. What you can do with images, how you can manipulate them, and the ability to market online, social media is amazing. That’s changed everything.

Has Instagram changed photography?

There have been more pictures taken in the last 3 years than in all the world’s history.

Is that a fact?

That is a fact. Think about it. When you were in your teens and you would go to a concert no one took pictures.

So it’s changed in a positive way?

For sure, it’s added opportunity for people to use programs to make their pictures into art.

So photography should be approached as an artist?

Yes, I don’t even consider myself as a photographer, I just create images. The camera is my vessel but then I add so much more.

New Food, New Fun, New Year at Harry’s Pizzeria

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 10.32.23 AMWe ring in a new year with champagne and fireworks in hopes that this year will bring all that we wished for, but after the bubbles in your head have cleared and the ash has been washed away it’s just another Thursday. Except that it’s 2014 now, and Harry’s Pizzeria has a new Thursday Daily Dinner Special to be hungry for: Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder with corn, spring onion and watercress. Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 10.31.34 AM And while we have yet to see old man winter grace Miami with his presence, we have a full-fledged strawberry season sweetening the air and bringing our new Panna Cotta: Sweet basil with balsamic strawberry mint salad.

We really have so much to be excited about this year, bringing Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette’s TORO & Jenn Louis’s Lincoln to Harry’s for the third season of its Chef Pop-Ups, and a whole new year of Special Snacks, Pizzas and Soups to try! Here is a slide show of a few of last year’s, a visual taste. Bring it on 2014, we can’t wait to eat what you’ve got in store.

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Teas the Season to be Fancy

With the balmy Palm Beach sea breeze, silver candelabras, and our pinkies up, we debuted The Longest Night this weekend at Saturday night’s Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival chef’s after party, The Cypress Room High Tea. Starting tomorrow, our winter tea cocktail will be available at the restaurant.  Beginning with Hendrick’s gin and Gunsmoke green tea, Beverage Director Ryan Goodspeed added the flavors of St. Germain, cardamom, lavender, lemongrass, tarragon, lemon and honey to create the delicate flavor of this drink. Served cold for two in a bone china teapot it is the perfect after dinner cocktail, or before. After all, it is the season to be fancy.