Any direction you choose, the road will take you to a dining experience that simmer and stirs your soul, leaving you breathless and yearning for more, and definitely bringing you back time and time again to Florida. There’s no shortage of amazing cuisine when it comes to the Sunshine State, from Daytona Beach, to the Florida Panhandle, this is a lover affair that is going to happen, no matter what.
Traveling throughout the country creating new recipes to inspire consumers, educating children on the value of healthy food choices and proper nutrition, and performing cooking demonstrations while highlighting the amazing produce and seafood of Florida with the Fresh From Florida movement, I had an opportunity to catch up with the 2006 Food Network Challenge Great American Seafood Cook-off winner, Culinary Ambassador of the State of Florida, and the Executive Chef of the Florida Department of Agriculture, Chef Justin Timineri.
Wearing many hats, award winner Chef Justin Timineri is also an author, teacher, and resident chef on the award-winning television series How to Do Florida, and is no stranger to high-profile events. In the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Timineri showcased Florida’s cuisine to medal winners and Olympic legends at the USA House. Timineri is also well-known for his elaborate creation for the likes of NASCAR, PGA, the Kentucky Derby, as well as national and international premier hospitality and catering companies.
Chef Justin and I, had the opportunity to chat about his passion for food, while I sampled his impeccable take on the best of what the land and sea has to offer in the State of Florida with his world-renowned cuisine. Honestly, I don’t know what was more exciting, watching Timineri’s enthusiasm as he prepared simple and flavorful dishes of Florida… Or listening to him talk about the not so new movement in Florida, the farm-to-table movement. Timineri talked about his passion for food, using simple ingredients, and healthy cooking as if he was a poet writing a love sonnet. When asked what was his favorite dish to prepare in his cooking demonstrations, without hesitation he indicated “Pink Shrimp and Citrus Ceviche.”
Timineri, raised in Florida and exposed to many cultures and cuisines at an early age, has a passion for creativity while still staying true to the culture and the originality of the cuisine, and it was quite obvious in his culinary presentation. When asked why Pink Shrimp and Citrus Ceviche was one of his favorite dish to make during cooking demonstrations, he replied “You haven’t had an avocado until you had an avocado from Florida, we are known for our citrus, and honestly have you eaten shrimps from Florida, nothing compares to it.” Timineri credits the amazing Florida agriculture and the growing changing seasons as the primary inspirations behind his unique creations.
An agriculture that is responsible for providing a plethora of options when it comes to the culinary scene and attracting award-winning chefs to many parts of Florida. Just ask Chef Emeril Lagasse, Lagasse moved to the Sunshine State in 2009 and created the Emeril’s Florida TV series launched on the Cooking Channel in 2012. The show is now in the fourth season and the Emeril who is known for kicking it up a notch, doesn’t give any indication of slowing down when it comes to giving the people what they want, which is highlighting the amazing culinary scene and agriculture of Florida.
A culinary scene that I had the pleasure of exploring while visiting different parts of Florida. If you’re a BBQ lover, then saddle up and head over to Central Florida for the most mouth-watering, melt in your mouth, sizzling cuts of meat seasoned and cooked to
perfection. When ranchers in the 1800s refused to give cattlemen the choicest cuts of meat, the cattlemen were left with tough cuts of meat that took 10 hours or more to cook, hence the tradition of barbeque was born in Florida. Every year 150 teams from around the United States, and all over Florida, participate in the Lakeland Pig Fest in January for the coveted Kingsford Grand Champion Spot.
If you are looking for the juiciest fry chicken to make love to your palate, then head down to Sarasota. Here in Sarasota, you will find a Midwestern Amish Community that has been able to maintain their culture and beliefs in self-sufficiency by relying solely on the land and their community. The cuisine of the Amish tells the history of their heritage while fostering a continuing relationship with the land that surrounds them. A restaurant that is worthy of an honorable mention, is family owned and operated, Yoder’s Restaurant.
Orlando, the home of Mikey Mouse and Walt Disney World, will take you on a trip around the world without the pricey cost of a plane ticket. The food scene is so extensive that we were unable to visit all the restaurants on our bucket list. But if you want a simple way of tasting the international cuisine of Florida, every year Disney World play host to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, a gift from the culinary gods. The event kicks off this year from September 14 and runs through November 14.
However, if there are only two restaurants you can visit while in Orlando, may I suggest Morimoto Asia. Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s new Pan Asian restaurant is everything that fantasies are made of for diehard food enthusiasts. This two-story restaurant has unique kitchens designed to showcase traditional dishes highlighting cuisines from across Asia.
If Pan Asian is not your heart’s desire, then try Txokos Basque Kitchen. James Beard nominated Chef Henry Salgado entices your taste buds with a Spanish fare and a seasonal menu that immerses you in the culture of Basque with wine, small plates, and an outdoor Asador for grilling.
Daytona Beach, synonymous with fast cars, NASCAR cars that is, teaches us how to cook amazing cuisines with Owner and Chef Bobby Frappier of Frappes Italian Grille. While Miami takes you on a food crawl like no other. There are not too many places in the world that can transport you to different countries by simply walking or driving from one neighborhood, to another. I don’t think that there are any words in the English dictionary that can define the diversity and amazing cuisine and culture you will find in Miami. I found myself in the world of Cuba, learning first-hand how to prepare the perfect Cuban coffee while snacking on Cuban delights. Another neighborhood took me to Peru and taught me the proper way of making Peru’s national drink. South Beach, stuffed and grilled a lobster to perfection.
Key West helped us recover from the fast paced of Miami with a laid back casual atmosphere and plenty of libation. If you are a do it yourselfer, Key West gives you plenty of opportunity to catch your own seafood and bring it home and fry up in pan…or throw it on a grill.
St. Augustine transported us to the culinary world of Columbia and its fine wine. And if you’re not a wine lover, then follow the trail! The St. Pete-Clearwater Craft Beer Trail is like Christmas and your birthday rolled up into one happy beer tasting.
Dunedin Brewery offers tours, meet and greets with brewers, and beer tastings of its hand crafted brews. The brews at Dunedin Brewery are all hand crafted in small batches, 15 barrels at a time. Try favorites like Mango Makrut Paradiso, Apricot Peach Ale, or a Florida Weisse, a low alcohol beer that’s a unique spin on a Berliner Weisse style beer, with the added touch of fresh fruits like mango, key lime, raspberry, dragon fruit, passion fruit and pineapples. But this is no ordinary brewery there is also a menu that includes traditional pub style food, and the not so traditional food. If you happen to try the shredded pork style tacos with the in-house snackbite sauce, beware, just like Florida, this sauce lives up to its reputation.
Update: Since our food crawl in the beautiful Sunshine State this year, the restaurant Txokos Basque Kitchen has permanently closed their doors.