Friday, March 29, 2013

Chef Lauren DeShields On Farm-To-Table Dining, Fla.

Chef Lauren DeShields really believes in using local ingredients. "I'm willing to go to farms to pick things up," she told me during an interview at Swank Table's Hot Pink Lunch, Loxahatchee, Florida.
Chef Lauren DeShields of Market 17 Restaurant, at Swank Table's Hot
Pink Lunch, Loxahatchee, Fla.
This native Floridian started her career at 3030 Ocean Restaurant (Ft. Lauderdale) under the leadership of James Beard winner Chef Dean James Max. She learned a lot from him about the farm-to-table style of cooking. Then she went to San Francisco to get more cooking experience before returning home.

According to DeShields, there is a strong farm-to-table movement in San Francisco. It started with some restaurants making dishes with local ingredients. This educated the people who then started asking for more locally sourced dishes at other restaurants.

This increased demand for local ingredients which allowed farmers to lower their prices. With lower prices more restaurants could source local ingredients to put into their dishes.

She joined the staff of Market 17, a well known farm-to-table restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale, in January 2012, as the Executive Chef.

"I love Swank Farm," DeShields said. She also loves other farms and cooperatives in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami where she sources greens, mushrooms, fruit, and tilapia.

Market 17 is located at  1850 SE 17th Street, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33316
Phone: 954-835-5507

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hot Pink Lunch, Swank Farm, Loxahatchee, Fla: Benefitting Women

Loxahatchee, Fla.— Swank Table’s Hot Pink Lunch celebrated Florida women on February 9th. This female dominated farm event had chefs, farmers, authors, a sommelier, a pianist, a singing quartet, and many hot pink wearing guests. There were also some men, helping the chefs, pouring alcohol, and acting as arm candy for the female guests, some even wore pink. Proceeds went to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Florida based Chef Lauren DeShields, Chef Julie Frans, and Chef Paula
DaSilva getting showered with fresh rose petals at Swank Table's Hot
Pink Lunch, Loxahatchee, Fla.
Under the direction of Chef Linsay Autry, this year’s Hot Pink Lunch went smoothly. “There was a real sense of cooperation,” said Autry in regards to having so many female chefs at the event. “It was hard to tell whose crew belonged to whom because everyone helped out.”

Florida farm-to-table Chefs Lauren DeShields (Market 17, Ft. Lauderdale), Julie Frans (Essensia, Miami), Paula DaSilva (1500 degrees, Miami), Autry (Sundy House, Delray), and Amanda Fernandez (Whole Foods Market, Wellington) transformed Swank Farm produce into gourmet treats.

Pastry Chef Sarah Ortiz (Dallas, Texas) handled dessert and sommelier Mariya Kovacheva (Cafe Boulud, Palm Beach) took care of wine and cocktails.  
Kovacheva's strawberry champagne cocktail at Swank
Table's Hot Pink Lunch, Loxahatchee, Fla.
Kovacheva prepared a spicy welcoming champagne cocktail made with sweet Swank Farm grown strawberries, ginger alcohol, lemongrass, and black pepper. 

Front five-acre grow bag section of Swank Farm,
Loxahatchee, Fla.
Darrin Swank, co-owner of Swank Specialty Produce & Farm, gave a tour of his five-acre grow bag field. This is where he grows produce in dirt. The rest of his crop is grown hydroponically in two large shade houses.
Co-authors Katie Farmand and Heather McPherson
autograph their latest book--Field to Feast, at
Swank Table's Hot Pink Lunch, Loxahatchee, Fla.
After the tour, the 138 guests took a short stroll to an appetizer tent where they sampled chef prepared gourmet bites of Swank's produce. They also bought copies of the book--Field To Feast--featuring Swank Farm.
Female singing barber shop quartet serenades guests,
at Swank Table's Hot Pink Lunch, Loxahatchee, Fla.
Then guests were directed to the flower drenched back tent for a sit down meal made complete with a singing female barber shop quartet.

Chef Autry's fresh and roasted beet salad at Swank
Table's Hot Pink Lunch, Loxahatchee, Fla.

Chef Autry created the first course: a delicious salad of roasted and raw beets, mixed with fresh mache greens, charred chick peas, and creamy local goat cheese.

Chef Frans' Thai style mahi mahi escabeche at Swank
Table's Hot Pink Lunch, Loxahatchee, Fla.
A moist Thai-style mahi mahi came next, created by Chef Frans. It was arranged on a crunchy bed of pickled Swank Farm grown vegetables and bathed in an exotic coconut-ginger-lemongrass juice.

This came with brown rice, eggplant, mustard green, and green curry stuffed peppers.

Chef DaSilva's grilled sausage and pork belly dish at
Swank Table's Hot Pink Lunch, Loxahatchee, Fla.
Chef DaSilva's course was smoky grilled sausage and braised pork belly. It had a creamy polenta base and crunchy pickled Swank Farm pepper relish.

It came with loaded eggplant topped with fresh chevre goat cheese, tomato sauce and micro-greens.

Chef DeShield's White Water clams dish at Swank Table's
Hot Pink Lunch, Loxahatchee, Fla.
The last course, grilled White Water clams, by Chef DeShields, sat on a fresh bean salad, baby fennel, smoked butter, and shaved black radish that looked a lot like coconut.

Tangy grilled beans and cabbage, set on  pickled vegetables came as her side dish.

Dessert, by Chef Ortiz, had some surprising ingredients. She managed to transform the humble root vegetable--beet-- into a sweet white chocolate mousse.

It was topped with chocolate dirt, Florida citrus, crunchy candied beets, yogurt air cake, and beet micro-greens.
Chef Ortiz's white chocolate & beet mousse dessert at
Swank Table's Hot Pink Lunch, Loxahatchee, Fla.


Just before lunch ended, the reason for the meal came full circle when approaching servers asked, "Would you like a breast?"

Breast-like pink champagne cupcakes at Swank Table's
Hot Pink Lunch, Loxahatchee, Fla.
They were carrying trays loaded with candy button topped, pink frosted, champagne cupcakes, supplied by dd's Cupcake Shoppe (Jupiter, Fla.).

To find out more about the Breast Cancer research Center you can go to:

To find out more about Swank Table farm lunches, you can go to 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Celebrating Julia Child in Ft. Pierce, Fla.

What better setting for a Julia Child celebration than a vineyard. The fundraiser dinner, hosted by Florida Slow Food Gold & Treasure Coast chapter foodies, showcased--From Julia Child’s Kitchen book--photographer Albie Walton.
Photographer Albie Walton holding up his Julia
Child photo at Slow Food's Celebrating Julia Dinner,
Ft. Pierce, Fla.
It was ironically chilly at the Endless Summer Vineyard & Winery in Ft. Pierce on March 9th. Dinner service was outside in a covered gazebo with picnic style tables made of lacquered surf boards. Each was set with colorful plates of salad.
T.A. Wyner handing out knives at Slow Food's
Celebrating Julia Child dinner, Ft. Pierce, Fla.
The dinner started late. TA Wyner, of the Slow Food Gold and Treasure Coast chapter, kept everyone entertained and informed on the impending arrival of the chefs.

When they arrived, Walton was invited to speak about his photography career and how it intersected with Julia Child’s life. “Whatever you saw on television is what Julia was,” said Walton.

He said Julia really understood black and white photography because of her husband.

There is a photo in the book, From Julia Child’s Kitchen, where Julia is working with chocolate cigars. She cut her finger just before the shot was taken but told Walton not to worry. “The chocolate cigars are covered with blood but you can’t tell because it’s a black and white photo,” said Walton.
Farmer Diane Cordeau speaking at Slow Food's
Celebrating Julia Child dinner, Ft. Pierce, Fla.
Farmers Diane Cordeau and Carl Frost, of Kai Kai Farm, Indiantown, also talked. They shared how their farm got its name. They were sailors before they were farmers. When they sailed the Soloman Islands and got accepted into tribes the chiefs would say, “Let’s go Kai Kai,” that meant—let’s go gathering food.
Green salad course at Slow Food's Celebrating
Julia Child dinner, Ft. Pierce, Fla.
First course was a crisp green salad (from Gibbons Organics Farm), decorated with a spicy nasturtium flower (from the Compost Gardener), and an aromatic Seville orange infused olive oil vinaigrette (from an organic farm near Mt. Etna, Italy, imported by Olive Oil of the World).
Beef Bourguignon made by Chef Rasheed Shihada at
Slow Food's Celebrating Julia Child dinner,
Ft. Pierce, Fla.
Chef Rasheed Shihada, of Olive Oil of the World, prepared a delicious Julia Child favorite—beef Bourguignon, for the main course. It was made with Florida beef (from Farriss Farm), carrots (from Kai Kai Farm), and oyster mushrooms (from Oyster Island Mushrooms LLc). “Not all the ingredients are traditional. Some of the carrots we got from Kai Kai were purple,” said Shihada.  
Chocolate soufflé glace made by Chef Chris Pawlowski
at Slow Food's Celebrating Julia Child dinner,
Ft. Pierce, Fla.
Dessert course came with a cooking demonstration by Chef Chris Pawlowski, of Palm Beach Organics. He demonstrated how easy it was to prepare a traditional Julia Child chocolate soufflé glace or frozen soufflé.

It was made with local Florida eggs, strawberries, and black Sapote fruit.

The $75/person dinner ticket came with a souvenir wine glass and a chance to buy raffle tickets.

Four copies of Walton’s official centennial poster, chosen for Julia Child’s Kitchen at the Smithsonian, were raffled. He autographed each winner’s poster.

Liliam and Jose Ubilla, of Real Stone and Granite, added a granite personalized plaque to the raffle items.

Money raised from the dinner went to the Slow Food Gold & Treasure Coast's Community Garden Project. If you want to help them raise more money contact Sheryl Paul at or TA Wyner at

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

QV Farms, Loxahatchee, Fla: Hydroponic Happiness

QV Farms, Loxahatchee, Florida, grows and sells delicious red peppers. Owner, Jon Donkin, uses organic growing methods like worm tea fertilizer, to bring out the best in his crop.
Jon Donkin owner of QV Farms, Loxahatchee, Fla.
He started his hydroponic greenhouse farm two years ago and now grows peppers, tomatoes, and strawberries. He also sells produce for Everglades Agricultural Area (near Belle Glade) farmers like celery, cabbage, and sweet corn.

He supplies vegetarian chef Rita Romano with produce. He also sells his produce at the Friday night Jupiter Green and Artisan Market and the Sunday morning Palm Beach Gardens Green Market.

You can contact him at 561-601-9435 or go to his FaceBook page to learn more:

Monday, March 18, 2013

Pearl In The Grove Restaurant, Dade City, Fla: CLOSED

Dade City, Fla.--Local farm sourced food meets gourmet at Pearl In The Grove Restaurant. Under the ownership of Chef Curtis Beebe and his wife Rebecca, this farm-to-table restaurant really embraces local, trying to source ingredients within 50-miles, whenever they can.
Executive Chef/owner Curtis Beebe and Sous Chef
Patrice Murphy at Pearl In The Grove Restaurant,
Dade City, Fla.
Copyright 2013 by Helen A Lockey

I got introduced to Beebe by Trish Strawn of Growing Synergy LLc. food & beverage distributing.  In December 2012, I visited during a photo shoot, and ate some of their dishes for free.

For years, Beebe travelled the world for his IT job, and ate many different types of food. In 2010, he wanted a change in his life and decided to open Pearl In The Grove. He felt he had an advantage over other chefs because he had eaten at so many restaurants.

I asked him why he became a farm-to-table style chef.

He said, “For a guy without any credentials it’s easier to buy local ingredients, do as little as possible to them, and serve.”

Farmers came to the restaurant when they first opened, so the staff did not have to go searching for local ingredients.  And farmers continue to come bringing fresh, seasonal produce on a daily basis.

In August 2012, Sous Chef Patrice Murphy, formerly of the Refinery Restaurant in Tampa, came to work for Pearl In The Grove.  Murphy has worked over 27 years in the food industry and at many farm-to-table restaurants.
Outside view of Pearl In The Grove restaurant,
Dade City, Fla.
Copyright 2013 by Helen A Lockey
I asked Beebe how customers found his restaurant. It's approximately 45 minutes northeast of Tampa, surrounded by Kumquat groves and farm land.

"The people that find us are coming here for us. There are not a lot of accidental customers." he said before dashing off to greet some new arrivals.

Head server Irene said, "This area has a lot of adventurous diners," adding that the restaurant staff give good service by listening to the diners and going beyond what they expect.
Grass-fed beef steak tips, fresh pasta, and seasonal
greens dish at Pearl In The Grove restaurant,
Dade City, Fla.
Copyright 2013 by Helen A Lockey
The dishes I tried were not too adventurous for me like tender grass-fed steak tips with homemade fresh pasta piled high with local tomatoes. And served with fresh seasonal greens.
Winter Fruit Soup dessert at Pearl In The Grove restaurant,
Dade City, Fla.
Copyright 2013 by Helen A Lockey
I also tasted a delicious cold Winter Fruit Soup for dessert made with local citrus, starfruit, and pomegranate bathed in a broth of lemongrass, ginger, and rum. It was topped with home churned toasted coconut sherbet (made with Dakin Dairy cream from Myakka City, Fla.) and a meringue straw (made with local eggs).

I asked Murphy what were some of the bigger challenges of serving farm-to-table style food.

She said, "Getting people to understand to eat local and see the big picture of why we do what we do." Then she added, with a smile, "Local is a core concept of our restaurant. We're using really good stuff. We try to do each step right and honestly."

2018 Update:
They were a wonderful restaurant but they were a little ahead of the curve when the farm-to-table dining scene was just not understood and supported.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Raw Vegan Vegetarian Brunch At Lake Worth Green Market, Fla.

Lake Worth, Fla.—Chef Rita Romano delighted all with a raw vegan vegetarian brunch. The event was held at the Saturday Morning Lake Worth Green Market.

Raw-vegan vegetarian chef Rita Romano at
Lake Worth Green Market Brunch, Fla.
“Would you like the mango chili sauce or the cilantro ginger on your spring roll?” Judy Haggas asked as she prepared the first plate of the raw-vegan vegetarian brunch.

People pulled jackets tight, put on hats, and huddled close together at the Raw Brunch as Haggas and Teresa Mertz, a fellow booth helper, got plates ready for the salivating audience.

Churning waves of intracoastal waterway crashed against the sea wall just steps away from the booth. Wind screamed across the market blowing plates off tables and signs off booths.

“It was bitterly cold this morning at six, “said Peter Robinson, market manager and founder of the Lake Worth Green market, “so a lot of vendors left.”

But this did not stop a healthy number of people from gathering for their $40 a plate brunch of fresh vegetable spring rolls with a choice of mango or cilantro sauce, nut pate stuffed sweet pepper halves, aromatic Thai salad with choice of two types of dressing, and a dessert of mango mousse, delicious lemon cream, and fresh strawberry.

Raw-Vegan vegetarian brunch of vegetable
spring rolls, nut-meat stuffed peppers, Thai salad,
marinated cucumbers, mango mousse, lemon cream,
and herbal tea at Lake Worth Green Market, Fla.
The theme for the day’s food was local ingredients prepared Thai style with a generous use of coconut, Kaffir lime leaves, and chili peppers. “I love chili peppers,” Romano said with a smile. She sourced her greens from QV Farms of Loxahatchee, Florida.
Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Romano is a descendant of Ellis Island Italians immigrants. She grew up eating very healthy foods, “I don’t remember my parents having anything made with sugar in the house.”

She has a long history as a raw-food vegetarian chef, having set up the Hippocrates Institute kitchen in the 1980s where she wrote her book, “Dining In The Raw.” In the 1990s she moved to Key West where she set up a school and a deli for raw-food vegetarian.

Last year, she moved back north, “I’m loving Lake Worth. It’s a cosmopolitan Key West,” she said.

In January this year she opened, The Institute for Culinary Regeneration, in Lake Worth. Here she teaches people how to become a raw-food vegan vegetarians. She also holds monthly raw-vegetarian food cooking workshops, “I am an Italian mama and I don’t want anyone to leave hungry. So the $40 a plate price implies it is all-you-can-eat dinner.”

To find out more you can go to

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Florida Sugar Cane Syrup Making: From Field To Bottle

Dade City, Fla.--Rancher, Steve Melton likes to make sugar cane syrup. Each year, he invites friends and family to his Central Florida ranch to help with the process from grinding the sugar cane to boiling the juice, and then bottling the syrup. This past December he had close to 300 visitors.

Sugar Cane growing on the left at Steve Melton's Ranch,
 Dade City, Fla.
Melton grows his sugar cane on his property near where his 80 gallon sugar cane syrup kettle is housed. He is a collector of antique farm equipment, so he likes to do everything the old fashioned way.

Sugar cane grinding/crushing machine from Melton's
ranch, Dade City, Fla.
The cane has to be grown down to release the juice before anything can happen.

Wood burning fire under 80-gallon kettle at Melton's
ranch, Dade City, Fla.
A fire is stoked under the 80-gallon kettle to help boil the water out of the cane juice.
Boiling cane juice at Melton's ranch, Dade City, Fla.
And then the boiling begins.
Impurities being skimmed off cane juice at Melton's
ranch, Dade City, Fla.
Part of the way through impurities have to be skimmed off the surface of the liquid.
More boiling of sugar cane juice at Melton's ranch,
Dade City, Fla.
And then there is more boiling. There is close to four hours of boiling before the liquid reaches the right density.
Temperature check of boiling sugar cane juice at
Melton's ranch, Dade City, Fla.
The temperature is checked often until the right one is reached and the cane syrup is closer to molten lava than liquid. It is very tasty molten lava.
"Pull the Fire," call rings out and the burning wood is
pulled outside at Melton's ranch, Dade City, Fla.
Now comes the dangerous steps. When the ideal temperature is reached they call "Pull the Fire!" Men grab the fireplace lining and pull the still burning wood out and into the yard.
Sugar cane syrup being sieved at Melton's ranch,
Dade City, Fla.
Then the hot syrup has to be sieved to clarify the liquid.This sieving can be very hazardous because the liquid is hot enough to burn and remove skin in seconds.
Bottling hot cane syrup at Melton's ranch, Dade City, Fla.
And the bottling is no less hazardous, one mistaken move and you've got searing, burning sugar all over your hands.
Labeling stage of sugar cane syrup making at
Melton's ranch, Dade City, Fla.
The labeling process is the last stage in this old fashioned style of making cane syrup.
Newly made Florida sugar cane syrup poured over
homemade biscuits at Melton's ranch,
Dade City, Fla.
And the best stage is the eating, when everything has cooled down, in about two to three hours.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Mom's Pops Of Palm Beach, Fla: Flavorful Surprises, Updated

On a cold South Florida Sunday I come across Mom’s Pops. Pam Hardy—known as Mom, the owner of Mom's Pops has a colorful booth at the Palm Beach Gardens Green Market. Despite the chilly weather, people are buying pops. “We get local fruits from vendors and turn them into whole fruit pops,” says Hardy, to a mother of two, adding the fruit pops are approx 60 calories and the dipped ones are approx 120 calories.
Pam Hardy aka "Mom", owner of Mom's Pops, Palm Beach
Gardens Green Market, Fla.
“What do you use for sweeteners?” the interested mother asks.

“We use agave or dried cane juice, nothing processed,” Hardy says, looking deep into the mom’s eyes, “I’m a type 1 diabetic. I got into this for my four children. When I went to the store and bought sugar-free pops, they had no flavor.”

The family of three now all have their pops, and the mother, licking her pop says, “this tastes better than store bought.”

This makes Hardy smile from ear-to-ear, and turning to me she says, “I listen to everything people say on that first bite.”

She confides in me that she experimented with Stevia™ but didn’t like the aftertaste, “I want my pops to taste good,” she says smiling at a new customer who stops buy a pop.

Her daughter bought a pop from someone in Miami and noticed that it instantly melted even though it had been stored in dry ice. “Why don’t your pops do that Mom?” she asked.

“Ours don’t melt like that because we don’t add water to our pops.” They also don’t add guar gum or other preservatives.

Everything is handmade. “I try to sell mine within two-weeks of making and most sell within one week. If someone wants them to last longer, I tell them I’d prefer to come to their house every two weeks and change out what they have instead of having them eat stale pops,” Hardy says. This means the flavors change often.

Mom's Pops also takes requests for custom pops and caters parties, “I want the children to be able call their own flavors like peanut butter and jelly.”
She started selling her pops at Florida Green Markets in October 2012. "I thought selling pops might actually work because I saw other pop vendors in several different cities while I was visiting my kids," says Hardy, adding, "It was these multiple vendors over multiple markets that got me so interested." 

I buy a watermelon Jalapeno pop and find the two flavors go well together. The pop starts off cold with mild spice but the longer I lick, the spicier it gets.
Hardy sells her pops at the Sunday Palm Beach Gardens Green Market and the Sat West Palm Beach Green Market. You can also find her online at

“I have a Mom at the West Palm Green Market that brings her children directly to my booth when she arrives. The kids think they are getting candy," Hardy says with a twinkle in her eye, "but she knows they are getting whole fruit.”

Monday, March 4, 2013

Porch Of Peace Poem by Rancher Steve Melton, Fla.

Florida rancher Steve Melton shared his peace poem with friends. It was performed at his ranch in Dade City, Florida on Dec 8, 2012.

Sit back and enjoy the words of this amazing man.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Florida Squirrel Eats Local Coconut

Even the squirrels in Florida get it that local tastes better. This furry foodie was sitting in a tree in my backyard waiting for a local treat of freshly harvested green coconuts.

Florida squirrel waits for local food feast
Little did I know this was a favorite food of Florida squirrels. I cracked one open, poured the water into a glass and went inside to get some ice.

While I was gone the furry foodie left his high perch and went to investigate the nuts below. He stuck his head deep inside the shell, took a sniff, and timidly tasted. "Ah, sweet coconut," I'm sure he thought and dived in for some more.