February 21, 2024


World's finest Food

Food fest magic, Christmas menus and a mean coquito

Fest-goers toast at the "First Bite" dinner at Buccan Palm Beach Dec. 9 during the 2021 Palm Beach Food and Wine Festival 2021.

Food fest magic, Christmas menus and a mean coquito

The Palm Beach Food and Wine Festival swept throughout town Thursday night, lavishing some beloved restaurant kitchens with a generous sprinkling of holiday magic. Visiting luminaries joined local culinary stars at four bustling opening-night dinners in Palm Beach Gardens at Stage Kitchen, West Palm Beach at Okeechobee Steakhouse and Palm Beach at Buccan and PB Catch.

San Francisco chef Charles Phan chats with a guest, who is enjoying his braised duck leg dish, at the "Spice" dinner at Stage Kitchen in Palm Beach Gardens Dec. 9 during the 2021 Palm Beach Food and Wine Festival.

What a treat it is to watch the chefs in action as they collaborate on one another’s dishes. From my seat at the “Spice” dinner at Stage, I could see executive chef/co-owner Pushkar Marathe pulling ramen noodles for two-time James Beard Award-winning San Francisco chef Charles Phan’s braised duck leg bowl. Phan, praised for his nuanced Vietnamese cooking at his famed Slanted Door restaurant, added meaty shiitakes, bamboo shoots and halved Chinese dates to the duck broth for a dish that was pure, elevated comfort.

Chefs Pushkar Marathe and Maneet Chauhan pause for a smile during the 2021 Palm Beach Food and Wine Festival's "Spice" dinner at Marathe's Stage Kitchen restaurant in Palm Beach Gardens.

They were joined by Food Network favorite chef Maneet Chauhan, who tapped into her new southern roots – she lives in Nashville, where she owns four restaurants and three craft breweries – to create a hearty shrimp and grits dish brimming with touches from her native India. She ladled the Key West pink shrimp and Indian upma-inspired grits with a coconut curry sauce and added a fresh mango slaw for contrast. 

Introducing a decadent layer of flavors was visiting chef and spice master Lior Lev Sercarz, who created the evening’s dessert, a Turkish coffee-orchid ice cream served over halva cream and enriched by almonds caramelized in silan date syrup. 

At Stage Kitchen's "Spice" dinner, a dish of Florida corn and sprouted mung "bhel" by chef Pushkar Marathe is served during the 2021 Palm Beach Food and Wine Festival's opening night Dec. 9.

This time last year, when the festival was canceled due to COVID concerns, adventurous eaters could only dream of such one-night-only events. Now, even in an industry hit hard and perhaps changed forever by the pandemic, a new kind of energy is revealed when excellent chefs collaborate. 

The festival continues through Sunday, with tickets still available for tonight’s dinner at Tropical Smokehouse starring landmark American chef Larry Forgione and his two chef sons. Tickets also are available for tomorrow night’s big-reveal event at PGA National Resort, featuring chefs Lindsay Autry and Jeremy Ford. For tickets and information, visit PBFoodWineFest.com.

This time last year: my batch of Puerto Rican-style coquito, ready to be gifted.

Coquito de Navidad

I’m about to whip up my annual batch of coquito, the rum-spiked, Puerto Rican-style eggnog that’s the Christmas cocktail equivalent of Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is You.” It’s everywhere and a true guilty pleasure. 

My favorite recipe is borrowed with permission from Puerto Rican-born Charleston chef Reina Gascon-Lopez, who authors the SofritoProject.com site. She has nailed the ingredient list – yes, the Puerto Rican rum makes a difference – and offers easy steps for this no-fail recipe. ¡Salud!

Chef Mark Militello's cioppino seafood stew is served over pasta at Josie's Ristorante in Boynton Beach.

Christmas dining and drinking

From an “eight-fish” feast by a James Beard Award-winning chef to a Florida barbecue takeout feast, local restaurants are ready to cook for you Christmas Eve and Christmas this year.

Here’s a roundup of some local restaurants offering holiday menus

Here’s a roundup of spots serving holiday drinks.

Have a delicious weekend!

Liz Balmaseda