Slabs of meat won’t sizzle on the grill. There will be no beef, no sausage and absolutely no bacon. Miami Smokers is going full out vegan — if just for the night — competing against notable chefs from Soul Tavern and Della Test Kitchen in a preview for the Seed Food and Wine Festival.
If that’s surprising to some, Miami Smokers Chef Andres Barrientos said it shouldn’t be.
“We’re chefs. We eat other stuff other than meat, obviously. It may seem that it’s far fetched, but it’s not,” he said.
Alison Burgos, co-founder of the week-long plant-based event, knows that Miami Smokers’ participating in a vegan cook off might provoke some head scratching. But that’s exactly what she wants.
“It was not by coincidence. It was by design,” Burgos said. “We love to celebrate great vegan restaurants, but what we also like to do is engage great chefs, great restaurants and great brands and challenge them to create more plant-based dishes.”
Incorporating mainstream chefs into the Seed Food and Wine Festival was a deliberate choice to encourage conversation about what a meal consists of — and how it doesn’t always require meat at the center.
That sort of dialogue is gaining traction in South Florida, where Miami has been ranked one of the country’s most favorable cities for vegan lifestyles. Burgos said she’s witnessed the city become more accepting to plant-based diets.
“When you say Miami, five or six years ago you’d think bodybuilders and tanning and cosmetic surgery. And the same thing with the culinary scene,” she said. “There is a trend here and there is a movement here that cannot be denied. We’re proud to be part of that.”
Julie Frans of Della Test Kitchen invited Barrientos to compete in the BBQ Throwdown. She said bridging gaps between communities is central to the judge-free mission of the Seed Food and Wine Festival.
“There used to be two camps: If you’re vegan, you’re vegan; If you’re not, you’re not,” she said. “The thing about Seed is even though it’s a plant- based food festival, it’s really about raising awareness and challenging consciousness.”
While Della Test Kitchen will face off against Miami Smokers, Frans said the BBQ Throwdown will be all fun between friends. And she doesn’t doubt Barrientos’ skills.
Neither does Burgos.
“One of the best people that do barbecue in all of South Florida is going to take the challenge to do vegetables. I just know they’re going to bring it,” she said.
The cook off precedes the vegan festival, which returns to Miami Nov. 1. All the proceeds from the event will benefit Health in the Hood, an organization that grows urban gardens and offers nutrition education in South Florida communities that lack viable access to fresh food.
Miami Smokers, Soul Tavern and Della Kitchen will join Johnson and Wales University and Love Life Cafe to compete in two categories: fan favorite and judges’ pick.
Barrientos is ready. He’s far from vegan, but his wife was about four years ago. The last thing guests should expect from him is soggy vegetables, he said. But they can feel confident that he won’t be preaching about pork, either.
“I’m never trying to convert anybody. That’s not really my thing. I respect that people make their own food decisions, and that’s OK,” he said. “The one thing you should take away from it is: I’m a chef. I cook all sorts of food. It’s not just limited to pork and to barbecue and meat.”
IF YOU GO
What: BBQ Throwdown + Seed Preview Party 2017
When: Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017
Time: 7 – 10 p.m.
Where: The Wynwood Yard
56 Northwest 29th Street
Miami, FL 33127
Tickets: $40 at eventbrite.com