SOBE Wine and Food Festival: Words w/ Chef Timon Balloo

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From February 19 through the 22, foodies from all over the world will migrate to South Florida for The Food Network’s annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Quite possibly the most important culinary event of the season, SOBE Wine & Food fest presents the top food and wine experts in the world, including the top Food Network TV personalities. Among the highlights of the four-day festival are wine tastings, gourmet dinners, seminars, cooking demonstrations, tributes and the Food Network Awards Show. Past rosters for the festival include such names as Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, Rachael Ray, Martha Stewart and Guy Fieri.

Among the myriad events we noticed one of our favorite local culinary heroes, Executive Chef Timon Balloo of Midtown hotspot Sugarcane Raw Bar & Grill, will be participating in several of the festivities. We sat down with Mr. Balloo for a quick Q&A to get some perspective on this years festival, along with his thoughts on Sugarcane’s success and what events to check out this year.

| Interview with Sugarcane Executive Chef Timon Balloo |

Q: Growing up, what first got you interested in the culinary arts?

A: As a kid I used to watch a program called “Yan Can Cook” instead of cartoons. Chef Martin Yan, his character, personality and the way he used the cleaver when he cooked mesmerized me. When I grew up I always thought I’d love to be a chef because they we’re like rock stars; I figured it would be unattainable so I actually pursued a career in finance. Then halfway through a stint working at a brokerage firm I decided to make a career change into the culinary arts.

Q: It certainly seems like its worked out for you?

A: Knock on wood (laughs)

Q: You are the Executive Chef at Sugarcane in Midtown, which has become quite a popular spot in Miami. What is it that keeps people coming back?

A: Well when we first opened up, we were asking people to come all the way down south to the Midtown area when there was nothing here, yet they’ve kept coming through thick and thin. I would definitely say the overall hospitality and consistency is what keeps them coming. Once you walk in and smell the scent of the regatta grill and see the guys behind the fresh fish counter, you just feel this great vibe. But definitely the consistency is what keeps people coming back, plus the comfortable setting and indoor-outdoor bar; we’re an extension of the kitchens of the people living upstairs in midtown residence and honestly, its been great to become that destination restaurant where people come several times a week.

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Q: What would you say is the most popular dish at Sugarcane at the moment?

A: That’s a difficult one. Several dishes have emerged as signature dishes, including the bacon wrapped dates, goat cheese croquettes or brussels sprouts. We sell thousands of those and people keep coming back for them. It’s hard to say one sells more than the other, but those 3 are definitely our top sellers.

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Q: You’ll be participating at the Surf & Surf: A Sustainable Seafood Dinner during this year’s festival. Can you tell us a little about what you’ll be doing and what we can expect from the event?

A: Yes Surf & Surf with Chef Todd English. It’s at a nice, small intimate venue called Redfish Grill in South Miami. The event highlights Florida agriculture and the sustainable seafood we have in our neighboring regions of the Caribbean and Gulf. I chose just to have fun with it and do a Taco. Tacos have been really hot this last year; I’ve seen a lot of chefs play in the taco realm. So I wanted to dabble my hand in that and do a rendition of Fish Tacos. Growing up in California, you would always have fish tacos but I’m going to do shrimp tacos with a really sustainable shrimp from Belize called Laughing Bird shrimp. We’re going to keep it simple: marinate it in chilies, squeeze some fresh lime, cilantro and fresco on top and call it a day.

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Q: Which other SOBE events are you most looking forward to this year? 

A: Well I’m actually also doing Swine & Wine which is a great event, I mean who doesn’t love pork pork pork. I mean all the events are so cool whether it’s the Burger Bash or Best of the Best, there’s always a brunch or dine-around. It’s just one of the funnest weeks of the year. Everyone comes to Miami, their here for a good time, their here to eat great food and drink great wine. It’s just a great time to be a chef in Miami.

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Q: Any advice for people visiting the SOBE Food & Wine fest for the first time?

A: I would definitely say don’t eat a week before hand (laughs), relax and have a good time. That’s the best way to take it all in. I know sometimes people have itineraries and get caught up with racing here and racing there, but Miami is all about chilling out, enjoying the beach, enjoying the weather. If you have that philosophy then your going to enjoy the festival even more. Just enjoy your time in South Florida and embrace the culture.

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Oasis Guests receive preferred reservations & VIP perks @ Sugarcane when reservations are made via Oasis | For more on events, hosts, ticket prices & more visit sobefest.com

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