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Miami Chefs Dazzle at Slow Food Event

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A perfectly seared, sweet local shrimp sits on a fluffy fresh corn pudding, spiked with an ultra-shrimpy reduction sauce: This was the winning example of the kind of fresh, inventive cooking that is popping up all over the country. But this food was in South Beach, long known for a year-long spring break vibe, less known, until recently, for great cooking. Miami's food boom has been gaining attention for a few years: Now, clearly, the buzz has been turned up to 11.

Cooking Light was lucky to be a sponsor and judge at Slow Food Miami's "Snail of Approval" chef awards party in South Beach Friday night -- a chance to taste dishes from 14 south Florida chefs. The winning dish, pictured here, was from chef Todd Erickson at Haven, a "digital hi-fi lounge" that serves small plates 'til 5 a.m. -- not the sort of place where, 'til recently, you'd expect food to be anything like this good.

The range of dishes was impressive, from Four Seasons' chef Aaron Brooks' casual little bite of garlicky, perfectly textured house-made kielbasa with a cream-free turnip puree (sounds odd, but I will be trying to make this at home as soon as I get back) to deft, delicate plates like Conor Hanlon's stone crab meat with asparagus, local citrus and a beautiful, silken, savory tapioca pudding, from The Dutch.

It was exciting to talk to Gabriela Machado, who just opened Copperbox. Machado is a graphic designer whose presentation is clever and whose cooking shows big promise. She served poached lane snapper with a sweet tomato relish and an exquisite tiny dollop of beurre blanc, made with coconut water and champagne; she also served a dessert: a tiny scoop of beet ice cream with thumbnail-sized cheesecakes (like wee cheesy madelines).

The superhot, friendly Yardbird, meanwhile, opted for a buffet of house-made pickles, deviled eggs, pimento cheese and wild-boar headcheese with mustard: all in line with their Southern vibe. The inventive, focused Giorgio Rapicavoli of Eating House deployed liquid nitrogen to turn yuzu-tinged yogurt into tangy frozen Dipping Dots, served with salt-roasted beet and grapefruit.

I gave Erickson's shrimp dish the slight edge because it came together as a perfect savory bite, infused with corn sweetness and shrimpy goodness: He won Cooking Light's Dazzling & Delicious award -- and then also won the people's choice award. You'll see an Erickson recipe in a future issue of Cooking Light.

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