January is a notoriously lean month for sourcing fresh fruits and vegetables—particularly in the chillier parts of the country. Many chefs turn to South America, Mexico and warmer states like Florida, where sunny citrus groves are in their prime growing season. Luckily for Kris Wessel, chef at Florida Cookery in the James Royal Palm Hotel in Miami Beach, these groves are close by in the Orlando area so he can maintain his “hyper-regional” focus.
“This time of year I’m incorporating red navel oranges, blood oranges, kumquats, satsumas, grapefruit, tangelos and more into the food and drink menus,” he says. “Almost every seafood dish has citrus.” The Corvina Ceviche, for example, is finished with grapefruit and lime.
One of Florida Cookery’s showcases for citrus is a Hearts of Palm Carpaccio composed with three types of oranges—red navel, regular navel and tangerine—drizzled with an orange vinaigrette and a squirt of lemon to cut the sweetness. “Hearts of palm is another local crop. I shave them very thin and immediately cover them with a mixture of house-made citrus vinegar and oil. Otherwise, they will start oxidizing right away,” the chef explains.
Although 80 percent of the fruits, vegetables, seafood and meat Wessel sources is Floridian, “it’s not just product I’m sourcing, it’s the culinary heritage of the region. My menu highlights all of the people who live in south Florida and their cuisines,” he says. That means Peruvian Pollo de Brasa sits side by side with oxtail empanadas, West Indian goat roti and conch chowder.
Wessel partners with farmers all over the state to get the produce he needs to prepare these dishes. He relies on Tropical Fruit Growers for items such as mamey, sapodilla, cherimoya, mango and dragon fruit, and Seriously Local for baby vegetables, tomatoes and other tropicals.
“Most months, the produce is on the trees or in the ground in Florida, but if not, I’ll bring in product from the Caribbean islands or South America,” Wessel reports. “If I need a sapodilla, I’m going to get it.”