Gulf Coast Florida Cuisine
(Click on each word for the page)
Most people like food, and the art of preparing delicious food is one of the mainstays of American life. Passion for great food is one of the things that I love about Los Angeles. I hope you enjoy these thoughts on food and recipes.
The central Gulf Coast of Florida, specifically Tampa, has been a culinary “hot spot” for over a century. The texture of it’s varied peoples, Caribbean Islanders, mixed with Southerners, Greeks, Italians, Spanish, all contributed to it’s own brand of “Fusion” cooking, long before the term was coined.
Anyone who ever attended one of the New Year’s Pig Roasts at the Garren house quickly learned that everyone in this family loves to cook. Mother Edna, an accomplished baker of cakes and cookies, as well as her famous Holiday Fruitcake soaked in Cognac for two months, loved to create in the kitchen.
“Miss Edna” made her own Guava Jelly, Orange and Kumquat Marmalade (from trees in the yard), as well as Boleche Asado (a roasted flank steak with a Chorizo inside to flavor it), Ropa Vieja (shredded flank steak simmered in “sofrito”, a spicy sauce), as well as traditional southern favorites like corn pudding and sweet potato pie.
My father was a skilled “Camp Chef”, a talent fostered from cooking on camping trips, and backyard barbecues. His smoked Mullet (a delicately flavored vegetarian fish found in the brackish waters of the Florida West coast) was legendary. An invitation to come to the Garren home for smoked Mullet, cornbread and other delights was never passed up, with guests coming from as far away as 50 miles to partake. Always health conscious, Pappa Ed would make lemonade with brown sugar, and corn bread with whole-wheat flour.
My older brother Gene moved to San Francisco in the 1970s, where he learned Asian lifestyles and cuisine. Gene’s abilities with soybeans and squid, as well as his own renderings of smoked fish, are always a delight. At our holiday pig roasts, he held court carving the pig with his hunting knife and a large spoon.
I sold a story to the Los Angeles Times in 2000 about our Cuban Style Pig Roasts and how to do one. I hope you enjoy the story, just click on the link here.
I took all of this in, and embellished it with skills learned from the bayous of the northern Gulf Coast, Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Haiti, all of which have made their way into the lexicon of a Florida chef. In todays times, we tend to place so much emphasis on the latest fashion in food. All of it is good, but holidays, particularly like Thanksgiving, tend to be the days we revert to what is most familiar.
There are few identified “southerners” in the west outside of African American neighborhoods. Most white southerners in the west tend to quickly shed any attributes that are overtly southern.
Florida is where the South and the Caribbean collide, hence the essence of Florida cooking.
While it is possible to find some "Southern" cuisine at barbecue places, it is virtually impossible to find Florida cuisine.
In the spirit of “Sharing a good thing”, I offer these recipes. This page started out with some of the best examples of regional cuisine that I’ve found, and I hope you enjoy them. But my repertoire' has expanded, so I have expanded the offerings. I hope you enjoy them all.