Sunday, May 19, 2013

Get Out Your Frying Pan! Lionfish Is What’s For Dinner

This beautiful fish is wreaking havoc in our native Florida waters and beyond. Photo courtesy of REEF.

Last month, I attended the First Annual Lionfish Food and Wine Night at Key Largo’s Fish House Encore, hosted by REEF, a grassroots organization devoted to marine conservation. The house was packed at this exclusive gourmet event, where locals and tourists alike were eager to learn about lionfish.

Lionfish are gorgeous, dramatic-looking finny creatures, with elongated spines that jut out from their frames in mottled shades of red, orange, white and black. In water, the spines sway gently in a beguiling dance. Indigenous to the Indo-Pacific, lionfish are prized on this side of the globe as an exotic aquarium species.

It’s nothing personal, but unfortunately, they don’t belong in our coastal waters.

Lionfish Dinner Event in Key Largo
Lad Adkins of REEF lecturing on the marine issues involving lionfish.

Two visually identical species of lionfish were first introduced into the Atlantic via the aquarium trade in the 1980s. The result? Non-native lionfish have invaded waters from the Carolinas to South America, the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.

And as one report indicates, they may even be able to handle estuarine environments with lower salinity, including the Loxahatchee River.

Voracious eaters, lionfish also spawn prodigiously, reaching sexual maturity in less than a year, while they feast on over 70 species of fish and many invertebrate species, altering the balance of long-established ecosystems. Lionfish densities can reach as much as 200 adults per acre and a female in the Caribbean can spawn over 2 million eggs per year.

This pretty fish is like the Terminator!

Lionfish have evolved a very clever defense system through their venomous spines, which protect their bodies with a neurotoxin, so they must be handled carefully to avoid stings on human flesh.

Lionfish Dinner Event in Key Largo
The venomous proteins in the spines can be denatured with hot water. Just be careful.

God forbid, but if a lionfish up a Florida river ever seriously hurt a human, we might even get Jeremy Wade of River Monsters to come down here and investigate!

It’s too bad this invasive species isn’t easily harvested by conventional fishing methods such as rod and reel, what with so many other fish in the reefs competing for bait. Maybe they’re just too wily. Also, they can thrive in depths as far as 1000 feet.

They tend to hunker down under structure and like stalking for live bait.

Spearfishing seems to be the best method of capturing lionfish and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has encouraged open season on the possession and harvest of the species. Numerous lionfish derbies for recreational fishermen take place around Florida and other invaded aquatic regions.


Deborah Meltzer, owner of a printing business in the Fort Lauderdale area for the last twenty years, is a scuba diver and lady angler who takes her lionfish harvesting seriously. Sex and the Beach spoke on the phone with her about her underwater fishing endeavors offshore ranging from Pompano Beach to Fort Lauderdale accessible reefs.

“I’m more into the catching of them than cooking them,” she said. “I started out getting interested in hunting lobsters and then I took a course in lionfish. It’s not lobster season right now, so I like to go for lionfish since there’s no restriction.”

She admitted that divers can only keep them in check and that they’d never be able to get to them all to curb the population. “That’s how bad the problem is,” she said. “But I do my little part in helping save our reefs from invasive species.”

Because of their dorsal and anal venomous spines, they have no natural predators in this part of the world.

“Bigger fish would have to learn how to eat them,” said Meltzer.

“I’ve heard it’s like a bee sting on steroids,” she said. “Although, I’ve never been stung.”

In addition to a traditional spear, Meltzer sometimes uses nets or a PVC contraption that relies on a trap door to safely carry multiple lionfish underwater, thereby preventing stings.

“It's really important to learn how to handle them” she explained. “So this way you don't feel their powerful venom.”

Once the fish are on board and ready for a first mate’s fillet knife, it’s a different story.

“We fillet the larger ones and check their stomach content,” she said. “They eat everything that’s economically important to us and environmentally important to the reef.”


Lionfish Dinner Event in Key Largo
Fillet carefully and you've got a tasty dinner.

But back to the Key Largo event.

The best part for fishermen is that once you’ve safely caught and filleted a lionfish, you’ve got a potentially tasty dinner if your culinary skills are up to par. The white flesh is tender, akin to hogfish, without that “fishy” scent and flavor we associate with species like tuna.

The fish fillet lends itself beautifully to a traditional wine, butter, shallots and cream sauce preparation with a lightly floured, egg-washed fillet.

Lionfish Dinner Event in Key Largo
Straight out of Escoffier. A traditional preparation. Julia Child would approve ... I think.

My favorite dish at the Fish House Encore was the Sea Salted Cured Lionfish served with heirloom tomatoes, red-onions, cilantro and drizzled with olive oil.

The second course was also delicious. The lionfish was encrusted with fried red onions and Japanese breadcrumbs, baked in the oven and served with a sweet and sour sauce over arugula salad.

I wasn’t too happy with the other two courses and besides, I was rather full by then. I’d avoid mixing bacon with the lionfish or anything too strong in scent, smoky or chewy in texture. Think white wines and light flavors or textures, flash preparations with minimal time in the pan to preserve the tenderness of the flesh.

Next time you go to eat fish at a Florida restaurant, ask if they serve lionfish. Or better yet, ask your local fishmonger if they’ve got any on ice. A bounty of recipes, which you can apply to similar fish like snapper or grouper, is available in the The Lionfish Cookbook, authored by Tricia Ferguson and Lad Adkins. Beautifully photographed, the book is a must for any home chef interest in reading simple yet varied preparations for fish. Proceeds from book sales will continue to support marine conservation and lionfish research.


Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission

Lionfish Derbies

Lionfish Cookbook

Restaurants Serving Lionfish (to date)

Loxahatchee River Study

National Geographic post on sharks being taught to eat lionfish in Roatan, Belize

Follow @killthelionfish on Twitter for latest news on lionfish events and issues.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Silicone Bitch: Gordon Ramsey of Kitchen Nightmares and ABC Bake Bistro Are All Reality TV Whores


Silicone Bitch has been quiet for a while, but she's coming back! We've got some really juicy stories on our editorial calendar.

Of recent interest is a social media publicity scandal involving an Arizona restaurant -- Amy’s Baking Company Bakery Boutique & Bistro -- whose Facebook page caught fire in a flame war involving public reaction to a reality TV show segment on Kitchen Nightmares.

Read the whole "alleged" story on Buzzfeed.

What puzzles me the most is that the general public, many of them commenters on Facebook, seemed to have tacitly accepted reality TV as "real," when we know that there is no such thing as reality TV.

Reality TV is highly fabricated, scripted, manipulated and edited to serve a particular agenda.  There are lights, cameras and microphones in your face, along with producers creating story lines on the spot to serve their own theme needs.  It might as well be fiction and the same is true of all documentary filmmaking, which really boils down to creative storytelling, even if it intends to tell the truth.

Have you ever heard about Heidenberg's Uncertainty Principle?  Well, you don't have to be a physicist to know that once you tell a story about something, it's being filtered through you. There is never any real transparency.  We are all dependent on our sense organs, which filter interpretation through a complex system mind-body-soul connection.  No message is ever unaffected by our observation of facts. It's impossible to be completely impartial.

And that's OK. It's just the limitations of our world. Always take everything, everything with a grain of salt. You might even question my own interpretation of all this. That's not really the point.

I love to believe in journalistic integrity that aims to be unbiased as possible -- it's the best we can do -- but if you're buying this "story," you're being duped.

Would you like to know what I saw in this video segment? Two restaurant owners being ripped a new asshole to serve Kitchen Nightmare's agenda and a woman desperately trying to defend her business -- with edited scenes making her appear like a bitch -- because Gordon Ramsey comes across as a mysoginst totalitarian Pope of all things culinary somehow.  And some husband, co-business owner who's too much of a pussy to do something about his allegedly demanding wife, who seems to be in complete denial of her crappy food production, never mind that the restaurant has allegedly been open for six years.

Now for all I know, this lady chef might be truly bat shit crazy, but that's not the point. And also, there's no crime against being a strong woman who runs a business.

I cry bullshit on all party sides -- but the story they fed us does make for good drama, doesn't it?

I mean: "kitchen that had some minor problems and we worked it out" doesn't make for good, riveting TV, does it?

And I'm not buying what's being posted on Facebook, either.

All's well that ends well, somehow. I might even call this a successful public relations ploy.  They did get some of the best negative publicity ever, even inspiring me to write about how fucked up this all is.  Isn't "the worst restaurant in the world run by some hysterical bitch" the first place you're going to visit Scottsdale now?


One of the drawbacks of social media is that we tend to jump over the cliff like lemmings, without fact checking and stopping to really examine.  Social media feeds us pilchards and we're like voracious tarpon, ready to have it shoved it down our gullets.  If we're going to be citizen journalists, then we should be responsible interpreters of that citizen journalism as well.

Shame on the Buzzfeed author as well for not looking at all sides of the story. Why not question it? Why not investigate who had access to that Facebook page's admin? Why not actually research what was claimed on the show? Do you just take a reality show's host word at face value?

Just think of the title, Kitchen Nightmares. They want to make us all think that there is in fact a nightmare, when there might be none at all.  Gordon Ramsey is out to produce a nightmare a priori over some fucking frozen ravioli and his bank account depends on it.

It's the world of reality TV folks, the most expertly manipulative form of storytelling humanity has ever known.

Cheers and bon appetit!

Saturday, May 04, 2013

R & R - Romp and Relaxation in Key West for the Romantically Challenged

The Reach Resort, Key West
The view from one of the rooftop terraces at The Reach. Simply divine.

“Been there, done that, but in a good way.” That’s what I often say of many destinations I keep going back to, picking only favorite restaurants, bars and beaches to visit while I’m there. Key West is like that for me and although I love trying new things, it’s a small island and I’ve gotten to know folks there, so sometimes, I feel like a Miami expat local.

Mandatory stops usually include The Rum Bar to say hello to bartender and rum expert Bahama Bob and sip on one of his legendary cocktails; Café Solé to catch up with Chef Correa and indulge in fragrant soups, conch carpaccio and his signature fresh-caught hogfish; or groove to some live music at The Green Parrot and greet owner John.

And no trip to Key West is complete without a picnic at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park beach.

So, when I was invited on a press trip to visit Waldorf Astoria brand The Reach and Casa Marina resorts, I figured I’d be wandering off property a bit – they even gave us complimentary taxi passes – but folks, I never left each property. That’s how good it was. You couldn’t have pried my big Cuban butt out of there with a crane even if you wanted to and I never even set foot on Duval Street.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty to do in Key West, but if what you want is to really, truly get away from it all and focus on each other, these two hotels totally fit that bill and then some.

My room at the The Reach was a spacious suite with a luscious king size bed, which unfortunately didn’t afford a view of the ocean that was available from the balcony, but was placed in a lovely separate room, ideal for nooky after a day in the sun.

The beach here has soft sand and if you don’t absolutely melt in relaxation after hanging around under the palm trees or the numerous lookout terraces, then you definitely need to call your doctor for a tranquilizer.


The Strip House at The Reach Resort, Key West
Eat this but save room for the decadent chocolate cake as well.

But more importantly: food at The Strip House. Yes, it’s implied: tender beef and photos of half-naked women all in one sentence and quite a mouthful. This is quite possibly the most erotic yet tasteful place I’ve ever eaten at (besides my own home, of course, where I might be found cooking wearing nothing more than a simple apron). Red leather pullmans and classy black-and-white backlit vintage photos of women photographed during the 1900s at the Manasse studio in Vienna, some even showing a peek of boob, grace the restaurant, where the food was ridiculously good.

My fellow travel writers and I were practically stabbing each other with forks to see who could eat more of the twice-baked potatoes, served with a cut of beef slathered in a creamy Béarnaise sauce redolent of tarragon. Don’t even get me started on the creamy lobster bisque -- I’d take it intravenously!

And if you don’t become randy after trying the half-ton chocolate cake with a quaff of port -- seriously, if I were a man it would be instant Viagra -- then again, please consult your physician.

The Strip House at The Reach Resort, Key West
The breakfast buffet was served in the plush lounge area at The Strip House. Enjoy bacon with a visual hint of boob.

It was with great regret I left The Reach to go to Casa Marina, but I was surprised with yet another heavenly king size bed and this time, a view of the ocean from the bed. So yeah, sex with a view is available at many of the rooms in this classic hotel -– Henry Flagler’s last property, which has been renovated, but still has that old Florida resort feel without coming across as snobby or pretentious, even if you do pay top dollar for your Tommy Bahama flip flops in the gift shop.

Casa Marina Resort, Key West
After spent with passion, prop your head up on the plush pillows and you'll see most of this.  Not too shabby and utterly romantic.


The beach here is a bit rockier than the one at The Reach, but folks, before you even dip your toes in the water, there are two secluded tiki huts, festooned with orchids, where couples can enjoy aromatherapy massages while listening to the waves softly lap up on the shore.

Spa al Maré at Casa Marina Resort, Key West
It really doesn't get better than this.

I’m not kidding you; this massage experience will change your life. I’ve had hundreds of massages and this one was definitely on my top 5 list. Ask for Judith at Spa Al Maré and the specially blended organic massage oil aptly called Joy, which includes exotic ylang-ylang, one of my favorite scents and a known aphrodisiac. Dudes, if you think that’s too girly, pick a muskier scent like sandalwood or opt for citrus. Breathe in the salty ocean air mixed with these organic oils and you’ll be thanking me.

The massage is a holistic healing experience and while it’s not intended to make you frisky, it’s hard to imagine someone not walking away completely calm yet revived. Relaxing before romping sounds like a good idea to me. And guess what? You get to keep the oil blend, so you can create your own happy endings later on your own.


As you all know, I usually try to sneak in a fishing trip, but that didn’t happen this time. I did, however, build a sandcastle!

The Reach Resort, Key West
A professional sand scultpure by Sandisles at the Reach.  You can see mine here, which was created at Casa Marina.

Try this experience like a kind of spiritual foreplay in which you work on creating something together. It’s meditative in many ways, but also a kind of tantric teamwork and relationship building exercise. I picked a sandcastle because that’s the traditional form and at one point we even called it “The Ron Jeremy meets Rapunzel House of Pleasure” because of its cylindrical, phallic shape. But that just was yours truly cracking pervy jokes while multi-tasking -- you know, shoveling sand and drinking cool gin and tonics with fresh squeezed limes.

You, however, can create any form you want. The whole process takes about two and a half hours.

The sand comes from quarries near Hialeah – yeah, I know, the jokes were flying “I come to Key West and I’m talking about Hialeah? Coño!” -- but it was so soft and comforting to the touch, very malleable. And because it’s crushed rock mixed with water, it provides a very hands-on sensual experience using natural material. It has to get hard yet stay moist while you pound it down before you gently create shapes. Rather yin and yang, male and female qualities in the whole process. You get my drift.

Sand sculpture pro Marianne will guide you through the process after which you’ll have created an original souvenir. You can’t take it home with you but you will have the memories; make sure to take plenty of photos.

It's probably obvious by now why I was glued to the resorts and never set foot on Duval Street during this trip. A sunset dinner at Casa Marina was yet another reason why. Although it was bit windy during our stay and the food got a bit cold during service, nothing could deter me from devouring the spicy conch chowder you’ll find on the regular menu at Toes in the Sand, a kind of pop-up dining experience, because yes, you’ll be eating lobster tails with your toes in the sand and playing footsies under the table in this very romantic outdoor dining setting. Ideally, book your meal during the full moon.

Now, far be it from me to tell you how awesome it would be to “enjoy” the hammocks strung between palm trees after the sun goes down and the moon rises. There’s nothing like a good, discreet smooch on the beach to kindle passion. Wink, wink.

Casa Marina Resort, Key West
A couple enjoying a sunrise on the pier with the tempting hammocks in the foreground.

I think I left a little bit of my heart in this section of Key West, as evidenced by my drive back to Miami, where I absolutely had to stop at Morada Bay in Islamorada for a late lunch. You see, traveling to the Keys is like scuba diving. You need to decompress before you reach the surface. So, I just happened to be sitting next to the owner of some very famous South Beach nightclubs – A French guy, o la la! -- and we struck up a conversation. What are the odds? It was rather surreal and while talking to him, I felt the rough edges of Miami Beach creeping into my mind in my now eroding state of bliss as I was approaching Miami-Dade County. And it made me think: Folks come to Miami Beach for vacation. Miamians go to the Keys for vacation. Or they end up moving there, eventually!

I love the Florida Keys. And so should you. Can’t wait to go back.


I didn’t pay a dime for this trip except for gas in my car and my lunch at Morada Bay, plus a sandwich I picked up at Porky’s BBQ in Marathon. But I made sure to check that every morsel of sponsored food and every room I enjoyed was available to you, my dear audience, in the same exact condition.  Just ask the PR reps how much I pestered them with fact-checking.  All suggestions and opinions here are my own. I aint gonna lie and I never do. Feel free to contact me any time for South Florida travel questions @vicequeenmaria.