Last week I Tweeted and Facebooked this quote: “Anything that keeps a glass in my hand keeps a smile on my face”. I wish I could take credit for this wonderful little lifestyle passage but I cannot. I can however adopt it as my mantra, (which I am!) Only someone with that certain je ne sais quois could ever possibly say something like this and mean it; and of course I snagged him as this week’s Spotlight Interview.
This week’s spotlight shines brightly on bon vivant extraordinaire Lyn Farmer. I met Lyn two years ago at none other than a food and wine pairing hosted at Café Maxx with Wine Watch. As luck would have it we happened to sit next to each other and had a lovely time. For those of you who know Lyn it won’t come as a surprise that he was ever Mr. Congeniality and quite the conversationalist. I’ve been in South Florida for 22 years so his name rang a bell but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what bell it rang. At the end of the event Andrew from Wine Watch told me who he was.
Now fast forward two years and our paths get tangled up once again as wonderful old vines usually do and I said to him at a dinner we were both at “I don’t know if you remember me but we met two years ago…..”and without missing a beat Mr. Farmer said of course I do, it was the Zinfandel tasting. Well I’ll be damned.
Lyn Farmer is involved in many projects and has his hands in many a cookie jar but none of which are as near and dear to his heart as the Miami Wine and Food Festival. Lyn is the director of this boutique yet dynamic festival which happens to be one of my all time favorite events to attend so I could go on and on about it but I’m going to let the man of the hour do that as he can do it much better than I. Ladies and Gentlemen I present food and wine aficionado and genteel gentleman, Lyn Farmer.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is a typical day for you as director of the Miami Wine and Food Festival?
Lyn Farmer: The easy answer is that there is no “typical” day – every day brings something different. I work with the staff on networking with wineries, restaurants, sponsors and donors. The staff is much more organized than I am – I’m great with concepts but without their execution it would be impossible!
South Florida Food and Wine: What is the one thing you love the most about the festival?
Lyn Farmer: The chance to meet other people who are passionate about life. As a food and wine journalist, I believe there is a great story behind every great bottle of wine, and that usually means at least one interesting person as well. I like getting to know the stories and the people. At a festival, you don’t just share the stories of the wines, you get to experience new stories unfolding as people discover new wines they love.
South Florida Food and Wine: Who is the one person you would most like to have dinner and share a bottle of wine with, and why?
Lyn Farmer: I’ve been very fortunate in being able to meet and spend time with many musicians, chefs and winemakers I admire, but there is one author I would love to meet because I think he would make a fantastic dinner companion. His name is Andrea Camilleri and he has written a series of novels featuring a quirky Sicilian detective named Inspector Montalbano. Through Montalbano, Camilleri ruminates a lot on food and its place in defining a culture. Unfortunately he doesn’t talk much about wine but I can help him there – I love the wines and olive oil of the Sicilian property called Donnafugata, a property that coincidentally has a lot of literary overtones in how the wines are named. Camilleri is a particularly eclectic guy – he writes for pleasure and makes his living primarily as a film and television director. Of course, now with more than 10 million books in print, he probably does pretty well as a writer, too! I’d love to hear about his experiences over a good dinner – it would have to feature mullet, Montalbano’s favorite fish – and a few bottles of good wine.
South Florida Food and Wine: It’s your last day on earth – what would your final meal be?
Lyn Farmer: Almost anything with friends. I’m blessed with wonderful friends and colleagues with whom I love to cook. I’d like my last meal to be with some of those friends – the actual dishes on the table wouldn’t matter so much. But if you want me to pick favorite dishes, I love a really great roast chicken. That will seem pedestrian to many, but those people might never have had a great roast chicken with crisp skin and both light and dark meat perfectly cooked. I cook it with Provencal herbs, a bit of lemon and a bit of truffle butter. I do like truffles with almost anything. The other night I was in charge of the appetizer at a dinner. I steamed some lobster tails in sparkling wine and served them on arugula drizzled with truffle butter. It was good with a rosé Champagne. For dessert, there is a chocolate tart I love – just four ingredients and sinfully good – but my all time favorite dessert is Tart Tatin, a classic French tart with caramelized apples. It’s really good with Tokai (but then, what isn’t?) I’d finish my last meal a very happy person.
South Florida Food and Wine: What is your one guilty food pleasure?
Lyn Farmer: I’m limited to one? How about a category? I love to cook, starting when my great-grandmother taught me to bake. I’ve never lost my love of baking and that unfortunately means there are always bread, dessert and pastry temptations around. I’m in trouble if the carb police ever pay me a visit.
South Florida Food and Wine: It’s your day off, what do you do for fun?
Lyn Farmer: I took up golf a few years ago and even after some lessons I can’t get a numerical handicap – my scorecard just says “lethal.” I can’t agree with Mark Twain that “golf is a good walk spoiled.” I find great tranquility on the golf course; players near me may experience an increase in anxiety but I have a great time. If I could play in a foursome with my son (who graduated last year from law school and now lives in New York) and a couple of friends, that would be a perfect day off. Especially if we all cook together at the end of the day and there is Champagne and pinot noir on the table.
South Florida Food and Wine: Tell the readers one thing you want them to know about the Miami Wine and Food Festival that they may not know?
Lyn Farmer: We try to be open and transparent with the festival, but we don’t always sing our own praises, so readers may not realize an aspect of the festival I find very unusual. There are many wine festivals and nearly all of them claim a charitable aim, ours included. What is unusual I think is just how high a percentage of the festival gross ends up on the bottom line. Very few festivals keep expenses as low as we do and I’m very proud of the very high net yield to our charities at the end of the event – as we begin our 16th annual Miami Wine and Food Festival, our net to charity stands at about $12 million. I’m proud of how strongly the South Florida wine and food community has supported the festival in donations by both the trade and our guests, the level of sponsorship by individuals and the business community and the dedication of the festival staff. I don’t know another event in the region that produces net proceeds on a par with this event, and best of all, we have fun doing it.
South Florida Food and Wine: Dream come true: you can have dinner in any city in the world – which city would it be? Which chef and wine?
Lyn Farmer: You don’t make this easy – that’s a tough question because I’m still discovering the world and meeting chefs new to me. Of the places that most recently impressed me, you’ll find that three-star restaurants play a very small part. The food can be very impressive, but I find the experience is often too formal. I will take a two star meal in a restaurant I find comfortable over a three-star meal in a formal, stuff restaurant any day. Dinner isn’t just about the food – I can cook food myself. Dinner should be about the entire experience. My friend Chip Cassidy, a professor at FIU’s hospitality school, often asks me to speak to his classes to give them an idea of what a restaurant critic looks for, and I tell the students to get over being star-struck by a chef. The chef is the last person at the restaurant who gets a chance to impress a guest. If the valet or hostess or server is indifferent or rude, the chef will spend the rest of the night trying to win back that guest. Good food is always the product of a team. But I digress – sorry for climbing on that soapbox. You asked about a dinner anywhere. At the moment, I am pining for two restaurants. One is a little spot in the French wine town of Gigondas called l’Oustelet. They put their wine list online so you can order a bottle before you arrive in you wish and they’ll decant it for you and have it waiting at your table. Another restaurant I love is called La Carabaccia in the Tuscan seaside town of Bibbona; the chef, Emanuele Vallini, is a good friend who is absolutely passionate about local ingredients including local wine. I’d have a bottle of Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino XXV that celebrates the winery’s 25th anniversary. To Emanuele it’s not local (it’s made about 30 miles away), but he wouldn’t complain.
South Florida Food and Wine: What’s next?
Lyn Farmer: The festival is next! And the day after the festival concludes, we start planning for the next festival. Not so much beyond that as simultaneously I’m going to continue developing the series of wine and food videos I’ve been producing with a partner for the past two years. I’m looking forward to my first visit to Budapest in June and I’m also working on a series of presentations that combine pre-concert music talks with a wine tasting for a South Florida arts group. Anything that keeps a glass in my hand keeps a smile on my face.