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  Photography by Camilo Carvallo

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Earth Angel: Gabriele Marewski of Paradise Farms
by Amy Tarr

Five minutes away from Everglades National Park in Homestead, Florida, lies a precious parcel of land – a five-acre organic lot called Paradise Farms. The proprietor of this idyllic farm is Gabriele Marewski. With her mane of wavy blond locks, she resembles an ethereal angel. But her firm handshake and deeply furrowed brow tell you she is a woman of strength, a woman of the earth.

Specializing in delicate greens, heirloom tomatoes, herbs and edible flowers, Paradise Farms has been in business for five years now, and Marewski sells exclusively to the best chefs in Miami. Just prior to the StarChefs Miami Rising Stars Revue last November, we sent some of our chef honorees to Gabriele to select product for the event and to learn more about her farm. Chefs Sergio Sigala of Casa Tua, Jordi Vallès of Mosaico and Salero, Max Santiago of Mundo, Joseluis Flores of Ola, and Marc Erhler of Loews Miami Beach Hotel, experienced heaven on earth for a day.

Chefs Vallès, Santiago and Erhler are regular customers of Paradise Farms, though rarely do they get a chance to visit. “I’ve dealt with Gabriele many times before, but that was the first time I’ve been there,” Santiago said. “I’m constantly looking for new funky little flowers to put on my plates. I mainly get blossoms, like rose petals, and hyacinth bean flowers – they’re these little purple flowers and they taste just like fresh green beans.”

Marewski, who has a B.S degree in agronomy from the University of Maryland, used the proceeds from another land sale to buy a parcel of land next door to her home, a wood house by a lake. “My commute to work is just a walk away! The 5 acres I purchased was an abandoned avocado grove with no irrigation and weeds up to my waist. It took a year to get the basics going - installing irrigation, and building planting beds. We progressed to building a walk-in cooler and grow areas for the microgreens.”

For Marewski, bigger is not necessarily better. She limits her business to about 20 restaurants and focuses on building strong relationships with all her customers.
“I'm not soliciting for more business. I would rather grow more and better for a few than try to be everywhere. I still have the same four restaurants I started with.”

In fact, one of those original customers is Marc Ehrler, who served as Host Chef for the Rising Stars Revue. When he first met Gabriele, he told her that if she ever had too much or couldn’t sell certain things, he would buy it. “Because we are big enough, we have the volume. So she brings it to us.” Literally. One of the ways that Gabriele differentiates herself among her peers is that she comes to deliver her produce in person.

“She comes down to Miami twice a week, and any new products she has in season she brings down to show us,” says Jordi Vallès. “She makes it very personal.” Jordi especially appreciates Mareski’s delicate touch with microgreens and other fragile products like corn shoots. “She wraps them very carefully in paper so they don’t brown when the light hits them.”

Because Marewski values the relationship she has with the chefs, she makes time to visit with them every week. “It’s all about the chef-farmer connection. It’s in the personal interactions that we learn from each other: for me, what to grow; for the chefs, what's available.”

So how exactly does one woman manage to farm the most delectable organic produce and personally deliver it to Miami’s top kitchens? Aside from one employee who works almost full-time planting and harvesting microgreens, Marewski enlists the labor of volunteers who come to live on the farm for typically 15 days, though some for longer, working in exchange for food, accommodation and an unparalleled education in organic farming practices. “I've had the good fortune to have a volunteer move up to farm manager for the past 6 months.” Even so, she says she’s always understaffed and there’s always plenty of work to do.

Marewski also involves her chef customers when it comes to planning ahead for the following season. “We plan together, so that she has what we want,” says Chef Ehrler. “A while back we wanted Peruvian chilies. So she went and got a hold of the seeds and planted them. She goes everywhere to find things for us. Last summer, I told her I wanted to find oxtail tomatoes or beef heart tomatoes – they are all over Europe but not here. She found seeds out in California and planted them.”

So what’s on the horizon in Paradise? Gabriele says she’s developing a baby root mix to introduce next season. Chef Ehrler hopes to collaborate with Marewski to develop leeks that have huge white bulbs. “Over here if you get a leek with three inches of white, you’re lucky. I’ve seen in Holland they are eight to nine inches long of white. So that’s what I want to work with her on.”

We’re just thrilled that we could send our Rising Stars directly to the source to see where all the gorgeous products that land on their cutting boards grow. And, judging from their reaction, they thoroughly enjoyed the experience. “All the aromas of flowers and vegetables and herbs in the air – it was like getting high,” said Santiago. “The fragrances were so strong, I just wanted to roll around in the fields!”

To enquire about volunteering at Paradise Farms, go to www.paradisefarms.net


 

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   Published: March 2005


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