Fishing guide

Celebrity Chef/Restaurateur Jeremy Ford’s Personal Guide to Miami

This article is part of a miami guide by FT Globetrotter

I have lived in Miami for almost 15 years and would never move anywhere else. With my wife and three daughters, I live in the southern part of town, which is quieter and more peaceful than the bustling downtown Miami and beach areas. Most people associate Miami with the flash and glamor of South Beach, but there’s plenty more to see and do here. There’s a lot of natural beauty, from beaches to parks, and unless you live here, you might not know these places. I have shared some of my favorite places here.

In water

I live right by the water and do a lot of spearfishing. Miami is a fishing capital, and I suck at it, so I thought I’d improve my chances by getting in the water. I love the ocean and have been an avid surfer all my life so once I jumped in for the first time I was hooked.

Miami is a fishing capital. . . © Brent Durand/Getty Images

. . . and one of the best ways to enjoy it is to get in the water © Stephen Frink Collection/Alamy

One of the benefits of spearfishing is that you don’t have to be a certified diver – it doesn’t require a tank. All you need is a mask, a harpoon gun, and some decent lungs. I started with a course at Austin’s Diving Center, a specialty spearfishing and diving store in South Miami that introduces people to spearfishing by first snorkeling . A visit with a specialist is the best way to try it out; they will also show you where to fish and take you to beautiful 20-30 foot reefs.

My favorite place is called RJ’s Ledge – a 30 foot reef off Miami Beach where there is a wide variety of big local fish including parrot fish which are beautiful underwater, and you will also see snappers and tarpon. It is also quite rare not to catch anything.

Park life

Matheson Hammock Park is another must-see area and a lesser-known hidden gem for visitors, spanning 630 acres of Miami’s coastline just south of Coral Gables and stretching out to Biscayne Bay. The park was designed to feature typical Florida landscapes, from swamps and dense mangrove forests to open cove and white sand beach. Lots of couples take engagement or wedding photos here (my wife and I had ours taken here) because it’s so beautiful and much less crowded than other beaches.

Matheson Hammock Park is a hidden gem in Miami. . . © Russell Kord/Alamy

. . . and offers visitors a range of activities including boating © Jeffrey Isaac Greenberg/Alamy

It also offers something for everyone. You can hike or barbecue – there are plenty of picnic areas with grills and benches. I usually take my family there for weekend boating. You can launch a boat from the park – there’s a full-service marina and dock, where you can also sign up for boating lessons, fish from the pier, or rent kiteboards, paddle boards , canoes and kayaks to take to the bay.

Once you launch, there’s a place called No Name Harbor with a relatively unknown little restaurant called Boater’s Grill – it’s nothing fancy, but it’s a good place to go after being on the water for several hours and want a cold beer and fresh fried fish. It hits you on the spot and regrounds you so you can walk on solid ground again.

Head North

Many people don’t realize how easy it is to get to Palm Beach from Miami. For those who don’t want to drive, there’s a Brightline train service that departs from MiamiCentral Station and takes about an hour; otherwise there is a good bus service. It’s a nice place to relax. The pace is slower than in Miami and everyone is polite, kind and more relaxed.

Palm Beach offers an excellent opportunity for golf enthusiasts – there are over 160 courses to choose from. I just started getting into it. I have a restaurant based at a PGA National golf resort, and walking around the site made me realize that it’s just too good not to partake.

Ford recommends the Stage restaurant in Palm Beach Gardens. . .

. . . for excellent Indian-inspired cuisine and open-fire cooking

A good friend of mine (and golf enthusiast), Pushkar Marathe, owns an Indian-inspired restaurant in Palm Beach Gardens that I can’t recommend highly enough. He’s an incredible chef. He worked for me over ten years ago – I still remember him as that young boy from Nagpur with the best palate I had ever seen. In the culinary world, when someone goes to an interview for a kitchen job, it’s called a “step” (pronounced in French), and their restaurant is named after it. Stage has become a hub where young chefs go to learn and perfect their craft under the guidance of an incredible chef. The food is delicious; it’s an open-fire kitchen, so diners can watch the chefs at work behind the line. The charred meats and vegetables are sensational.

Closer to home

Another favorite is a small Sicilian-style restaurant in Sunset Harbor called Casa Isola, by chef José Mendín. Everything he touches turns to gold, so it’s no surprise that this restaurant is excellent. (My wife is 120% Sicilian and she especially likes to dine there.) Their bread service is insane – it does a pane al prosciutto that comes with a caponata and is served with a parmesan honey butter. It is a must. We also always order the rigatoni alla vodka — it’s one of those dishes you have to have when you’re there. My advice is to make a reservation just after sunset and arrive about 30-45 minutes early, so you can sit by the water and watch the sun go down, then go out to dinner and devour some delicious Italian dishes.

Pura Vida price list. . .

. . . makes you feel like you’re “adding another decade to your life” when you eat it, says Ford

For something quick and healthy, near my Stubborn Seed restaurant in the south of the Fifth Ward, there’s a popular place called Pura Vida, where my kitchen staff and I eat probably three or four days a week. They make superfood smoothies, acai bowls, wraps — basically whatever you want to eat to stay fueled when you’re working a 12-hour day or planning to explore the city for hours. I feel like you add another decade to your life when you eat there.

As for the watering holes, I don’t usually go out much because of my job, but when I do, I head to Sweet Liberty. They make killer cocktails and it’s been named one of the best bars in America. This is all very clever but not pretentious. You can tell the bartenders what kind of flavors you like and they will cook you something fantastic.

Jeremy Ford is Executive Chef Partner of stubborn seed in Miami Beach, which recently earned one of Florida’s first Michelin stars, and The butchers club in Palm Beach Gardens

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