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DIRT Supports Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Originally appears in Miami New Times | By Clarissa Buch

In partnership with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Dirt has pledged to donate $1 from each sale of the restaurant's new rosewater Greek yogurt parfait ($7.50) along with its favorite "blush" juice ($11), which blends watermelon, pineapple, lemon, and mint. The yogurt is made with gluten-free oats and spiced with cardamom, and some layers of parfait include dried blueberries and goji berries, which are filled with antioxidants believed to prevent breast cancer.

Ten Miami Chefs Take on the Biggest Burn Challenge

By Laine Doss | Originally appeared in Miami New Times

A chef's life isn't easy. Long days on their feet in the kitchen, along with the stressful running of a business, can take its toll. Many of Miami's chefs spend far too little time staying healthy as a tradeoff for keeping a steady eye on their restaurant.

Julie Frans thought the mindset of putting oneself last was counter intuitive to operating a successful establishment.

The chef and culinary director of the annual Seed Food & Wine Festival joined Orangetheory Fitness about a year ago. She, in turn, recommended the workout studio to Dirt's Nicole Votano about a month ago. Together, they decided to challenge some of their peers to participate in the Biggest Burn, a 12-week weight-loss and fitness challenge.

"We needed to get chefs into this, and now is a good time of year for us to do it," Frans says. She decided to incorporate chefs who participate in Seed to tie in all aspects of a healthful life. "I wanted us to look at the whole body. These chefs all do different styles of cuisine and have different fitness levels, but they are all committed to being more healthful."

Ten chefs have accepted the challenge, which consists of working out at Orangetheory at least three days a week and eating cleaner. They've agreed to also motivate one another to lose weight and get fit. In addition, they will post weekly "meatless Monday" recipes on their social media accounts to share their healthier ways with their followers.

Yesterday, chefs Brad Kilgore (Alter), Soraya Kilgore (Alter), Darren "Paco" Laszlo (Jugofresh), Jimmy Lebron (27 Restaurant & Bar), Jeff Maxfield (Toscana Divino), Steve Santana (Taquiza), Venoy Rogers (Essensia), and Rose Flynn (Choices Cafe), along with Frans and Votano, met at 10 a.m. at Orangetheory's South Beach studio for their first weigh-in and class.

Best Inexpensive Restaurant

Originally appeared in Miami New Times

There's so much to love about Dirt, not the least of which is that no single item costs more than $16. Such prices are rare in South Beach, especially when you consider Dirt isn't serving just run-of-the-mill fare. Indeed, this fast-casual concept is committed to offering clean food that's locally sourced whenever possible, and best of all — it tastes amazing. That's largely because the restaurant's director for culinary operations is Nicole Votano, a classically trained chef who was the top toque at Fooq's, where she garnered praise for her comforting yet chef-driven cuisine.Dirt has four menus: vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and Paleo, but most dishes are built around vegetables and allow for a choice of protein. A favorite is the nourish bowl ($12), starring quinoa, sprouted chickpeas, lentils, roasted curried cauliflower, caramelized onions, roasted red pepper, golden raisins, shaved carrot, mole vinaigrette, and cucumber-mint yogurt. Throw in some orange-basil chicken, and call it a very healthy day.

Readers' choice: Batch Gastropub

232 Fifth St., Miami Beach, 33139




The Ten Best Healthy Restaurants in Miami

By Nicola Haubold | Originally appeared in Miami New Times

3. Chef Nicole Votano offers fast-casual dining in a bright and airy environment at Dirt in South Beach. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner, customers can order from Paleo-friendly, vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-sensitive menus depending upon dietary restrictions. Dishes change seasonally, but some crowd favorites are almond butter and jam toast ($6) and the nourish bowl ($12), which is made with farro, sprouted chickpeas and lentils, roasted curried cauliflower, and caramelized onions.

DIRT Named Best Inexpensive Restaurant in Miami

DIRT Named Best Inexpensive Restaurant in Miami

There's so much to love about DIRT, not the least of which is that no single item costs more than $16. Such prices are rare in South Beach, especially when you consider Dirt isn't serving just run-of-the-mill fare. Indeed, this fast-casual concept is committed to offering clean food that's locally sourced whenever possible, and best of all — it tastes amazing.

The Five Greenest Restaurants in Miami for Earth Day

By Julie Harens | Originally Appeared in Miami New Times

The Dirt team, including former Fooq’s chef Nicole Votano, built their mission around three things: people, food, and planet. They are strong believers in the benefits of supporting local farms and elevate responsibly grown ingredients in light, satisfying dishes. The menu changes seasonally, with plenty of options for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and paleo diners. In other words, feel free to bring anyone from a committed carnivore to a die-hard vegan. The restaurant itself features energy-efficient lighting, a 100-percent pollution-free energy source and recyclable, compostable, and biodegradable packaging materials.

Dirt Does Affordable Organic Cuisine Without Sacrificing Flavor

By Valeria Nekhim Lease | Originally appeared in Miami New Times


Many health-driven restaurants omit meat from their menus, but Dirt is all about inclusivity. Yes, the eatery offers açaí bowls ($12) and cold-pressed juices, but, as cofounder and general manager Jeff Latulippe puts it, "this is a place where our dads can go." And it's true — at this fast-casual South Beach spot, you can order a steak-and-cheese sandwich ($14.50); the difference here is the steak is grass-fed, the tomatoes are locally grown, and the nutritional information is visible for all to see.

Indeed, Dirt has four menus: vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and Paleo. But for director of operations and chef Nicole Votano, accommodating myriad dietary restrictions is relatively simple because most dishes are built around vegetables. Furthermore, a bulk of menu items allow the consumer to choose their protein from a list that includes quinoa crusted day-boat fish, free-range orange basil chicken, cage-free eggs, and sprouted chickpeas and lentils.

"Our emphasis is on where the food comes from and we do local as much as possible, but while at a lot of healthy places the health comes first and the taste comes after, we're the opposite," Votano says.

She's right: Dirt's mission to serve clean, affordable food doesn't stand in the way of flavor. For instance, the seasonal plate ($16) — featuring a root vegetable mash, spicy grilled kale, shaved carrots, pomegranate, and, on a recent day, orange basil chicken — is bright, light, and surprisingly hearty. If you didn't just go up to the counter and order it, you'd think you were eating at a fine-dining establishment.

That's because Chef Votano is a classically trained toque who attended New York City's French Culinary Institute. Her previous position was the top chef at Fooq's, where she earned great reviews for her comforting yet chef-driven cuisine.

Speaking of her new role, Votano says it's not as drastic a change as people assume because the core of what she does is still sourcing local ingredients and building relationships with farmers. However, at Dirt she's also director of operations, which she says allows her to grow as an entrepreneur and spend more time with her children. Other perks, she says, have included losing 15 pounds and seeing noticeable improvements in her hair and skin. Now who said Dirt isn't good for you?

Miami New Times: Dirt, Most Bizarrely Named Restaurant in History, Opens in SoFi

Written By Laine Doss | Originally appeared in Miami New Times

Dirt, the fast-casual eatery that features fresh locavore dining, opened for business yesterday. The restaurant, with perhaps the most bizarre name in local history, is located at 232 Fifth St. in Miami Beach. It serves a much-needed roster of affordable vegetable-forward items, although meatier options are also available.

Executive chef/co-founder Jonathan Seningen has partnered with chef de cuisine Nicole Votano for this restaurant, a move Seningen says is unique. "It's not often that you have two chefs with executive-level experience working in a restaurant, and it's unheard of to find two working in a counter-service restaurant like Dirt." Seningen says both chefs worked diligently on shaping the menu to be both healthful and delicious. "We're very focused on wellness, but every aspect of the menu, from our breakfast bowls to our sandwiches — even our beverages — have been designed by Nicole and me to give the guest a satisfying experience." Jeff LaTulippe rounds out the team as co-founder and general manager.

That means vegans, vegetarians, paleos, and regular people can all find something to eat at Dirt, according to Seningen. "We do not adhere to any one dietary restriction. Because Nicole and I participated in the vegan Conscious Bite Out dinner in June, many people have gotten the impression that we're strictly vegan. We are vegetable-centric with many vegan and vegetarian options, but we also offer sustainable proteins like grass-fed beef, cage-free eggs, pasture-raised poultry, and wild-caught fish. If you do have a dietary restriction or preference, we also have separate vegan- and paleo-only menus to make it easy for you to order."

Dirt will also offer nutritional information on menu items and will feature a large display showcasing its vendors, taking the chalkboard listing of farms where ingredients are sourced one step further.

Votano explains how she chooses vendors. "We support the local farm community as much as possible. I have personal relationships with all of our farmers and only choose ones who share Dirt's same passion for food that is packed with flavor.

"We're currently sourcing from over 20 farms and purveyors based in Florida, many of which are located in South Florida. We choose to work with so many farmers because we like to choose the best of what each farm has to offer — that way we can support as many as possible. A few farms we're currently supporting include Sun Fresh Farm & Ranch for cage-free eggs, lots and lots of produce from Swank Farms, and Little Haiti Community Garden for arugula, collard greens, and spinach. Our sous-chef goes to the farm twice a week at 5 in the morning to pick up produce. We're also working hard to put together a variety of events with local farms and vendors." Dirt also sources other products locally, using JoJo Tea, Argyle Coffee, and Zak the Baker.

Votano, who was most recently chef at Fooq's, is excited to collaborate on the menu with Seningen. "Jonny had put together a great menu before I joined the team. Since I have come onboard, it has evolved a lot, and it is in a place right now where we both feel really excited about it. We ultimately collaborated on every item, but there are definitely specific dishes where you will be able to pick out our culinary styles. I really enjoy working with him — both coming from fine-dining backgrounds with a French backbone, we have very similar philosophies of how to develop flavors in our food. Our time cooking together is always full of lots of laughs, and it always ends with deliciousness."

The menu will change according to what's available, and the menu will also incorporate the suggestions of local people devoted to keeping Miami healthy. Seningen explains," Our menu will be highly seasonal, and each season we're going to partner with a different member of the wellness community to bring Miami something fresh and new. Right now we're featuring the "DIRT xLululemon" salad by our friend Cristina Ramirez, the community ambassador from Lululemon on Lincoln Road. It includes Cristina's favorite fall ingredients, like spiced lentils, avocado, green apple, roasted sweet potato, a fig-and-oat crumble, and apple cider vinaigrette on a bed of baby lettuces, torn herbs, sunflower sprouts, kale, and spinach."

Though offering healthful options, the menu remains full of flavor with dishes such as the purity bowl ($12) — filled with açaí, strawberries, chia seeds, goji berries, almond and Brazil nut mylk, kiwi, banana, and granola — and the detox salad ($9), which starts with a base of grains or greens and adds roasted beets, shaved fennel, orange wedges, goat cheese, and toasted hazelnuts. Add a protein like grass-fed beef tenderloin ($7), free-range orange-basil chicken ($5), or quinoa-crusted day boat fish ($7).

The restaurant has also established a relationship with Feeding South Florida. Dirt will donate 1 percent of sales to the organization and give healthy grab-and-go items to support Feeding South Florida’s Backpack Program, which provides food packs for children who don’t have access to meals on weekends.

Dirt is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Miami New Times: Seed Food and Wine Festival 2015 at Mana Wynwood

Written by Karli Evans | Originally appeared in Miami New Times

Seed returned November 18 through 22 for a second year of highlighting the area's best in vegan dining. On Saturday, November 21, more than 80 restaurants and lifestyle brands descended upon Mana Wynwood to showcase the best in plant-based and cruelty-free living. Check out the healthy smiles from this year's Tasting Village.

Photography by Karli Evans

Miami New Times: Health in the Hood Brings Fresh Food to Neighborhoods in Need

Written by Julie Harans |  This originally appeared in Miami New Times

It’s no secret there's poverty in Miami.

Just blocks away from multi-million dollar condos are underprivileged communities struggling to survive. Our city is disjointed – a puzzle of pieces that just won’t snap into place. As skyscrapers grow and businesses boom, the wealth gap is widening and the less fortunate are getting shut out. So what do we do?

Behind a block of concrete housing in Liberty City, a solution is growing. Colorful murals declare, “This is your community,” bright green leaves emerge from long beds of soil and salsa music blares from a stereo.

The garden is part of Health in the Hood, an organization founded in 2012 that encourages healthy lifestyles in underprivileged communities. Leading the organization is founder and president Asha Loring, who’s no stranger to this line of work. After several years of involvement with AmeriCorps and Public Allies, Loring decided to follow father Marvin Dunn’s footsteps and unite urban farming and community service.

She wrote a few grants, gathered some seeds and revived two of her father’s plant beds to begin her own project. Now, three years later, Health in the Hood is not only providing fresh produce to families who have no access to grocery stores, but it’s also educating the community on healthy lifestyles through incentive-based classes and hands-on involvement.

It may seem like a small garden can’t make a big impact, but providing these services is the first step to breaking down socio-economic walls between communities. The organization is even looking to expand to a large plot of farmland and open a branch in Los Angeles.

The task seems daunting, but according to Loring, the process is an “organic” one.

“Once you start planting things, people will come out and want to know what’s going on, how can they get involved and can I get hired, and it just becomes a learning experience,” Loring said.

Most Miamians probably can’t imagine life without access to a basic grocery store. We can head to Publix, buy our ingredients of choice and compose a healthy meal. But for the people in these communities, it’s not that simple. Transportation, finances and lack of knowledge can all become barriers between low-income families and fresh food. Health in the Hood’s goal is to break those boundaries and make wellness attainable without being overwhelming.

“It’s easier to go to the mom-and-pop grocery store where they’ve got 99 cent cans of Chef Boyardee that are gonna fill up your kids, where a $4 bag of spinach that cooks down to the size of your fist isn’t gonna fill anybody up,” Loring said. “But if you’ve got a couple heads of it growing in your backyard, you’re much more likely to circumvent some of the choices you would make at a grocery store.”

For a child who’s barely exposed to fresh produce, making that hands-on connection with their food is a magical experience.

Loring says one of the most rewarding moments has been watching the children’s eyes light up and fill with excitement as they bite into a freshly picked cucumber for the first time. “It just lifts your soul,” she said.

Aside from free produce, Health in the Hood offers fitness classes, nutrition education and job opportunities for local residents. As Loring explained, you can’t just slap a garden in the middle of a neighborhood and expect change. The success of the mission relies on community involvement and a comprehensive model that encompasses all aspects of healthy living.

The garden is the basis; from there, Health in the Hood collaborates with local foundations like the Miami Children’s Initiative to listen to the community and meet their needs.

The next time you’re perusing the produce options at Publix, you may feel a small sting of guilt. But Loring isn’t pointing fingers – shedescribes the issue as a shared responsibility.

“It’s on both sides,” she said. “There’s a lack of knowledge coming from the community and a lack of empowerment and that want to be empowered, and there’s not enough people breaking in to provide the services needed.”

Protesting harmful agricultural techniques and boycotting food industry moguls is important, but according to Loring, change needs to start on the opposite end, with teaching uneducated consumers how to navigate around the obstacles.

“You just don’t have to eat all the processed things that are being put in your face because it’s easy and convenient and it’s cheap,” she said. “We have to break that mold. And I think that programs like Health in the Hood are how we do that.”

To get involved, visit healthinthehood.org or email Asha Loring at a.loring@healthinthehood.org.

Fooq's Chef Nicole Votano Leaves for Dirt

Written by Zachary Fagenson | This originally appeared in Miami New Times

Fooq's chef Nicole Votano has parted ways with the restaurant less than a year after the hip, homestyle eatery opened on a shaded downtown Miami corner in the space once filled by Nemesis Urban Bistro.

She'll become chef de cuisine at DIRT, according to a spokeswoman for that restaurant. The curiously named fast-casual spot in South Beach will serve healthful dishes such as quinoa-crusted blue catfish po'boys with zucchini jalapeño slaw, crisp capers, tomatoes, and creamy slaw dressing.

Votano was instrumental in adding much of the comforting flair to the menu at Fooq's. She grew up in London and San Francisco and trained at New York City's French Culinary Institute before toiling at Bradley Ogden's One Market Restaurant in San Francisco. Prior to working at Fooq's, she worked for Michelle Bernstein's catering outfit and Crumb on Parchment after stints at the Four Seasons and the Biltmore.

Her Italian background helped inspire dishes such as ultra-tender meatballs and a bucatini all'amatriciana with a hefty dose of smoky bacon. Much of that will remain on the menu at Fooq's while owner David Foulquier, 25, looks for a new chef.

"Until someone comes along and does something better, we'll still have them," Foulquier says. "I see this as an opportunity for me to get involved more on the culinary side, and we'll be looking for somebody to try to push the envelope."