Four days, 84 events, 60,000+ attendees, an army of staff, and a small country of volunteers all made their annual decent to South Beach this past weekend, myself included, to revel in the sand, sun, and the sublime of food and wine.
“The Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival presented by FOOD & WINE is a national, star-studded, four-day destination event showcasing the talents of the world’s most renowned wine and spirits producers, chefs and culinary personalities. Hosted by Southern Wine & Spirits of Florida and Florida International University (FIU), the Festival benefits the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management’s Wine Spectator Restaurant Management Laboratory and the Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center at FIU. To date, the Festival has raised more than $20 million for the School.” via sobefest.com
Events run simultaneously throughout Miami Dade and into Broward county, so it’s nearly impossible to attend every single event. Most people choose their event genre, tent events or seminars and dinners, the latter leaning towards the more civilized end of the festival spectrum. To those who are not familiar with the South Beach Wine & Food Festival they automatically think the “Grand Tasting Village” where restaurants, beverage and food vendors sample their products to the mass of festival-goers; while this is not necessarily a bad thing, the Grand Tasting Village is the backbone of the event but there is so much more to see and do, especially if sand, sun and crowds are not your thing.
Why do when you can overdo
Whether you opt for the more civilized events or tend to gravitate towards those with mosh pit tendencies, you can do both in moderation or excess, and get exactly what you desire from them. If you’re going to do multiple events, be it, one day or over the four day stretch you’ve got to have a strategy, and that strategy is booking a hotel room so you have a home base, and one lock-down spot to park your car. This is exactly what we did. We were able to score a hotel room on Ocean Drive directly across the street from the Grand Tasting Village, and mere blocks within walking distance to all the other events we attended.
There’s just something so enticing and magnetic about the phrase “why do when you can overdo”. Whether you subscribe to this school of thought or not, at one time or another I’m sure we’ve all taken a walk on that side of the street. I personally tend to do this more times than I care to admit, and this past weekend was one of those times. All the events we attended were over the top and beachside.
From sun up to sun down we made our way through the Grand Tasting Village, Al Fresco Feast, Burger Bash, Meatopia, and Best of the Munchies. As with anything, everything is about what you make of it. We scoped out the Grand Tasting Village in scarves, coats, and boots on Friday and ended up in sleeveless-resortwear by Sunday afternoon. The other perk of having a hotel room is being able to pack for all four seasons. South Florida dipped in to the low 40s with a wind chill making it 30-something on the beach this weekend and we were prepared…..with nine pieces of luggage. Our favorite spot at the Grand Tasting Village was visiting, and friending the hard working guys at the Malibu Rum tent who were cracking open coconuts, and filling them with Pina Colada’s and a rum float.
The best part though of the Grand Tasting Village were the celebrity chef culinary demonstrations. Because there were two demo areas running approximately 15 minutes apart, you had to choose who you wanted to see, because you really couldn’t do both and get the most out of it. We sat through, Andrew Zimmern, Rachael Ray and John Cusimano, Emeril, Ming Tsai, Guy Fieri, Anne Burrell, Robert Irvine, Bobby Flay, Paula Deen and Alex Guarnaschelli. They were all so real and entertaining. Being able to get up close and personal at these types of events gives you a completely different take on them as culinary-celeb personalities.
Yes, Guy, Anne and Paula are without a doubt, larger than life, they all have that dynamic we’ve come to associate with them. It was continuous laughter, and hootin’ and hollerin’ through their presentations.
The others were charming, fun, and ever-so enjoyable you’d swear they were your next door neighbor, they were all that down to earth, and approachable.
The godfather of the Food Network, Emeril left us with his signature “BAM!” and the crowd went wild!
Robert Irvine showed us you can be all fit, hunky, healthy and still be in this business.
Bobby Flay is loyal and talented and surrounds himself with the same, some members of his team have been with him for 12-15 and 18 years.
Alex Guarnaschelli has great stories, that she tells on the sly…..with a wink of her eye; not only is she looking to open a restaurant in Miami but I’ll bet there’s a great story-book cooking as well.
Rachael and her husband John are too cute with a fun banter, making it plausible any couple can cook together…..or not. One really should stick to making cocktails or pouring the wine.
The no-nonsense Andrew Zimmern was an open book. If you wanted to know how exactly he could possibly eat some exotic animal’s rear-end, he’d let you know.
And the smart Ming Tsai brought his classy, yet colorful style to the stage with his seemingly effortless Blue Ginger ways.
Al Fresco Feast, Meatopia, and Best of the Munchies
If you had tickets to any or all of these events on the beach, and you left hungry and didn’t have fun, it was your own fault. There was enough food to feed a small country and the entertainment itself was worth the price of the tickets. The chefs representing their restaurants were front and center. If you’re a celeb-selfie-picture-hash-tagging kinda person this was the place to be. Yes there were hundreds+++ of people at these events; trying to maneuver through the tent was like driving on I95 at rush hour in South Florida; no one quite knew who had the right of way, no matter who got to the intersection first. But 9 times out of 10, people said, excuse me, thank you, and I’m sorry (when you got bumped). Believe it or not, manners were alive and well under the big top this weekend. These events were full of energy, dynamic and lots of fun. Everyone was there, you couldn’t take ten steps and not bump into (literally) someone you didn’t know. And I would be remiss if I did comment on the decor. Each and every single event had its own theme, and completely different decor from the elaborate chandeliers to the chairs to flipflops with the name of the event on the bottom stamped in the sand. For such a massive set of events, not much in the way of details was overlooked.
And now for Burger Bash. This nine year running event is currently the crown jewel in the tiara of the festival. My first time attending, didn’t really know what to expect. I can’t say any of the events were my favorite because I enjoyed all of them for what they were but something very special happened at Burger Bash, that will go down in history, making it life changing for those involved and for those who witnessed it.
To be there was surreal, but to actually witness the wins, was even more so. Starting with the gregarious, enthusiastic and very excitable Josh Capon of Lure Fishbar, who rocked the crowd with his “I wanted the one in South Beach so bad. I’m bringing this baby home to New York City. Burger Bash forever!” Capon won the Schweid & Sons Very Best Burger Judge’s Award. Capon received $2500 for his win.
And when its local, its home, and its a big, big deal. There are no underdogs in this Burger Bash competition, its an even playing field, with chefs from all over the country but when two local boys who went from serving burgers in their food trucks on the streets of Miami to opening multiple brick and mortar locations, to winning a national competition on what they gambled their future on, well, it’s simply what dreams are made of. Michell Sanchez owner of Latin House Grill and Nedal Ahmad owner of Pincho Factory took home the two big wins of the competition.
Red Robin Best of the Bash Award, went to Michell Sanchez owner of Latin House Grill. Mitchell received $10,000 and the chance for his burger to appear on the Gourmet Burger Authority’s™ Finest premium burger menu as a limited-time offering later this year. And the Amstel Light People’s Choice Award went to Nedal Ahmad owner of Pincho Factory. Ahmad received $5000 for his win.
Sanchez and Ahmad are family men who have put it all on the line transitioning their business plan from dream to reality, from food truck to store front, to multiple locations. These two men built their businesses on their backs and sleepless night, no venture capital to ease the stress, no corporate cushion to absorb the worries. To stand there and hear their names called out and watch them win was awesome and inspiring. But it was when I approached them afterwards to personally congratulate them, is when it moved me most. The joy and the humility of their win was as real and genuine as the men themselves. And it is those two moments of the entire weekend that will remain with me long after the tents come down and the hype of the festival dwindles….that with faith, and a lot of hard work, dreams really do come true.
Click here to view photos the weekend
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