Friday

Welcome to Miami, notes from the South Beach Wine & Food Festival!

Each year over 50,000 people flock to Miami’s Beaches at the end of February to attend the cool gastronomical event known as the SOBE Wine & Food Festival. Many festival guests travel from as far as California, while others come to escape the chilly East Coast temperatures, to indulge in the 4 days of epicurean delight. Now in its’ 9th year, the festival has become a major attraction to industry professionals and culinary enthusiast alike.

When an event is hosted by a tri-fecta of industry leaders, in this case; Southern Wine & Spirits, one of the nations largest liquor distributors, The Food Network and Food & Wine Magazine, you know it’s going to be a great party!

So, as the event kicked-off on Thursday, February 25th and the crowds of people started to populate the beachfront hotels hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite food personality or chef, I reviewed the schedule of my “liquid” journey ahead!

First stop: Tony Abou-Ganim’s, aka The Modern Mixologist, Cocktail Book Launch party at the Florida Room in the Hotel Delano. Tony and his bartender friends mixed up a variety of mouth-watering drink recipes from his book. My favorite was the Bardstown Sling:
1 ½ oz. Maker’s Mark
¾ oz. Marie Brizard Peach liqueur
1 oz. Yellow peach puree
2 oz. Fresh lemon sour
2 dashes of Fee Brothers peach bitters
Chilled seltzer water to top
Served in an ice-filled Collins glass
After trying a few of his signature cocktails, I said my goodbyes and thank you’s and hi-tailed it over to the tented beachfront of the Ritz Carlton where my next stop was awaiting me: The Amstel Light Burger Bash presented by Allen Brothers Meats and hosted by Rachael Ray.The Burger Bash is not your typical beach BBQ; it is a super-size burger extravaganza for 2,800 people, with 27 different burgers prepared by a culinary team of 120 in a 25,000 sq/ft tent. Just to give you a scope on the size of this event, here is an inside look of the ingredient list: over 7,500 lbs. of 10 different varieties of ground meat to make up 48,600 burger portions, 400 lbs. of smoked bacon, 500 lbs. of coleslaw, 1.5 tons of Idaho Potatoes, 125 gallons of Heinz ketchup and mustard. And what better way to wash it all down, than with 7,000 servings of Amstel Light Beer! It was nice to see some of the great chefs put their personal spin on the classic burger, for instance Iron Chef, Masaharu Morimoto made the Pork “Kakuni” Burger, a seasoned beef burger topped with glazed pork belly and Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit made the Crunchy BBQ Kobe Burger with Kobe beef, chunky BBQ sauce served with an interesting arrangement of pickles. With so many amazing burgers it was hard to choose a favorite, but if I did it would be a toss-up between, Michael Schwartz’s, of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami, Bacon Cheeseburger with house smoked bacon, white cheddar, heirloom tomato, lettuce on a Brioche Bun served with a side of crispy spiced hominy

or former Top Chef contestant, Spike Mendelsohn’s of Good Stuff Eatery in D.C., Farmhouse Bacon Cheeseburger served with a Pink Cotton Candy Shake.




Now, officially in a meat-coma,

I left the bash and headed over to my next destination: The Food Network’s VIP Beach Party at the Shore Club. The event was incredible and the décor was genius. As I enjoyed a Maker’s Mark cocktail, and rubbed elbows with Guy Fieri, Michael Chirarello and other Food Network personalities, I found myself in a conversation with Bruce Seidel, the senior vice president of programming for the “Cooking Channel”. This is the new sister channel of the Food Network which will feature more chefs and food content launching in May. Mr. Seidel said, “The new channel won’t have any competition based shows, those will all remain on the Food Network, but it will incorporate new content such as shows based on wine and cocktails.” Fabulous I thought, it was about time to have some shows about beverages!
Just as I was about to throw in the towel and get to bed, I ran into my good friend Chef Roberto Trevino from Puerto Rico, a featured contestant on this season’s Next Iron Chef. He convinced me to make one last stop of the evening, the Patron’s Great Debate Party hosted by Chef Aaron Sanchez, at the W Hotel. I thought, what the heck, “when in Rome”, so we ventured over to the party and indulged in a few margaritas and danced the night away.

The next day (Friday), I was pretty tired and hurting a bit, but decided that I must power through since there were many exciting events ahead of me. As I made my way over to the Grand Tasting with my partner in crime, Lauren Allison, we took a moment to enjoy a little beach time. The sun was shining, the sand was warm under my toes and the water was crystal blue. It was a picture perfect day in South Beach!
Once we arrived at the Grand Tasting Village, we eagerly started imbibing and nibbling. Highlights included, the Hornitos sand castle, the Cruzan Rum steel drum band, tasty pestos from Maison Le Grand, and some cool Aperol branded sunglasses! It was a fun afternoon to say the least. Later that night I attended the Best of the Best at the Fontainebleau Hotel, presented by Wine Spectator. This was an extraordinary French inspired event, with dishes prepared by over 35 renowned chefs and wine served from top wineries from around the world. Standouts included: Chef Douglas Keane from Cyrus in Healdsburg, Chef Michael White from Marea in NYC, Chef Cesare Casella from Salumeria Rosi in NYC, Chef Stephan Pyles from Dallas, and dessert by Mindy Segal from Mindy’s Hot Chocolate in Chicago. I also enjoyed some lovely wines from Vine Cliff, Ladera, Bodegas Caro, Hanzell, Jordan and Ruinart Champagne.


After munching my way through the event, I decided to turn in early as I knew I had another big day ahead of me, and let’s face it I was still tired from my rock star tour the night before.

The next morning I woke up refreshed and well rested. I started the day off with a delicious mimosa filled brunch from BLT at the Betsy Hotel, and then continued on with the festivities of the Wine & Food Festival.















At the Grand Tasting Village I was able to catch Chef Michelle Bernstein at her book signing, see Sandra Lee’s cooking demo, Emeril’s cooking demo and chat with Duff Goldman and Geoffry Manthorne from Ace of Cakes.































I tried some fun drinks from Rums of Puerto Rico, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, and St-Germain; and also tasted some decent wines from Mouton Cadet, Jarvis and Mionetto.
Since it was my last evening in South Beach I kept the energy going by attending a few wonderful parties: Rachael Ray’s Sound Check Beach Bon Fire at the Raleigh Hotel and the private Two12 Access House. At Rachael’s party, Seven Daughters Winery supplied the libations and Rachael’s husband and his band provided the entertainment.

The Two12 Access House, run by Scott Feldman, hosted a secure space for the chefs to play and let loose. Superstar chef Daniel Boulud was taking shots, wine guru Josh Wesson was shaking his booty and Chef Todd English was chatting up the ladies. All and all it was a fabulous night to top off a great couple of days!

At the end of the weekend before I headed back to New York, I had a chance to catch up with Festival Founder and Producer, Lee Schrager. He was gleaming with delight and was extremely happy with the success of the event. I asked what his favorite cocktail of the weekend was, and if I could get him one since I’m sure he could use one after planning such a massive event-a-thon, he replied “The Belvedere Mojito at Tap Tap during the Kitchen Aid Benefit.” Gotta love a mojito! I also asked about the Festival’s 10th Anniversary in 2011, and he revealed a few details, “The festival dates are February 24 – 27, 2011, and prior to the event we will release of the first ever Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook which will be available 11/23/2010.” Sounds like many exciting things are on the horizon for Mr. Schrager and his South Beach team; I know I am already looking forward to next year! For more information and ticket sales please visit: www.sobewineandfoodfest.com

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