Gastronomes, epicureans, bon viveurs and discerning foodies will follow their noses to Miami Beach on this the signature Wine & Food Festival Weekend.
Presented by Food Network & Cooking Channel the festival is a national, star-studded destination event showcasing the talents of the world’s most renowned wine and spirits producers, chefs and culinary personalities.
Hosts are Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits and Florida International University (FIU), the Festival benefits FIU’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management and the Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center.
To date, the Festival has raised more than $24 million for the School.
Entering its 16th year the festival began as a one-day event known as the Florida Extravaganza and held at FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus. For the first five years of its existence the Florida Extravaganza was a fairly sedate in-house affair showcasing wines from national and international wineries paired with food from local restaurants and chefs working with students of FIU’s School of Hospitality & Tourism Management.
Then in 2002, Lee Brian Schrager, then director of special events & media relations at Southern Wine & Spirits of America, took the reins of the one-day festival and brought his vision for the Festival to life by relocating it to South Beach. The renamed South Beach Wine & Food Festival® was held March 15 – 17, 2002 and attracted close to 7,000 guests to a series of dinners, seminars and the first Grand Tasting Village. Three years later the world famous Fontainebleau Hotel staged the first Wine Spectator’s. Within a year Sobe WFF became one of the largest and most well-known festivals of its kind in the country, gaining international acclaim and welcoming King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain to Miami for a special tribute to the wines and food of Spain.
The festival has an avowed aim – Eat – Drink – Educate.
A perfect combination of these necessary ingredients is achieved with the help of over 50 restaurants from all over South Florida, all delivering highest class food from all over the world. So popular has the festival become that events this year have expanded beyond the original South Beach base into Fort Lauderdale. Hollywood South Miami and Bal Harbour.
The partnership with Food Network offers access to celebrity chefs, television stars and authors. Dinner parties hosted by high profile food experts like Anthony Bourdain are sold out months in advance despite the $500 ticket price.
For the past ten years television celebrity Rachael Ray has hosted the Heineken Light Burger Bash and this year attendees at the festival are encouraged to share their best hamburger recipe – the winner wins a prize of $10,000 for their favorite school.
The highest group of visitors to the festival are women in the 25-50 age range and
it make sense that the Festival include families by offering Fun and Fit as a Family, a program that takes place each year for two days at Jungle Island.
And there’s a book.
Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook: Recipes and Behind-the-Scenes Stories from America’s Hottest Chefs (Clarkson Potter, November 2010), written by Lee Brian Schrager with Julie Mautner, featuring a foreword by Anthony Bourdain.
The Festival now attracts more than 65,000 guests annually to its 85+ events throughout the five-day weekend, the last weekend in February. Call it, Spring Break for Sophisticates.
This year the focus is again on internationally renowned talent and leaders of the hospitality industry at uniquely crafted events showcasing world-class wine, spirits, food, and fun.
Signature event is a huge tented village at 13th and Ocean Drive. (Entrance $225) The Goya Grand Tasting Tents & Kitchen Aid Culinary Demonstrations showcases food and wines from every region of the world. Plus you can watch your favorite Food Network & Cooking Channel Chefs demonstrate their culinary skills. Cocktails are served under swaying palm trees or you can sway your hips to live music on the beach.
Four legged friends have their own party at the dog lovers favourite, Yappie Hour.
Signature events in other venues include a Lucky Chopstick Asian Banquet and Italian Bites on the Beach. Celebrity chef Guy Fieri hosts a live game show, Food Fight, that's part Jeopardy! and part Family Feud. Sip cocktails while your favorite celebrity chefs battle for glory.
Tanqueray brand ambassador Snoop Dogg and celebrity chef Guy Fieri showcase a special presentation and Snoop Dogg takes to the turntables immediately following the demonstration.
There is also good hometown cooking on offer at Trisha Yearwood’s Southern Kitchen where she will host a Sunday Brunch
It is no exaggeration to say that there really is something for every taste at Sobe WFF.
Miami Food part 2
WALK AND TALK AND EAT MIAMI BEACH STYLE
Sobe WFF is not the only show in town. When the circus moves on, we still have an excellent home baked Food Tour in Miami.
Twice a day, every day, at noon and 5pm on Miami Beach, a walking Food Tour meets at the celebrated David’s Cuban Café on 9th and Alton. Food Tours in Miami.
Enthusiastically led by Miami resident and native Macedonian, Faruk Bishevac, this engaging young entrepreneur offers a Food Tour that combines food, culture and architecture.
In the memorabilia filled traditional Cuban café, we sip sweet Cuban espresso coffee and eat hearty slabs of Cuban sandwich – Cuban sandwich – sweet ham, pulled pork, mustard pickles.
Faruk talks of the history of Cubans in Miami, the highs and low spots of exiles from Castro some of whom were rich aristocrats with lands and fortunes confiscated by the dictator; and the others political prisoners and those released from mental hospitals and jails when America promised to shelter them from Communism.
We share the cortado – one large serving made to be divided into small cups of café con leche (coffee with hot whole milk) and handed around the group. And any person who happens to be passing by.
David’s, a Cuban institution, has been in Miami Beach for 38 years. To share coffees is a Cuban tradition. It is claimed that the reason Cuban coffee has so many devotes is the kick they get from the Ethiopian beans – discovered when farmers in the mountainous regions observed that the sheep never slept. The shepherds decided to investigate – then they too could stay awake all night and watch their sheep.
Fortified, our small band are ready for the walking part of the tour. Faruk warned we walk and talk and sit and get to know each other. It is leisurely, conversational, laid back. Like Miami Beach.
But first, a trolley ride. As we wait for the free trolley that now runs all over South Beach and into mid Beach. Faruk tells the history of Miami’s settling by the Tequesta Indians in the 1800s. They were wiped out by the diseases of the swamps of South Florida Next came the Seminoles who now are the owners of Hard Rock Casinos & Resorts and Miccosukee Indian Villages on the Everglades. The Seminoles were traders and the only tribe never to be conquered by the US Army.
Faruk’s brand of Food Tour attracts visitors from all over the world and he points out that he has three criteria for the restaurants chosen. Firstly they must be family run, not chains. Second home made ingredients and third international.
We ride the trolley to our next stop on the top end of Lincoln Road, almost at the Bay is the Argentinian Panizza Bistro Buenos Aries. The restaurant opened on 9/11 and having struggled through the dark days that followed the family have become well known for their freshly cooked empanadas/quiche / pastries. The crispy pastry on the empanadas is produced by oven baking not the more traditional deep fried Miami style.
Walking down Lincoln Road, the one mile pedestrianized area between Biscayne Bay and the ocean. The names of Miami’s founders, Mary & William Brickell, Carl Fisher, the developer of Lincoln Road and Julia Tuttle are invoked. Carl Fisher cleared Lincoln Road of mangroves and made it habitable in 1912. At the insistence of his young wife Jane, he built the first Miami Beach Church in a plot on Lincoln and the mission style white church still stands proudly today on the corner of Drexel and Lincoln amid all the high end designer boutiques and restaurants There is one enduring Miami Beach story that never fails to enchant. That of Julia Tuttle who in the winter months when all was frozen up north, sent a box of fruit and an orange blossom to the railroad magnate Henry Flagler urging him to extend his railroad further South from Palm Beach to Miami. He agreed, eventually building all the way to Key West, unfortunately not one but two hurricanes blew the railroad away.
Moving onto Espanola Way, a restoration of Mediterranean revival buildings, we are treated to chicken croquettes – bolnha de bacalhau and codfish and potatoes - coxinhal de frango at the family run Brazilian Restaurant, Boteco Copacabana. The tiled patterns of the floor mirror the waves of Copacabana Beach.
On Ocean Drive Faruk tells the history of South Beach’s Art Deco buildings. How they were saved from the developer’s bulldozer’s and became the enduring image of South Beach. The pastel palette has featured used in thousands of glossy magazine photos and newspapers articles. Miami Vice really hit the national and international consciousness with the 80s television series Miami Vice. Thanks to the preservationists, the 1930s buildings are intact and look exactly the same – but restored - even better. One of the finest examples being The Tides Hotel, here we pause our walking tour to sit in the sea turtle decorated lobby and eat sweet crab and shredded lettuce salad.
Surely there is no more we can be expected to eat on this Food Tour. But who doesn’t have room for ice cream? The Ferli Gelato Espresso Bar on Washington Avenue makes the best ice cream in town, we are assured. The freshly prepared pistachio is rich, wholesome and tastes of creamy almond milk. A great way to round off a gastronomic, cultural and architectural tour around Miami Beach (and all food is included in the cost of the tour). Now, Please an Uber to take me home, I can’t walk another step or eat another bite.
Ellen Frazer-Jameson is a journalist, author, actress. theater producer and drama coach. She co hosted the largest live late night radio show in Europe for the BBC and has appeared on national TV shows and taken leading roles on stage. She lives in Miami and London and loves to dance Argentine tango.