By David Minsky
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Credit Lee Brian Schrager, founder and organizer of the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival, for keeping things fresh during the 11-year run. Like the general manager of a sports team, he spends each offseason tinkering with the lineup — adding a big bat here (like Roy Choi), removing a tired veteran there (the BubbleQ). What remains constant is the intriguing mix of serious culinarians (Ferran Adrià, Alain Ducasse) and, um, less-than-serious food personalities (Paula Deen, Rachael Ray).
The big event runs Thursday through Sunday, and before the eating begins, Schrager chatted with New Times.
New Times: There's a different theme to the dinner at sea this year.
Lee Schrager: We did a Michael's Genuine boat cruise last year, and we've always wanted to do something with salsa, so we're doing a Salsa at Sea cruise with Doug Rodriguez and Aarón Sanchez. And I'm looking forward to Conscious Bite Out in the Sacred Space in Wynwood.
What will the food be like?
I don't want to use the word vegetarian or vegan. It's going to be a lot more. It's geared toward a new demographic... This is probably not for the Burger Bash clientele.
What else is new?
We also have the Farm to Table Brunch at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, with Michael Schwartz, Andrea Reusing [Lantern], and a few really great farm-to-table chefs. We are growing everything that's going to be eaten at that brunch at the botanical gardens. Gabriele [Marewski] from Paradise Farms is planting everything and will be harvesting it just for the participating chefs. And we're doing Dining in the Dark with David Burke at the Gansevoort, which I think will be great.
Guests will be blindfolded?
Not blindfolded, but it will be a pitch-black room, and you'll have no idea what you're eating. A lot of times, we enjoy our food because it's so pretty or we don't like something because it's ugly. So I think that's going to be interesting — not only the food but the wine will be all blind tasting.
If it's pitch-black, how will we know that David Burke is really there?
Because at the end, he will come out and ask what you thought it was. David Burke will definitely be there, and he's big enough in stature to recognize.
Any exciting chef who has never been to the festival coming this year?
Roy Choi will be here; he's the guy who kind of started the food-cart craze in L.A. There will also be new chefs at Best of the Best. We keep the names at that event fresh each year.
Another big finish on tap?
Our closing party — brand new — will be food carts on the beach. On Sunday night, we'll have 23 of the top carts in South Florida and one from outside Florida. Imagine the BubbleQ tent or Burger Bash tent with the carts and live local bands. Andrew Zimmern is hosting that.
Sad to see BubbleQ go?
We have retired the BubbleQ, and it's back to The Q. Rather than being a champagne-only event, it is now going to be all the great wines and spirits from the Moët USA portfolio [hosted by Emeril Lagasse and Guy Fieri]. Plus we have a late-night party called Q After Dark.
And Dim Sum Disco is retired too.
We're giving Dim Sum Disco a break after five years. We are going to be doing a Dolce Asian Lunch at the Setai [with Charles Phan of San Francisco's renowned Slanted Door].
After the inaugural South Beach Wine & Food Festival finished, did you ever think, "Geez, this is going to get big"?
I never expected we'd be back for a second year. Seriously. I'm not a long-term thinker. I work best year by year. We still don't have a five-year plan — ten years later.