This weekend South Beach turns into Disneyworld for foodies as The South Beach Wine & Food Festival Roars into town. The event is larger than life and brings together celebrity chefs and the people who worship them for one wine and sun soaked weekend of eating, drinking and debauchery.
Heavy hitters like Rachel Ray, Martha Stewart, Paula Deen and Emeril Lagasse host exclusive parties that have been sold out for weeks, as well as cooking demos and book signings in the tents of the Grand Tasting Village, open Saturday and Sunday.
The Grand Tasting Village is the heart of the event and if you've never been, it can be a bit overwhelming. Crowds gather in front of vendors serving generous pours of wines, cocktails and delicious bites of food by the country's best chefs. Celebrities mingle with the masses - was that Tony Bourdain trying the craft beer? Did Paula Deen just ask you if you liked the Pinot Noir?
Following are some tips and tricks to survive this weekend's festivities. Bon Appetit and L'Chaim!
1. Buy Your Tickets In Advance - Every year people wait until the last minute to buy their tickets and every year the damn event sells out. Yes, the tickets are pricy ($225 for the Grand Tasting Village, $85 for most breakout seminars), but if you really want to go, get your tickets in advance. You'll be guaranteed admission and you won't have to wait in any lines.
2. Wear Comfortable Shoes - The Grand Tasting Village is on the beach. Seriously - ON THE BEACH. Your stiletto heels may look sexy in case you run into a Rocco DiSpirito or a Scott Conant, but you'll be falling all over yourself, which will make you look more drunk than sexy. High heels are a fashion fail at this event. Choose cute (and flat) sandals for a day at the GTV.
3. Pace Yourself - Walking with a wine glass around your neck is pretty decadent. At every turn someone is offering you a pour of their Merlot, Barossa, Cabernet or Pinot Noir. This does not mean you have to drink every drop. Wine tasting is "tasting", not "guzzling". You paid your money for the experience so don't drink so much by noon that you have to be dragged out by embarrassed friends by 2pm. Ask for small pours, feel free to pour out the wine left in your glass after the taste and sip on water between every taste.
4. Bring Your Camera- It happens all the time. A seemingly non-food fan suddenly freaks out when Martha Stewart or Emeril Lagasse strolls past them. The South Beach Wine & Food Festival is jam-packed with celebrity chefs and celebrities and this is the one time when they expect to be stopped for pictures and autographs. Demonstration stages are constantly alive with celebrity action - watch Martha bake a pie, Paula cook a ham and Tony Bourdain be snarky live and in person.
5. Follow Tweets- If your Smartphone has Twitter, follow the action on Twitter. Food Bloggers (like Clean Plate Charlie), celebrity chefs and the festival will be blogging about the event all weekend. This allows you to share celebrity sightings, waiting times for certain areas and schedule changes. Look for trending hashtags like #SBWFF and #SoBeFest.
6. Park in Municipal Lots - Like anywhere in Miami and Miami Beach, private parking lots will jack up their prices for this event. Expect to pay $20 or more for self parking in private lots and $30 or more for valet parking. There are many municipal lots in Miami Beach, including a large parking garage on Lincoln Road. Watch the signs for street parking, though. Many streets have designated parking for residents only on weekend. The tow trucks will be out, so read the signs carefully before you park.
7. Think Outside the Tent - The Grand Tasting Village isn't the only game in town. Seminars and demonstrations are held all over the city. Try your hand at mixing the perfect cocktail or learn about the drinking habits of Ernest Hemingway. If you're on a budget, Jungle Island is hosting the Kohl's Fun and Fit as a Family featuring Kellogg's Kidz Kitchen 10:00 AM -5:00 PM Saturday and Sunday. Sure it's geared for kids, but for $20 you get to see Rachel Ray, Rocco DiSpirito and others.
8. Take Breaks - If you're making an entire day or weekend of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, take frequent breaks between tastings and demonstrations. Stroll the Miami Beach Broadwalk, people watch or just get some air. Don't worry - the festival will be waiting for you when you get back.
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9. Wear Sunscreen and Stay Hydrated- A lot of the festival is outside. On the beach. In the sun. And you're drinking alcohol. Put on the sunscreen and drink (water, not booze) frequently.
10. Don't Drink and Drive - Ask a friend to be a designated driver beforehand - there's plenty to see and do without drinking. If you do find that you've enjoyed too much grape, take a cab, a bus or tri-rail home, ask someone to pick you up or stay at a hotel. Remember, a DUI fine is much more expensive than a cab ride home to Pembroke Pines.