Food Festivals

Behind The Scenes For SoBe Food Fest Prep

It is early Wednesday morning, and I am standing in a kitchen area in the Miami-Beach Convention Center, watching some 50 FIU students getting to work on food prep for Friday nights' Perrier-Jouët BubbleQ event at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. I am not the only one looking on -- FIU chef-instructor Michael Moran, chef and culinary coordinator of the Festival, is keeping a close eye on things. He is, at the same time, on the phone going over innumerable details with a host of people, directing students on what to do, checking off items on pieces of paper on a table in front of him, and answering my questions -- the first of which regards numbers. "We'll prepare about 1,800 pounds of pork, 1,500 pounds of beef filet, 1,200 pounds of fish, 1,000 pounds of chicken, 800 pounds of cabbage, and several hundred pounds of 'nouveau' potato salad and other side dishes" he replies. The 3,000 guests expected at Friday nights' Champagne BBQ will not go hungry.

FIU started the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, and now each year presents it along with partner Southern Wine & Spirits of Florida as a fundraiser for its Teaching Restaurant Program and the Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center -- both located on FIU's Biscayne Bay Campus in North Miami. Much of the festival's prep work takes place at the school's state-of-the-art commercial kitchens.

"When it's ready we pack it into a refrigerated, 65-foot 18-wheeler", says Moran, and from there it gets delivered to the beach beyond the Delano hotel. There the students will continue their work, assisting top chefs (and Top Chefs) from around the country in cooking up and dishing out tons of barbecue and fixins'.

The chefs who will  be at the Champagne BBQ event include: Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill/Topolobampo, Chicago, IL), Tyler Florence, Tom Colicchio (Craft Restaurants, New York, NY), Tony Neely (Neely's Bar-B-Que, Memphis), Art Smith (Table 52, Chicago, IL), and Myron Mixon (Jack's Old South BBQ, Unadilla, GA). Local participant chefs are Clay Conley (Azul), Jonathan Eismann (Pacific Time), Govind Armstrong (Table 8), Howie Kleinberg (Bulldog Barbecue), Andrew Swersky (The Forge), Claude Troisgros (Blue Door), and Peter Vauthy (RED the Steakhouse).

"Only the good chefs will show up tomorrow, the ones who really care how their dishes are coming along" one student told me on Wednesday. "The rest will come on Friday." On my way out the door, before 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, the first chef arrived to check on how things were progressing. It was Jonathan Eismann.

The behind-the-scenes stars, though, are the 700 Hospitality majors who will help out in a variety of capacities both before and during the festival. For all their work they get paid only knowledge, but participating in a huge event such as this, and seeing how it comes together, can be invaluable for those going on to careers in food and beverage management. Michael Moran knows this, and spends months getting his students ready for the project. Now it is showtime.

Tomorrow we'll return and see how things are progressing.

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Lee Klein