The South Beach Wine & Food Festival returns February 24 through 28 with more than 75 signature events, tastings, parties, seminars, and dinners. The annual bash, which has raised more than $22 million to date for Florida International University, is bigger than ever this year — expanding from Miami Beach to include mainland Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
Founder and organizer Lee Brian Schrager says the festival has become a place where foodies and industry professionals can connect. And as Miami's dining scene continues to evolve, more local chefs are being featured. That's no surprise when you consider that many Miami toques have appeared on national television shows like Chopped and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. In the past few years, the festival has added exciting events to its lineup, including Meatopia and Yappie Hour, the latter hosted by Rachael Ray and allowing festivalgoers to enjoy an afternoon with their mutts.
By the time the last drop of Cabernet is finished Sunday evening, about 60,000 fans will have experienced the festival's food, drinks, and entertainment. If the mere thought of where to begin your culinary journey overwhelms you, take tips from the founder. "Don't forget the sunscreen at the signature Miami Beach events, drink lots of water in between samplings, and plan ahead. Use social media to spread the word about your experience!"
If you want an insider's view, here are the events the festival maven is most looking forward to this year (visit sobefest.com for tickets):
Fireman Derek's Midnight Breakfast, hosted by Chrissy Teigen
"I'm so excited about this event," Schrager says. For this after-hours party, South Florida's own Derek Kaplan, AKA Fireman Derek, has rounded up cooks from firehouses around Miami-Dade to present sweet and savory breakfast dishes. These local heroes will serve their favorite meals, including French toast cupcakes and smoked chicken 'n' corn waffles. Model-turned-author Chrissy Teigen will get in on the action by making yellow-cake baked oatmeal from her new cookbook, Cravings.
11:59 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday, February 26, at the National Hotel, 1677 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $95.
Tribute Dinner, honoring Jonathan Waxman, Rob Sands, and Richard Sands
Tom Colicchio will be master of ceremonies for this year's Tribute Dinner, honoring venerable chef Jonathan Waxman. The chef, who did everything from play trombone to sell Ferraris before he settled on a career in the culinary arts, will be joined by Richard Sands and Rob Sands of Constellation Brands. A cadre of the world's finest chefs — including Frederic Delaire, Bobby Flay, Tyler Florence, Marc Forgione, Marcus Samuelsson, Aarón Sánchez, and Nancy Silverton —will collaborate on the menu. Says Schrager: "There's an incredible group of chefs cooking courses paired with specially selected wines from Robert Mondavi Winery, in celebration of the winery's 50th anniversary."
7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, February 27, at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel, 1601 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $500.
Fontainebleau Miami Beach presents Wine Spectator's Best of the Best
Schrager calls this annual fete "an evening geared toward a sophisticated palate." Best of the Best features more than 65 wineries and 50-plus chefs from some of the finest kitchens in the world. Weigh the $350 admission price against the time and cost it would take to dine at New York's Gramercy Tavern, Savannah's the Grey, and Emeril's flagship New Orleans eatery. Each wine poured must be rated 90 points or higher by Wine Spectator. Add live entertainment and a lavish dessert buffet, and you've got the recipe for a decadent evening.
7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday, February 26, at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, 4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $350.
Bloody Mary Brunch, hosted by the Cast of Chopped
Everyone's favorite weekend activity — the bloody mary brunch — gets a jolt of steroids when the cast of Chopped hosts this New York transplant. More than a dozen of South Florida's favorite chefs will present their favorite breakfast items — each paired with a unique take on the bloody mary. Bring your camera, because you'll want a selfie with the group, which includes Geoffrey Zakarian, Scott Conant, Aarón Sánchez, Alex Guarnaschelli, Ted Allen, and others. If you're a fan of the competition series, Schrager says this is one not to miss. "The cast of Chopped is so much fun, and the chefs at this event have gotten really creative with their take on classic brunch dishes. It's going to be delicious!"
Noon to 2 p.m. Sunday, February 28, at the Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale, 1 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $175.
One&Only Resorts presents Croquetas and Champagne, hosted by Jean-Georges Vongerichten
Taking a page straight from Romeo and Juliet, Miami's favorite snack, the croqueta, has become hopelessly smitten with champagne. This pairing, however, has a distinctly happier ending than Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers when the snack and bubbly marry at the Design District's Palm Court Plaza, accompanied by music from Miami band Suenalo. There will be free-flowing Champagne Henriot to go with croquetas from Miami institutions Islas Canarias, El Mago de las Fritas, and Gilbert's Bakery.
10 p.m. to midnight Saturday, February 27, at Palm Court, 140 NE 39th St., Miami. Tickets cost $95.