SOBEWFF founder Lee Brian Shrager
The South Beach Wine & Food Festival (SOBEWFF) is set to return Wednesday, February 19, through Sunday, February 23, with more than 100 signature events, tastings, parties, seminars, dinners, and classes. The annual bash, which has raised more than $30 million for Florida International University, will take over three counties, with parties in Miami Beach, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach.
Founder and organizer Lee Brian Schrager has a lot planned for the festival's 19th year. "Some people would think we would step back so we could make our 20th anniversary special, but we wanted to really go all out for out last teen year."
The SOBEWFF maven says the festival remains popular because it has evolved over the years to match the public's growing sophistication regarding food and drinks. "In the past 19 years, the audience for the festival has changed. Platforms like Yelp and YouTube allow everyone to have a voice and be a more educated consumer."
Schrager also cites the fact that the festival has benefited from Miami's ever-growing restaurant scene. "Twenty years ago, we really only had Joe's Stone Crab and the Forge. Now we have Thomas Keller and Fabio Trabocchi. I think our consumers have grown up."
To make this year's edition fresh, Schrager and his team are bringing back festival favorites such as Burger Bash and Best of the Best and introducing events that range from a celebration of the sandwich to an evening of food and music by Nu Deco Ensemble.
By the time the last drop of prosecco is gone Sunday evening, about 65,000 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. "I would go to Best of the Best, a master class, some of the new events, and the Sunday Grand Tasting. That's enough where I've gotten a taste of the festival but I'm not overwhelmed," he says.
Here's a rundown of the newest SOBEWFF events on Schrager's radar:
Zak the Baker’s Gospel & Falafel
A few years ago, Zak the Baker's Zak Stern hosted a similar event at his Wynwood bakery. "I didn't go, but I always loved the concept, so I asked Zak to repeat it at this year's festival," Schrager says. The event will include a 22-piece gospel band, courtesy of Min. Desmond Jackson & the Sovereign Ministries, along with food from cookbook author Adeena Sussman, Valerie Chang (Itame), Brad Kilgore (Alter), and Stern. "I love everything about this event," Schrager says. "It's going to be a great evening." 10 p.m. to midnight Thursday, February 20, at Zak the Baker, 295 NW 26th St., Miami. Tickets cost $125 via sobewff.org/gospel.
Chef Mash-up, hosted by the Naughty Fork
The evening of food will feature Miami's top-rated chefs, including Jeremy Ford (Stubborn Seed), Richard Hales (Sakaya Kitchen), Lorena Garcia (Chica Miami), and Henry Hane (B Bistro + Bakery). "The lineup of talent for this event is probably the best for this year," says Schrager, who's also looking forward to an evening hosted by local Instagram sensation Samantha Schnur of the Naughty Fork. "We really wanted to work with Samantha, and it's going to be just a fun event." 10 p.m. to midnight Thursday, February 20, at Ace Props Miami, 398 NE 78th St., Miami. Tickets cost $95 via sobewff.org./ace.
Sliced: A Genuine Pizza Party, hosted by Michael Schwartz
For years, Schrager has wanted to host a pizza event at SOBEWFF, but there were multiple hurdles to jump. "The logistics of doing a pizza event are crazy," he says. "We have to rent the ovens, and they're each about four tons or some crazy amount in weight." This year, however, the stars aligned. "Michael [Schwartz] has a pizza book, and Jungle Plaza is the perfect venue." For the event, ten pizza ovens will be transported to the Design District location at a cost of more than $10,000. "We'll have a combination of gas and wood-burning pizza ovens — one for every two chefs." Schrager, who loves pizza, says his staff has been holding many meetings for this one particular evening, but he's convinced the party will be the one people will talk about. "I like anything that's a challenge, and the bottom line is that everyone loves pizza. The group of chefs participating is extraordinary, and it's going to be a stellar event." 10 p.m. to midnight Friday, February 21, in Jungle Plaza, 3801 NE First Ave., Miami. Tickets cost $95 via sobewff.org/pizza.
Sips & Dips, hosted by Adam Richman
Schrager says he received a call from Man Finds Food
host Adam Richman earlier this year. "Adam called me a few months ago and wanted to do an event that revolved around dips. It was too late to add it in, but I loved the name, so we're making it happen in Miami Beach." Schrager describes the event as a walk-around party where people can indulge in all kinds of dips. "There will be dips for tacos, dips for French fries, all types of food that can be dipped. It's all Adam's idea. I give him all the credit!" 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 22, at 1 Hotel South Beach, 2341 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $95 via sobewff.org/dips.
Nu Deco Ensemble Evening of Wine, Food & Music
Schrager is a fan of the Miami chamber orchestra that performs the works of artists such as Outkast and Daft Punk. Nu Deco Ensemble played at the Grand Tasting Village last year and was so well received that Schrager built an evening around the group. "I love Nu Deco, and we invited Rev Run to perform with them for this special evening." Guests will also be treated to fare from the many concepts at the Design District food hall Politan Row. 8 to 11 p.m. Saturday, February 22, at the North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $95 via sobewff.org/bandshell.