Thursday, March 1, 2012

South Beach Wine and Food Festival

Sun, sand, and tipsy celebrity chefs. No, it isn't the weird dream you had last night, it is the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. Every February, chefs descend on Miami for a four day "chef's spring break" full of cooking demos, celebrity chef-hosted parties, wine tastings, and general merriment.

Tickets to various events are available to the general public, but it is advisable to purchase them well in advance (they go on sale in October) because most events sell out. Even at hundreds of dollars a ticket for some events, people flock to the festival in droves each year.

For our Valentine's Day trip, B planned a Miami getaway to coincide with the festival. In addition to an amazingly impressive lineup of chefs, the location can't be beat. The main event, the Grand Tasting Village, is steps away from the ocean.

In addition to the Grand Tasting Village (more on this later), the festival features various events ranging from a food truck fiesta on the sand to a brunch hosted by Paula Deen. We purchased tickets for the Saturday night Best Thing I Ever Ate: Late Night Bites and Sweets party in a tent on the beach at the Ritz Carlton.

We didn't know exactly what to expect heading to the party and made the mistake of eating dinner beforehand. I feared long lines for tiny appetizers and booths running out of food. Instead, we were greeted with a tent the size of several football fields lined with booths dishing out generous portions of comfort food and sweets. While the event was packed, we rarely waited more than a minute to try a particular dish. There were so many options that it kept the crowd spread out.

In addition to sampling amazing food (the spicy sundae from NYC's Big Gay Ice Cream Truck was a hit, as was the coconut cake from South Carolina's Daisy Cakes) and sipping great cocktails, we chatted with Food Network stars Robert Irvine (so buff) and Sunny Anderson (so down to earth) and danced the night away to a live band.

At 2 a.m. we headed back to our hotel to rest up for Sunday's Grand Tasting Village.

When we arrived at the Grand Tasting Village, we were given a wristband and a wine glass in a holder that you put around your neck. This leaves your hands free to eat and high five chefs. Wardrobe tip: wear sandals (it is on the sand), a loose fitting outfit, and lots of sunscreen.

You also receive a bag to hold all the cool samples you get, such as a custom spice blend:

We initially thought the best part of the event would be the unlimited food and drinks.

While the food was plentiful and the drink selection unbelievable, the best part was the lineup of non-stop cooking demos by the celebrity chefs. Throughout the day the crowds packed the tents to get a personal view of their favorite chefs.

Michael Symon was as warm and engaging as any celebrity I've ever seen. He was full of practical tips and hilarious stories. Fellow Iron Chef Morimoto even stopped by to say hello.

The unexpectedly hilarious duo of Robert Irvine and Michael Chiarello (along with commentary by Double Dare host/Food Network host and producer Marc Summers) spent most of their time telling embarrassing stories about other Food Network stars (more on that below).

As the day went on, and the alcohol continued to flow, cooking demos gave way to R rated stories and hilarious banter. Reuniting Worst Cooks in America co-hosts, Robert Irvine and Anne Burrell was more roast than anything else. As she has said on her show, "... adding a little white wine makes everyone happy..."

Ever wanted to see a tipsy Paula Deen try to make her "titties dance" like Robert Irvine? No? Too bad because here you go:

As the eating, drinking, and book signings drew to a close, Anthony Bourdain took to the stage with his "Dirty Wheel." Bourdain asked the audience to either come up with a good question or ask him to spin the Dirty Wheel. The wheel would land on a category such as "Travel Tips" or "Poop Joke," and Bourdain would answer a question in that category.

Bourdain was what you'd expect: raucous, inappropriate, and hilarious. He (predictably) railed on Paula Deen and her partnership with a diabetes drug manufacturer and told a lot of funny stories from his travels around the globe. Perhaps most surprising, and most refreshing, was the way he absolutely melted when talking about his daughter and his wife Ottavia (who came on stage for a quick wave). He instantly switched from bad boy chef to beaming husband and father.

Before we left for Miami I was worried that we'd be wasting a lot of money standing in long lines to eat mediocre food. While we did stand in some lines and not everything we ate was Top Chef-worthy, I would absolutely spend the money to return to the SOBEWFF. Seeing the brightest stars of the food world in such a candid and casual atmosphere was something I'll never forget. Thank you to B for planning such a fantastic adventure!

Second Thoughts from B

When we take big trips (Paris, France rather than Paris, VA), we try and keep a running journal. It isn't so much the rambling prose of a 13 year old girl as it is a list of bulleted highlights of things we want to remember. Here is my list from this weekend of fun in the sun at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival:

Celebrity Chef Observations

  • Everything Michael Symon said made me nod - either the "yeah, I totally agree with that" or the "ah ha, that's how you do it" version.

  • Sunny Anderson, in her Sonic Cherry Limeade shirt, was all sorts of fun. It took her 2 minutes to make me a fan. Would it be stalkerish to Facebook friend request her?

  • Geoffrey Zakarian seemed to have no interest in mingling. It would have interrupted his cigar.

  • Next Food Network Star winners, Melissa D'Arabian and Jeff Mauro still have some work to do to build their fan base. We saw both wandering around without many people looking to talk to them.

  • Robert Irvine is as gracious of a celebrity as you get. He made the genuine effort to get to know each of his fans (or at least convincingly pretended to be interested).

  • I've always wondered if Anthony Bourdain simply speaks his mind or actively tries to be provocative (read: piss people off). I'm happy to report that seeing him in person makes me lean strongly to the former.

  • Hard to tell whose clothes were tighter: Robert Irvine's shirt or Top Chef contestant Angelo Sosa's baby blue pants.

  • Top Chef contestant and DC chef Spike Mendelsohn and Baohaus owner, chef Eddie Huang, were hanging out with Anthony Bourdain and assisted his act by asking a planted question about Paula Deen.
They said what?

  • Anthony Bourdain (in response to a f***, marry, kill question from the audience): Bobby Flay is not the kind of guy I'd want to bring home to mom but he's pretty, so I'd f*** him. Mario Batali is a provider and would cook me breakfast. I'd marry him. Guy Fieri... He works hard but I can't stand his shirts. I'd kill him.

  • Paula Deen (to a shorts-wearing Bobby Flay): I've seen nicer legs on a chest of drawers.

  • Robert Irvine (about Anne Burrell): She eats Skittles by the handful and could kick the crap out of any one of us.

  • Robert Irvine (about Geoffrey Zakarian): He gets his toilet paper imported from Europe and stores it in the refrigerator.

  • Michael Chiarello (about Geoffrey Zakarian during an Iron Chef challenge): He started crying that Robert Irvine took all the wood to cook with, so he left to get a mani-pedi.

  • Michael Chiarello (on Robert Irvine's shirts): He shops at Baby Gap.

  • Morimoto (while demonstrating how to filet a fish for sushi): Cut off the skin just like this. It is easy... for me.

  • Top Chef contestant and DC chef Mike Isabella (on the timeline for his new restaurant in Georgetown called Bandelero): Probably April... or May. Well, let's say June or July.

  • Mike Isabella (on Angelo Sosa): He's around here somewhere. Probably drunk. That's his thing.

  • Spike Mendelsohn (on Eddie Huang, who did a pop up at Toki Underground): We're trying to get him to open a place in DC. H Street would be perfect.

  • Paula Deen (on her husband's recent oral surgery): The doctor gave him Viagra so he'd have something to hold on to.

  • Paula Deen (on her diabetes): I've stopped drinking sweet tea, which for a Southern girl is saying something. Just by doing that I've cut out 1 cup of sugar a day.

  • Anthony Bourdain: Not treating your server well should be one of the 7 mortal sins. I could never be friends with a bad tipper.
Food and Cooking

  • Out of everything we ate at the festival, the spicy/sweet combination from the Big Gay Ice Cream truck's Awesomesauce Sundae and Ginger-Curry Shake was by far the most eye opening.

  • Michael Symon: If you are cooking without salt, your food tastes like crap and your friends secretly hate you.

  • Michael Symon (referring to added sugars and chemicals in low fat food): Eating low fat stuff will make you fat.

  • Morimoto: Don't add wasabi to your soy sauce when eating sushi. Wasabi amounts should be controlled by the sushi chef.

  • We've never seen so many people with tattoos of pigs and never eaten so much pork belly, pulled pork, bacon, etc.

  • Hey Fiji water company, what is artisan water? Does some water sommelier turn on the tap in Fiji for you before you load up tankers and ship water across the ocean to sell for $5 a pop? I'm confused. Still, the fresh doughnuts from the Donut Divas and corndogs at your booth were pretty awesome.

1 comment:

Big Dave T said...

Thanks for sharing. My wife and I are thinking of heading south for this year's festival. Coincidentally we also went to Paris this past year and I keep a trip journal of our travels as well. And our son works in DC as a policy analyst for Congress.

Found your blog by Googling the wine festival.