There are few events out there that combine great weather, the best food and the world’s greatest Chefs in one area and the South Beach Wine & Food Festival pulled it off for the 10th year in a row from February 24th – 28th. While this was our first time at the event, it will definitely not be our last. All of the Chefs whose food you have yet to try or you want to rub shoulders with are at this event.
The toughest part is deciding which events you are not going to attend as there are over 50 events over the course of this four day extravaganza. We went this year as guests, not as sponsors, to get an idea of the market Pro Kitchen Gear could engage. With this said, we would recommend using your American Express card to buy your tickets early. We went for the package deal and then did a few add-on events after the fact. The package deal secures your hotel and entrance to the best events on the docket.
The package we selected included 3 nights at the beautiful W Hotel in South Beach. Their rooms are spacious, luxurious and everyone has a great view of the ocean. Honestly, waking up to the ocean is the way your time in Miami should be spent. The service at the hotel was spectacular (minus the delay in getting our room) and the pool was incredible.
Every possible Chef and celebrity food person is at this event. We were lucky enough to spend time with the vibrant Chuck Hughes from Chucks Day Off on the Cooking Channel and Food Network Canada. The Chuck you see on TV is as real and bigger-than-life in person when we met him at the Burger Bash which was the first event of the trip, held under a football sized tent on the beach. This was the place to be. Not only did we have the opportunity to speak to Chuck, but Alex Guaranschelli (Alex’s Day Off) was delightful and eloquent as well. Along with the vibrant Anne Burrell from Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, there were sightings of Ted Allen (Chopped), Susie Fogelson & Bob Tushman (The Next Food Network Star) and many more! You really couldn’t go wrong at this event.
Every one of the big events have multiple after parties that you can attend as a separate ticketed event. We went with the Moonshine & Swine event since it was at the W Hotel and made for finding the way home much easier after this booze-laden party. Not that the event needed any help in keeping the alcohol flowing, the event was attended by Zane Lamprey from Drinking Made Easy. This is not a person you want to start drinking with if you are looking to have a productive next morning. Trust me, I did not. Witty, funny and down-right hilarious Zane kept us entertained and holding our sides for the rest of evening until it was time to retire.
The next day was the final chapter for the Pierre Jouet BubbleQ event that featured the incredible tastings from the greatest Chefs from around the world including the Italian cuisine master Marc Vetri (Vetri, Osteria, Amis), Iron Chefs Michael Symon (Lolita) & Jose Garces (Village Whiskey, Chifa, the list is too long) and many, many more. The charming Todd English (Olives) was patient as a fan tried to take a picture about 5 times that finally worked out and Al Roker was mobbed with a line that was consistently 30 people deep. Who knew? This was the last year for the BubbleQ, but I am sure that the Grand Master of events, Lee Schrager, has something up his sleeve for next year!
Saturday was the perfect day for attending the Grand Tasting Village which took place a little further south than the two aforementioned events. When I say this event is huge, it is an understatement. There are two tents and an open area that equate to about 3 football fields in length. Set on the beach, it was the perfect background to go around taste some of the greatest food & spirit from around the world while stuffing your tote bag with samples and brochures and business cards. With wine glass secured around our necks and complimentary SoBe Wine & Food Festival cookbook in hand – another advantage of the package deal – we made our way through the crowd. One tip: over-hydrate. The staff constantly tells you and you should listen. It’s warm, your drinking more than you think and the last thing you want is a mid-day hangover because you are so dehydrated. Especially when you are getting ready for the Best Thing I Ever Ate: At the Beach event that night!
Before I go on, I should mention that you’ll want to get to these events early if you want to beat some of the crowd. Most events have a VIP entrance for a premium ticket, but showing up 30 minutes early is not that bad. You’re on the beach, at night, in Miami.
The Best Thing I Ever Ate: At the Beach is what it sounds like. The television reincarnation at the beach that features the Celebrity Chef dishing out food from their favorite restaurant from across the country. Between exchanging military stories with Sunny Anderson (Cooking for Real) and posing for a picture with the striking Debi Mazar and Italian hubby Gabriele Corcos (Extra Virgin), we jammed out to an incredible performance by KC and the Sunshine Band in between eating Fried Clams from Cape Porpoise Lobster Company and other epicurean delights. We wrapped the night up early as the event emptied out, leaving only napkins in it’s wake.
By this point, we’re exhausted, but we haven’t given up. We still have two events to go: a cocktail clinic by Zane Lamprey and the closing party hosted by Guy Fieri. The cocktail clinic hosted in the W Hotel was fun and engaging. Zane invited volunteers to come up and make the French 75, a classic drink most people mistakenly thought was a Mimosa. After a few goes with the shaker, the volunteers tasted their try at this classic to determine if they had nailed it or not. Unfortunately for me, not enough Gin. I think my liver was telling me something. The closing party was a little underwhelming, so we went out and indulged in traditional Cuban food to round out our trip.
Here are some tips from our experience at the SoBe Wine & Food Festival:
- Go for the package deal, it will be worth it since hotels jack up their prices knowing the influx of visitors for the weekend.
- Get your tickets early with the pre-sale from American Express. The pre-sale usually starts around the last week of October. These events sell out fast.
- Hydrate like hell. You can not drink enough water with all of the alcohol you’ll be consuming. Don’t kid yourself on this one.
- Not doing the VIP passes? Get to the bigger events about 30 minutes early and stand in line to avoid the crowd. It gets crowded quickly.
- Follow the hash tag #sobewff on Twitter. You will get updates from the event staff and others on what is going on. You’ll also meet a lot of people that way.
- Bring business cards. If you’re down there and are looking to establish relationships for business, always have our contact info available.
- Go for walks. Miami has a lot to offer when you are not attending an event and you’ll need to work off some of those fried clams.
We will be going again next year as guests or sponsors. Hopefully, we’ll be partnering with a Chef and bring some of our incredible cookware to the show! In the meanwhile, stay up to date and follow the event Director, Lee Schrager on Twitter.
Until next year!