With more than 70 events, the 13th edition of the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, which will run Feb. 20 to Feb. 23, is the largest in its history.
From the big blowouts such as Rachael Ray's Burger Bash to small seminars about pairing champagne and ice cream, the festival offers something for every palate. Food Network celebrities are the biggest draw, but organizers have made room on the schedule for less familiar names. Does anyone but the most serious foodie know who April Bloomfield is? And this year, there are more events than ever that cost less than $100.
With that in mind, here's a nibble-by-nibble overview of the festival.
Event you can't get into: One day before the festival officially begins, Martha Stewart will emcee a private dinner that inaugurates three new labs at Florida International University's Chaplin School of Hospitality Management and Tourism. They came about because of the more than $19 million donated to FIU by the festival. The Wine Spectator Restaurant Management Laboratory, the Brewing Science Laboratory and the Food Production Laboratory are designed to help students create the next generation of festival-worthy food and drink. The only other time the festival held a Wednesday event was in 2010 following the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Several chefs banded together to hold a fundraising dinner at Tap Tap, the Haitian restaurant in Miami Beach.
Most expensive event: It sold out before the ink was dry on the festival's 60-page program, but 110 people paid $1,500 for a three-hour Ocean Liner dinner on Friday, Feb. 21, at the Wolfsonian-FIU museum in Miami Beach. CNN host, chef and author Anthony Bourdain and five world-class chefs will prepare a meal based on ocean liner menus collected by the museum. The caliber of the chefs — Daniel Boulud, Andrew Carmellini, Frédéric Morin, François Payard and Eric Ripert — make this a once-in-a-lifetime event. The festival's most expensive event, according to organizers, occurred in 2009 at a $2,000-per person vertical tasting of wines from Napa Valley cult favorite winery Screaming Eagle.
Least expensive event: For just $20 per person, Fun and Fit as a Family, hosted by the Food Network's Robert Irvine, will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday . Unlike every other festival event, no alcohol will be served, and the focus will be on kids learning about healthy eating by helping out in the interactive kitchen and exploring the food garden. The ticket price includes cooking demos by Giada De Laurentiis, Aaron Sanchez and Andrew Zimmern. Local chefs such as Timon Balloo (Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill, Bocce Bar) and Adrianne Calvo (Chef Adrianne's Vineyard Restaurant and Wine Bar) are also on the schedule.
Odd pairings: Former Van Halen singer Sammy Hagar will join forces with Emeril Lagasse for a beach party at the Delano hotel. If those two seem unlikely, there's also food from Versailles, Miami's classic Cuban restaurant. Representing Versailles will be Ana Quincoces, lawyer, cookbook author and former cast member of "The Real Housewives of Miami." The best thing about this party is the price: $95 for Hagar's live music, a chance to meet to the personable Lagasse and Cuban bites. Look for big pours of Cabo Wabo Tequila, founded by Hagar in 1996 and sold a few years ago, and Sammy Beach Bar Rum, his latest foray into the world of spirits.
We know Latin: While you'd think Latin food would be an integral part of this Miami-based festival, it's not. Themes, we're told, bubble up, and this year several events celebrate foods that originated in Spanish-speaking countries. On Friday, the Food Network's Anne Burrell and Miami's own Emilio Estefan will host Medianoches and Mixology at Wynwood Walls. Restaurants hand-selected by Sef Gonzalez, who writes the Miami comfort-food blog Burger Beast, will compete for best medianoche sandwich. On Saturday, chef Sam Gorenstein of My Ceviche, will host Ceviche and Pisco at a rooftop event at Gale South Beach hotel. Finally, a Spanish-language cooking demo will be held Saturday featuring Spanish-born José Andrés (the Bazaar by José Andrés, Miami Beach) and Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio, who will soon open La Mar at Miami's Mandarin Oriental.
Who doesn't love Italian food? Italian is all over this year's schedule. Rocco DiSpirito will host a sold-out dinner on Little Palm Island, the Keys' island accessible only by boat. De Laurentiis will host a sold-out Italian dim-sum-style champagne brunch as well as a seated dinner at Casa Tua, the Mediterranean-style-villa-turned-restaurant in Miami Beach. A chef from the five-star Il Pellicano resort in Tuscany will create another feast at Casa Tua. Three other Italian repasts — Fettuccine and Fiorentina, Bold Italian Dinner and Bella Cucina — are also sold out.
Pinups and champagne: The very popular Moët Hennessy the Q, hosted by the Food Network's Michael Symon, will feature samples from 40 chefs. This year, it will include models featured in the upcoming 50th anniversary edition of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. Close to 3,000 people are expected to attend. Here are more startling numbers from the event: 3,860 hours of preparation, 1,500 pounds of beef brisket, 25 pig heads, two 150-pound hogs, 1,000 chicken thighs, 1,000 oysters, 80 pounds of garlic, 350 pounds of beef cheeks, 50 pounds of Japanese eggplant, 200 pounds of onions, 100 bunches of cilantro, 10 gallons of mayonnaise, 9 gallons of Dijon mustard, 3,000 slider buns, 68 pounds of sweet-potato chips and 600 doughnuts.
Turning up the Heat: Folks at the Grand Tasting Village at 3 p.m. Saturday should be sure to catch a courtside-to-beachside challenge featuring Miami Heat players Chris Bosh and Shane Battier. Called Kitchen Heat, the event will pair Bosh with personal chef Terrance Williams and Battier with chef Dena Marino, co-owner of Miami's superb Italian restaurant MC Kitchen. Attendees will have the chance to bid on Heat packages that benefit each player's charitable foundation: Bosh's Team Tomorrow and the Battier Take Charge Foundation.
More intimate gatherings: The festival will have its quieter events, including a series of wine seminars sponsored by Wine Spectator. Serious foodies will be checking out the Bank of America-sponsored lifestyle seminars, hour-long conversations about food and drink. One such seminar on Sunday is a preview for next month's release of "Fried and True: More Than 50 Recipes for America's Best Fried Chicken and Sides," by festival founder and director Lee Schrager. The book covers every kind of fried chicken, from roadside Southern to haute cuisine. Schrager will be joined by co-author Adeena Sussman and Food Network wine columnist Mark Oldman.
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When: Thursday, Feb. 20 through Sunday, Feb. 23
Where: Most events are in Miami Beach, but the festival has spread across the region. This year, there's a golf tournament in Aventura and a special dinner in the Keys hosted by Rocco DiSpirito.
Cost: Most events are sold-out.
Contact: 877-762-3933 or SoBeFest.com. Keep up on day-to-day festival happenings at Facebook.com/sobewff.