The South Beach Wine and Food Festival failed to establish a desired beachhead, but its edible invasion of Fort Lauderdale and Broward County will march and munch unabated during the 2018 edition Feb. 21-25. For a third straight year, the festival will kick off in Fort Lauderdale, this time with a $200-a-head barbecue dinner Feb. 21 at the new Conrad Beach Resort. Broward County will stage a record 11 events as part of the Crave Greater Fort Lauderdale Series. Featured hosts at Broward events include celebrity chefs/TV stars Emeril Lagasse, Geoffrey Zakarian and Andrew Zimmern.
“We've got some big names, we're introducing new venues and events, and we're trying to introduce the festival to new people,” festival executive director Lee Brian Schrager says about the expanded Broward footprint. “It's all become a mini-festival within the festival.”
Organizers wanted to hold some events on Fort Lauderdale beach in a big white tent, a signature of the festival’s most popular Miami Beach showcases, but were foiled by logistics.
“The sand is too soft,” Schrager says. “It’s not hard and packed like South Beach. You can’t drive trucks onto the beach.” He says the expense of laying wooden floorboards and the issues surrounding transporting food and equipment forced a retreat to oceanfront hotels such as the Conrad and W Fort Lauderdale across A1A.
Zimmern, host of Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods,” is among the first-time Broward invaders. After years closing out the festival on Sunday nights in Miami Beach, his popular Asian street-food event, Lucky Chopsticks, will be held on Friday, Feb. 23, in the courtyard of the W Fort Lauderdale. Tickets remain for the $125 event, which will feature food from top Asian restaurants such as Kuro, Etaru and Gold Marquess Fine Chinese in Broward and Dragonfly Izakaya, No Name Chinese and Tanuki in Miami-Dade.
“I hope it’s received well — I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be,” Zimmern wrote in an email. “The event is fun, and the food is awesome.”
Zimmern says he “cruised through” Fort Lauderdale on his most recent Florida shoot and had “a crew lunch at a fish shack near the beach one day. It may have been Coconuts, but I’m not sure.”
Now in its 17th year, the South Beach Wine and Food Festival has become an international bacchanal that attracts hundreds of chefs and thousands of food lovers to South Florida. More than 90 ticketed events, most in Miami Beach, will draw more than 60,000 attendees over five days. Food Network and Cooking Channel are presenting sponsors.
This year’s $500-a-head tribute dinner on Feb. 24 at the Loews Miami Beach is scheduled to honor chef and Food Network star Bobby Flay and winemaker Michael Clarke.
Through the years, the festival has gained a reputation as “spring break for chefs,” a place where the culinary elite could gather for fun, sun and R&R. This will be the first festival since the #metoo movement, and issues of sexual harassment and power-dynamic abuse have rippled through all industries, including the food world. The reckoning has upended the careers of prominent chefs Mario Batali (a past festival participant who was not on this year’s schedule) and John Besh (who pulled out of a festival dinner). Northern California chef Michael Chiarello also pulled out of a festival event because of past harassment claims.
“A new way of thinking has evolved, and that means we have to look at things in a new way,” Schrager told me in an interview last month. He says conversations at industry functions in recent months have all touched on one theme, “Who’s next?” He says the festival might start vetting invitees more closely and that corporate sponsors are much more sensitive to abuse and harassment claims involving participants.
Schrager says the festival has always prided itself on inclusiveness and equal opportunity, and he has chosen participants “based on merit and whether I like their food, not whether they’re male, female or transgender.” In response to the times, he had his staff look at the gender composition of participating chefs and found that “20-something percent are female, which aligns with the industry overall.
“If you look at what we’ve done, women have always been among our top draws — the Rachael Rays [longtime host of the popular Burger Bash who had a conflict and will not attend this year], the Giada De Laurentises [who hosts the Italian Bites event], the Anne Burrells,” Schrager says.
So far, nothing has dampened enthusiasm for the event, which keeps growing along with Americans’ appetite for fine food and wine. The festival has gotten so popular it has sprouted ticket scalpers outside some events, such as the annual Burger Bash, which this year will be emceed by Guy Fieri. And similar to Art Basel, a growing number of unofficial events outside the festival will dot the South Beach landscape, including a Feb. 24 “Ladies of Liberty” brunch with chefs Michelle Bernstein and Hedy Goldsmith at Sweet Liberty bar.
Besides the opening dinner on Wednesday hosted by barbecue guru Chris Lilly, the Conrad Fort Lauderdale will hold a Feb. 22 clambake hosted by Lagasse, one of Food Network’s earliest stars, whose “Bam!” catchphrase propelled him to fame and fortune. Pastry chef Duff Goldman is scheduled to be on hand with desserts. Tickets remain for both events.
“It’s a gorgeous property,” Schrager says of the Conrad, which opened last fall. “When I saw the [sixth-floor] pool deck overlooking the ocean, I said, ‘This will do just fine.’ ”
Five of the 11 Broward events are already sold out, including a $150-a-head Sunday Bloody Mary Brunch co-hosted by Zakarian and Aaron Sanchez on Feb. 25 at Zakarian’s Point Royal restaurant at the Diplomat Hilton Resort in Hollywood. Smaller dinners featuring chefs Chris Cosentino and Michael Schulson at Monkitail at the Diplomat, Italian butcher Dario Cecchini and chef Angelo Elia at Casa D’Angelo in Fort Lauderdale, and Ritz-Carlton chefs from Florida at the Fort Lauderdale Ritz-Carlton also sold out.
A Rooftop Rose Happy Hour ($75) with Kristin Cavallari, cookbook author and lifestyle guru whose husband is Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler, will take place at the W Hotel at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 24.
Perhaps the most intriguing Broward event: a Women of Syria dinner on Feb. 23 ($200) at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The dinner, co-hosted by New Orleans chef Alon Shaya and television personality Ingrid Hoffmann, will feature food and stories from Syrian refugees. Two organizations with women who fled the war-torn country, the Denver-based Comal Heritage Food Incubator and Miami-based Zaytouna, a new outfit that sells Middle Eastern pastries and delicacies at farmers’ markets and online, will help prepare the dinner.
Proceeds from all festival events go to the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Florida International University. The festival has raised more than $26 million for the school in 16 previous editions.
IF YOU GO
What: South Beach Wine and Food Festival
When: Feb. 21-25
Where: Numerous venues in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, with most big events clustered in tents on the southern end of Miami Beach.
Restrictions: Nearly all events are for people age 21 and over because of free-flowing alcohol. Only events that allow children are Fun and Fit as a Family, Feb. 24-25 at the Frost Science Museum, and an ice cream social at hte Loews Miami Beach on Feb. 25.
Tickets: $25 to $500, available at SOBEWFF.org