The Tampa Tribune’s food writer since 2005, Jeff Houck covers the way people live through their food. He also hosts the Table Conversations food podcast and believes that everything crunchy is good.
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Getting Your Eat And Drink On, Miami Style [Food Network SoBe Wine & Food Festival Starts Thursday]
Posted Feb 20, 2013 by Jeff Houck
Updated Feb 20, 2013 at 03:18 PM
The 2013 edition of the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival starts tomorrow in Miami Beach.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your weirdness.
The celebrity-choked festival runs through Sunday. This is not your normal neighborhood street festival. Tickets to the Burger Bash, for example, are $225 each and give you access to all the slider-size gourmet protein and food celebrities you could ever want. Tickets sold out within the first week when they went on sale in December.
The South Beach shindig is among the biggest food festivals in the country, along with the Aspen Food & Wine Classic during the summer in Colorado.
Hosted by Southern Wine & Spirits of Florida, the Festival benefits Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and the Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center. During its 12 years, the festival has raised approximately $17 million for FIU.
Lee Schrager, Southern’s vice president of corporate communications and national events and festival founder, said cocktails and spirits will be more heavily emphasized to reflect their popularity among younger festival-goers.
I had a chance to chat with Schrager recently about this year’s shindig, which promises to be flowing with cocktails - even more so than usual.
* * * *
Cocktails are everywhere this year, Lee.
There is so much attention these days on the bar chef or mixologist or whatever you want to call them. We have it at almost every one of our events.
At The Q on Thursday night, we never had alcohol and last year we did. Now we do a Q After Dark, which is very cocktail focused. It brings in a new young demographic. Friday night’s Garden to Glass event that Emeril [Lagasse] is hosting sold out immediately. On Saturday night, the Red Hot Nights event we’re doing is very spirit-oriented. Even the Ziggy Marley closing party is cocktail oriented.
There’s a big drive toward spirits this year, without a doubt.
Oh yeah. Ziggy Marley. That guy only last week just played the Grammys, Lee!
How do you like that? I was tweeting it all night. “Grammys tonight, SoBe next week!”
What is it that makes cocktails so popular? What are they rediscovering?
It’s the art of the cocktail. It’s the glass. It’s the ice. It’s the artisanal spirit. It’s macerating the fruit that goes in it. Like anything, people are drinking and there’s a lot more focus on what they are drinking.
It’s a performance art. It’s the original open kitchen. You see right there how it’s done.
The Diamond Dishes night on the field at Marlins Park focusing on female chefs could be a big night for you.
We think it is. April Bloomfield, Naomi Pomeroy, Michelle Bernstein. Stephanie Izard, Jeni Britton Bauer. Its an amazing lineup.
Clearly, once I lined up two females, I said, “Let’s do our own ‘A League of Their Own,’ but it didn’t start out that way. I didn’t start out wanting to do a female chef event at the ballpark.
Anne Burrell will be there.
The past year feels like the news has run through your festival. Sandra Lee is now the New York governor’s girlfriend. Paula Deen was in the news for her health issues. The Guy Fieri restaurant review in the New York Times made news for a couple weeks. You’ve got all of these people under your roof every year.
Does it surprise you that food celebrities have crossed over into mainstream conversation?
Food has become mainstream. I’d like to think I was responsible, but I’m not. Food Network made food mainstream. Clearly they’re the ones making it accessible and bringing it into the home and making it cool for kids to want to cook. We didn’t have that when we were growing up. We didn’t have teachers talking to us about becoming an Emeril or Bobby or Giada or Rachael. We wanted to be astronauts and lawyers,. Now kids want to be cooks. No question about it.
How do you keep finding new talent for the festival?
Listening. Traveling. Reading. I’m always asking people when they go places what did they see or what restaurant do they think was great for our Best of the Best event. For our pairing seminars, when I go to the Aspen Classic, I see people like [cheese expert] Laura Werlin and that she’s sold out and I see how fun her seminars are. Laura is funny and charming and committed. It makes her a pleasure to deal with overall.
Any new face this year you’re excited about showcasing?
Trisha Yearwood has never been with us before. We’re doing a brunch with her on Sunday at the Loews. Jose Andres is doing our first ever in-Spanish culinary seminar with a demo on Sunday afternoon.
It’s kind of shocking that you’ve never done that before.
Can you imagine? Nope. Never done it before. Clearly we have a lot of sponsors looking to reach the Hispanic audience. And we have a lot of Hispanic sponsors. Just look at Goya. They have a big commitment to the Latin community.
MasterCard is our new credit card partner. We were talking to them and they wanted to reach the Latin community in South Florida. We are using Jose for our golf tournament we’re launching this year at Turnberry. And then in speaking with him, he proposed it. I thought, “Wow. What a fantastic idea.”
Any other names?
Nigella Lawson is back. She hasn’t been here for a few years. Curtis Stone hasn’t been here for a few years. Then there are the big names from the network who are here every year, the Rachaels, the Giadas the Bobbys. Anne Burrell is a big draw.
How about your five must-visit food spots in Miami? I’ll spot you one that I know you love: Buena Vista Deli.
Because I live in the Design District, I can walk to everything. Buena Vista Deli is the best breakfast in town. The quiche and pastries are the best in town.
There’s a new restaurant called MC Kitchen. Great Italian food. There’s a new Thai restaurant called Khong River House.
What do you have when you go there?
I went for three weeks to Thailand and I went there when I got back. I found the food very authentic. I had 27 dishes for two people. What didn’t I have? The food was incredibly authentic.
I love the new Pubbelly Steak. It’s called PB Steak on Miami Beach.
And I think you just have to go to Joe’s Stone Crab. You must. It’s an institution.