In South Floridas serious food circles, there is no one who doesnt know Lee Schrager. Hes the manthe force of nature, reallybehind the world-famous South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Hes the head of communications for the countrys largest wine and spirits distributor, Southern Wine & Spirits, headquartered in Miami. Hes the owner of what is surely the worlds most powerful culinary Blackberry, a man on a first-name basis withand a mere cell phone call away fromevery important chef around the globe.
And yet, there are a few things people dont know about him. For one, that Schragers been seducing audiences with the glories of good food since he was all of eight years old in his native Long Island, NY, where I had a Suzy Homemaker oven in the basement and used to make pies. Id go door to door in the neighborhood selling them. So when other kids were playing baseball or football, I had a pie business going. Another little-known fact: the middle of three sons born to a father who worked in the garment industry and a mother who worked for a real estate developer, Schrager left New York with his parents at age 14, when the family moved to Fort Lauderdale. He attended public high school (one year at Piper High School in Lauderhill, the next at Nova High School in Davie) before graduating a year early at 16. I wasnt a good student, so I doubled up on credits so I could finish early, he said. But most surprising of all? SchragerMr. Miami Food himselfdoesnt eat seafood. In fact, when he goes to Joes Stone Crab, one of his all-time favorite restaurants in South Florida, he orders fried chicken? Im just not a big stone crab eater, Schrager said, sitting back in his living room on a plush couch tucked into a cozy nook overlooking his garden. Still, theres nothing like going to Joes on a Friday afternoonespecially on the Friday afternoon of Art Baselordering the fried chicken, the chopped salad and a slice of key lime pie and sitting back to watch the entire world walk by.
This month, as the South Beach Wine & Food Festival celebrates its 12th anniversary, the man at the center of it all will have yet another chance to watch as the world walks by. Or rather, comes to him. From Food Network stars like Rachel Ray, Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay to world-class chefs like José Andrés, Daniel Boulud and Norman Van Aken, everybody whos anybody in the culinary field will attend the event Schrager masterminded upon his arrival at Southern in 2000. At that time, he had no job description (They didnt really know what to do with me and I didnt know either!") but he did have one seriously great idea: that Miami Beachs beautiful shores could provide a spectacular backdrop for a weekend of deliciousness. Schrager invited INDULGE into the two-story, waterfront Bay Point home he bought 19 years ago to talk about a few more things people may not know about him.
You recently Tweeted that you stayed home, cooked and had people over. How often do you do that?
Five times a year. Maybe. So getting an invite to that dinner party is pretty special?
Well, I dont have a lot of friends left because I dont entertain that much anymore. We used to have parties here with hundreds of people. When Steven Raichlen wrote his first Barbecue! Bible we did the book party here and filled the house with 20 grills. When Shareef Malnik from The Forge got engaged, I did the engagement party here. And I used to do a Thanksgiving dinner every year for 80 to 100 people, where all my food friends would come and wed cook for four days. Everybody would bring something different and it was the worlds greatest holiday buffet. Four years ago I stopped doing it; it was just a lot of work.