Food & Drink

Best of the Fest: Chefs share memories of South Beach Wine & Food Festival

Katie Lee, left, and Giada De Laurentiis share a bite at BubbleQ at the 2008 South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
Katie Lee, left, and Giada De Laurentiis share a bite at BubbleQ at the 2008 South Beach Wine & Food Festival. South Beach Wine & Food Festival

It’s a milestone year for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, celebrating its 15th anniversary with an expanded lineup of events that stretches from Fort Lauderdale to South Miami.

To mark the occasion, we asked eight festival personalities — celebrity chefs, top Miami chefs and fest honcho Lee Brian Schrager — about their favorite food events and memories of all time.

Martha Stewart

Founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

Best SOBEWFF event: “I like the Best of the Best. You get to see everyone who is attending the festival, and it’s just a really fun event.”

Favorite memory: “My best memory was from 2011, when I co-hosted the ‘Let Them Eat Cake’ 10th Anniversary party with Emeril Lagasse. The event featured the work of some of the top pastry chefs from all over the country, who created elegant cakes and desserts. The party took place at the 1111 Lincoln Road parking garage, which proved to be a very unique and fun location.”

Emeril Lagasse

Chef and restaurateur, New Orleans.

Best SOBEWFF event: “I’ve always loved Burger Bash hosted by my great friend Rachael Ray. The creativity and everyone’s different spin on a burger and sides is pretty impressive. No two are the same. I will say that the year I judged was particularly fun, but it’s a pretty serious feat for the judges to taste all the burgers there. It’s a marathon, not a sprint!”

Favorite memory: “Emeril & Sammy’s Rockin’ Beach Party. Sammy (Hagar) brought the house down, or beach I guess I should say. It was an unbelievable night, I had the best time and even had a cameo on the drums.”

Andrew Zimmern

Food Works Inc.

Best SOBEWFF event: “I’m a bright-shiny-objects person with a heavy-duty ADD kicker. Best SOBEWFF for me is the one coming up: Lucky Chopsticks Asian Night Market, which is this year’s closing event, is the big one that everybody will be talking about for years, I promise you. Amazing music, superb food from two dozen insanely good Asian chefs from Japan, Thailand, China, Laos, the Philippines and more. It’s going to be a killer party.”

Favorite memory: “Greatest memory was moderating a panel on Women in Food, and the participants were Gabrielle Hamilton, Alex Guarnaschelli and Debi Mazar. The crowd was getting electric as the participants were introduced and everyone was waiting breathlessly to see what my first question would be, and just as I’m about to kick things off, Debi takes a long pull off her cigarette, leans into her mic and asks, ‘When are we going to start talking about my vagina?’ It was funny and brilliant and 1,000 percent Debi. I’m still laughing.”

Lee Brian Schrager

Festival founder and director and vice president of corporate communications for Southern Wine & Spirits.

Favorite memory: “A few standout moments for me include when we honored Peter and Robert Mondavi in 2007, hosting Alice Waters to honor Jamie Oliver in 2008, when we surprised Emeril by having a marching band playing When The Saints Go Marching In when honoring him in 2009, and the 10th anniversary of the festival in 2011 when the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook was released.”

Jamie DeRosa

Chef-owner of Izzy’s Fish & Oyster in Miami Beach.

Best SOBEWFF event: “Oyster Bash has become a favorite for me, and I look forward to having Izzy’s take part in the festivities for a second year in a row. From the over-the-top displays of shellfish to the energy of those that attend and, of course, the quality of Island Creek Oysters, champagne and chefs involved — it’s one of those not-to-miss events.”

Michelle Bernstein

Chef-owner of Cena by Michy in Miami.

Best SOBEWFF event: “I would say Best of the Best, mainly because I get to see so many chefs of all the restaurants I frequent around the country, and, because it’s a more intimate event, I get to commiserate with the chefs on a personal level.”

Favorite memory: “A (very tame) fight broke out between two chefs in the main tent on my birthday about 10 years ago; I was having so much fun, I didn’t really notice or care about being elbowed in the eye. The fight turned into a big chef party with great food, laughter and cocktails, which in turn turned into a huge birthday party, and I proudly wore my black eye pretending I was a tough girl and gave all the chefs something to talk about that year.”

Frederic Delaire

Executive chef of Loews Miami Beach.

Best thing you’ve eaten at the festival: Five years ago, for the 10-year anniversary, the Tribute Dinner honoree was Alain Ducasse. A few weeks prior to the dinner, a baker from France (Jean Paul Veziano) called me saying he was a very good friend of Chef Ducasse and mentioned he wanted to come to Miami to bake the bread for Tribute Dinner. Jean Paul spent four days prepping some of the most incredible breads I’ve ever tasted. One in particular was a bread dough mixed with oyster meat and baked inside an oyster shell — so simple but with incredible flavor.”

Miguel Aguilar

Executive chef of Wynwood Kitchen and Bar in Miami.

Best SOBEWFF event: “My favorites are the chef dinners; they’re more intimate and intriguing in every sense of the word, from the food to the personalities. It’s an amazing opportunity to see the talent of these chefs showcased firsthand.”

Favorite memory: “At BBQ and the Blues in 2013, not only did I get to mingle with the host, Michael Symon, but I also met Gordon Elliot. I was a huge fan of Follow That Food and the show Gordon Elliot also hosted at that time, I believe it was called Foods From Around the World. I’m talking old-school, before I was cooking! It was very cool to meet him in person.”

Evan S. Benn: @EvanBenn