Palette Magazine

The South Beach Food and Wine Festival celebrates 15 years

By Shayne Benowitz

KitchenAid Culinary Demonstrations at the 2015 South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s Grand Tasting Village;
KitchenAid Culinary Demonstrations at the 2015 South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s Grand Tasting Village; Photo: © Getty Images for SBWFF

Last February, in a ballroom at The James Royal Palm (now The Royal Palm South Beach), an unofficial South Beach Wine & Food Festival event took place. Fresh off the reversal of the state’s ban on same sex marriage, celebrity chef Art Smith threw the ultimate blowout: his 101 Big Gay Weddings party. Inspired by the success of the Big Gay Ice Cream Social organized with the eponymous New York City ice cream shop, Smith and company had something to celebrate.

He recruited a colorful cast of renowned chefs — celebrity and local — to throw a free wedding for 101 same sex couples. Chopped host Ted Allen served as everyone’s best man and Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-ins & Dives officiated the wedding. Duff Goldman of Ace of Cakes created a seven-tiered showpiece for the occasion, and everyone dug into Smith’s famous fried chicken. For the party, drag queen Chi Chi LaRue and DJ Tracy Young provided entertainment, along with three Chippendale dancers who arrived on bikes and then stripped off their shirts to perform.

“When something is created from pure joy, this is the kind of result you get,” said chef Todd Erickson of Miami Beach’s HaVen and HuaHua’s Taqueria, who helped Smith organize the party. “It was an incredible gathering of like-minded people who wanted to see progress.”

Smith is not on the program this February — he’s had a busy year with the adoption of his four children with husband Jesus Salgueiro and continues his advocacy of gay couple adoption rights. However, other Big Gay Wedding celebrants are back for the 15th annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival, which takes place February 24–28. Guy Fieri is hosting the Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown at the Surfcomber Hotel. Duff Goldman is throwing a Sweet 15 Dessert Party at the former Versace Mansion. And Ted Allen is charged with helping inaugurate the Taste Fort Lauderdale Series with a Bloody Mary Brunch hosted by the cast of Chopped at the Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale.


New This Year

“With the introduction of the Festival’s new Taste Fort Lauderdale Series… we’re looking forward to celebrating with everyone,” says Lee Brian Schrager, the festival’s founder and director.

The Fort Lauderdale Series kicks off Wednesday evening with Seaside Eats hosted by Robert Irvine at the historic Bonnet House Museum & Gardens. “It’s so exciting that we can finally show off the fine talents of Fort Lauderdale restaurants during the festival,” says Adrienne Grenier, executive chef at 3030 Ocean and an event participant. Chefs and culinary personalities kicking off the Fort Lauderdale Series include Todd English, Debi Mazar and Marc Vetri, among many others.

Additional new programming sure to draw a sold-out crowd includes the Grilled Cheese Happy Hour hosted by Laura Werlin and Ms. Cheezious at South Beach’s CiBo Wine Bar, Fireman Derek’s Midnight Breakfast hosted by lovable supermodel Chrissy Teigen at the National Hotel and Exploring Israel’s Kosher Dinner at the Chabad Downtown Jewish Center.


Under the Big Tent

As always, the festival brings back plenty of perennial crowd pleasers, among them Rachael Ray’s Burger Bash celebrates a decade under the festival’s beachside Grand Tasting Village by the Loews Hotel. The enormous tent plays host to the Miami Beach Signature Events, which include Giada De Laurentiis’s Italian Bites on the Beach, Michael Symon’s Meatopia and Andrew Zimmern’s Lucky Chopsticks party.

The Grand Tasting Village , which is located between 10th and 13th Streets, draws a crowd keen on sampling the finest pours from the Southern Wine & Spirits of Florida portfolio, as well as bites made by an array of celebrated South Florida chefs. To invigorate programming, event organizers redesigned the Village last year. Now a visit to the Grand Tasting Village includes a smart layout courtesy of South Florida neighborhoods and culinary demonstrations by the biggest names in the industry.

More highlights of the festival include the annual Best of the Best held at the Fontainebleau and featuring top culinary talent, including Jose Garces, Michael Mina, Scott Conant and Hedy Goldsmith. On the more intimate end of the spectrum, Martha Stewart and chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten are hosting a Rosé Brunch at The Miami Beach EDITION hotel and Anne Burrell is organizing a dinner at South Miami favorite Whisk along with Marc Murphy and Brendan Connor.

This year, from Fort Lauderdale to South Beach, the South Beach Wine & Food Festival undoubtedly has a tasty morsel for every palate.