South Beach Food and Wine Festival Review

Anthony Bourdain, Rachael Ray, and a coterie of the food world’s finest came out for the just-wrapped South Beach Food & Wine Festival. David Lincoln Ross has the insiders’ guide.

Clockwise L-R: Chef Emeril Lagasse, a view of the tents, Chefs Bobby Flay and Michael Symon, and Chef Bethenny Frankel during the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami Beach, Florida on Sunday, February 27, 2011. (Photos by Jeffrey Boan / AP Photo)

Celebrating its tenth year, the 2011 South Beach Wine & Food Festival attracted a record crowd of more than 50,000 attendees to the sands of Miami Beach, bordering the historic Art Deco district of sleek hotels, trendy restaurants and hot clubs and bars that don’t close until dawn. From sold-out cooking seminars and candle-lit dinners of black truffles and foie gras to fine wine tastings and cool cocktail mixing demonstrations, a legion of celebrity chefs, renowned vintners and expert bartenders gathered to mix it up with dedicated foodies and thirsty wine lovers during four days of non-stop celebrating, which ended this past Sunday.

“South Beach is a spring break for chefs,” quipped Anthony Bourdain, consulting chef to New York’s Les Halles restaurant, best-selling author and TV host of No Reservations on the Travel Channel.

On SOBE’s opening night, at the fifth annual Rachael Ray-hosted Burger Bash, chef Michael Symon of B Spot in Cleveland became the first-ever back-to-back winner of the People’s Choice Burger Award. In welcoming everyone to the event, Ray promised that she was going to sample all 26 burgers at the Bash, a pledge that triggered a great cheer from the hungry crowd.

All told, chefs from eight states grilled more than 60,000 burgers, lovingly pressed into service from 11,000 pounds of ground beef, according to event sponsors and SOBE Founder and Director Lee Brian Schrager. An estimated 3,000 guests clamored for sliders, while splashing high-octane condiments on their favorite burger or imbibing beverages inside the football-field sized indoor/outdoor tent complex that opened its doors at 7pm.

Competing against burger masters, Symon’s ‘Yo! Burger,’ a charcoal-grilled masterpiece topped with fried salami, provolone, shasha sauce and pickled onion, served with a Nutella and hazelnut liqueur milkshake in a shot glass—outpolled, among other entries, an elk burger from Love Shack of Ft. Worth, Texas; a Wagyu-beef burger from Morimoto, Boca Raton, Florida; a Latin-spiced burger from El Mago de las Fritas of Miami Beach; and a ‘Napa Valley Burger Crunchified’ from Bobby Flay of Mesa Grill, New York, his a creation graced on top with melted goat cheese, arugula, and potato chips.

Among the Burger Bash sponsors were Amstel Light; Allen Brothers, a Chicago-based all-USDA beef purveyor; and rosé wine producers from the Loire Valley in France. Rosé wine with a burger? “Why not?” replied Ross Wasserman of the Loire Valley Wine Bureau, adding, “With spicy courses, a rosé’s slight sweetness and its terrific acidity make it a perfect match for a burger.”

Chef Bobby Flay (himself a grilling authority), said in between assembling another dozen Napa Valley Burgers, “We love coming down every year, the people here have great energy.” But Jacques Torres, the famous French chocolatier, who was serving chocolate chip cookies at the Burger Bash, said: “Miami is not a real chocolate town, it’s too hot! But that said, it’s a really fun occasion.”

The winning ‘Yo! Burger’ was a charcoal-grilled masterpiece topped with fried salami, provolone, shasha sauce and pickled onion, served with a Nutella and hazelnut liqueur milkshake in a shot glass.

On the same night, at “The Brilliance of France Dinner,” guests paying $250 each sampled a spectacular tasting menu of fresh tartare of “bar,” a perch, from chef Pascal Nibaudeau from Regent Grand Hotel in Bordeaux, France ; confit de canard, preserved duck leg, from chef Philippe Ruiz of the Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables, Florida; a saddle of roasted lamb, from chef Jean-Marie Gautier, from Hôtel du Palais, Biarritz, France; and an “Empress” chocolate cake, from Sylvain Gautier, Hôtel du Palais, and Olivier Rodriguez, the Biltmore Hotel. Each dish was matched by a fine French wine, including a 2007 “S” from Château Suduiraut, a classic dry white Bordeaux; a 2003 Château Pichon-Longueville, a Grand Cru from Pauillac, France; and a famous French dessert wine, a 2001 Chateau Suduiraut, a Grand Cru Classé, from the Sauternes appellation, also near Bordeaux.

Jean-Louis Leimbacher, General Manager of the Hôtel du Palais, who joined Chef Gautier for weekend events, said, “Coming to SOBE in Miami is a terrific experience; it’s our second year here and many people from Miami have discovered Biarritz is a wonderful place to visit; we also have great beaches, perfect weather and a great Basque and regional cuisine to offer our guests.”

SOBE is hosted by a partnership including the Food Network, Food & Wine Magazine and Southern Wine & Spirits of America, Inc.; proceeds from each year’s event go directly to support Florida International University’s (FIU) School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. During the decade of SOBE events, according to Schrager, more than $12 million has been raised to fund educational programs and support scholarships at FIU.

On Friday night, Champagne Perrier-Jouët hosted the Bubble Qu, another sold-out extravaganza, celebrating all things effervescent and grilled. Many nationally recognized grill masters served up a range of barbecued dishes designed to complement a flute of fine French Champagne. Among those BBQ masters: Elizabeth Karmel, Hill Country, New York; Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill, Chicago; Dean Fearing, Fearing’s, Dallas; and Bobby Flay.

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There were still more star-studded events on Friday, including a Moët & Chandon Champagne-sponsored SOBE “Let Them Eat Cake” 10th anniversary birthday party hosted by New Orleans chef Emeril Lagasse and lifestyle and cooking guru Martha Stewart.

More celebrity-chef events followed, each one sold out and packed with enthusiastic audiences, including a Wine Spectator-hosted fine wine tasting moderated by Tom Matthews, the magazine’s editor and featuring a vertical tasting of Corton-Charlemagne vintages, a half-dozen great whites from Burgundy. On Sunday, Paula Deen hosted a “Down Home Cookin’ Sunday Gospel Brunch” presented by Smithfield.

In addition to smaller events, SOBE also hosts Grand Tasting events, which feature fine wines and spirits and local and national chefs. Each year, these outdoor events held under the sky attract thousands of consumers eager to learn, wine, and dine during an afternoon or night on the beach.

Summing up what it means to join in the dizzying array of parties, cooking and gossiping, Jonathan Waxman from New York’s Barbuto said, “Miami is an adult Disneyland, and at SOBE, people really appreciate great food. Ten years ago this event was so small, look what it has become, there’s great joie de vivre here, and we chefs love it.”

Olive’s chef Todd English spoke for many who have watched the rise of SOBE, saying, “I have been in this business for 30 years, and this annual event has definitely helped transform America’s taste in food.”

Following the success of the Miami Beach events, SOBE’s Schrager has taken the wine and food festival on the road. Under his direction, the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival is scheduled for September 29 to October 2, 2011. And according to a press report in the Miami Herald, Schrager plans to launch another wine and food festival in Los Angeles in 2012.

For those who want to indulge in an extra course, pick up a copy of the just published South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook, which offers great recipes and drink ideas from past and current SOBE chefs from around the world.

Bon Appetit!

David Lincoln Ross writes about food and wine from New York City. For more information, please visit: