For one weekend in February, celebrity chefs from all over the country gather in South Beach to fete the world of wine and food. Ostensibly, the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, which is presented by the Food Network, is a chance for gourmands to indulge their inner foodie with a four-day event spanning chef demonstrations, wine tastings and exquisite dinner parties. According to the chefs who attend the bacchanal, though, it’s really an opportunity for them to frolic on South Beach in a food- and sun-soaked atmosphere. In fact, Emeril Lagasse has dubbed the event, “Spring Break for chefs.”
Regardless of your inclination, there is no debate that the South Beach Wine and Food Festival is one of the top epicurean events in the country with over 50,000 guests in attendance. (Especially if New York’s spinoff fest, which is now in its third year, is any indication of the success of the brand.) This year’s lineup spans chefs like Rick Bayless, Anthony Bourdain, Scott Conant, Paula Deen, Rocco DiSpirito, Todd English, Bobby Flay, Lagasse, Nobu Matsuhisa, Alfred Portale, Charlie Trotter, Ming Tsai and Alice Waters.
Now, in its 10th year, the South Beach Wine and Food Festival has established several events as the most popular of the schedule, including the Amstel Light Burger Bash (which is hosted by Rachael Ray), Perrier-Jouet Bubble Q (Bobby Flay’s gig) and the Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting Village. One of the most coveted meals is the annual Tribute Dinner, which celebrates a culinary master. 2011’s honoree is international culinary star Alain Ducasse, who will be feted by Laurent Gras, Alex Stratta and Trotter. Tickets are $500 and sell out fast.
If that’s too heavy on the wallet (and there have been complaints that ticket prices are too high), try to snag a seat at Tsai’s Dim Sum and Disco party ($150), Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink Brunch with guest chef Jonathan Waxman ($125) or Deen’s Down Home Cookin’ Sunday Gospel Brunch ($125). For a splurge there is always Wine Spectator’s Best of the Best at the Fontainebleau Hotel where 50 restaurateurs and 50 wineries come together for a truly decadent evening. Yes, it will set you back $350, but you’ll be sipping wine and Champagne from high-end brands like Au Bon Climat, Charles Krug, Hundred Acre, Rodney Strong Estates, Perrier-Jouet, Louis Latour, Nickel & Nickel and Pol Roger.
Despite the steep prices, tickets to the South Beach Wine & Food Festival (February 24-27, 2011) sell out at lightning speed. The most popular events for last year’s lineup were all gone within the first week. If you can’t make it to South Beach this year, you can always buy their 10-year anniversary cookbook, which features recipes from the mainstays of the Festival like Lagasse, Ray, Flay and Bourdain.
Jacquelynn D. Powers is a writer based in Miami Beach. Her work has appeared in the Miami New Times and slashfood.com. Prior to that, she was the Senior Editor of Ocean Drive magazine for over a decade.