Barbecue, burgers, cheflebrities — it's all happening on the beach in Miami at The Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival presented by Food & Wine. There's parasailing just offshore, planes pull signs through the sky, the palm trees are swaying, and there's a full lineup of events, seminars, lunches, and tastings. The festival benefits Florida International University's Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and the Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center (to date, it has raised more than $14 million for the school), but it also benefits the stomaches and taste buds of the winter-weary revelers and tipplers who have descended on South Beach.
The Daily Meal's senior editor is on the scene, so check in for updates, observations, and interviews from the festival. To follow the goings-on at the festival on Twitter, follow #SOBEWFF.
The first big event this year is Moët Hennessy's The Q presented by Allen Brothers Steaks, sponsored by Miami magazine, and hosted by Emeril and Guy Fieri. The Q replaces BubbleQ in name, and features a familiar lineup of great chefs. The Q is going on at the same time as David Burke's Dining in the Dark and Geoffrey Zakarian's Conscious Bite Out, which is focusing on local, fresh, sustainable, organic produce.
THURSDAY, 11:30 p.m.: Michael White, April Bloomfield, Morimoto — these are not the names of chefs who you would normally associate with barbecue. But there were some strong showings. There were quite a few tacos and lamb, more than you'd have expected for a barbecue event. Among some of the night's best dishes were Roy Choi's grilled Korean short ribs with salt chive kimchi; Tim Love's bourbon and cola smoked pork, with pickled chiles, and cotija taco; John Vergos' ribs and mustard vinegar slaw; Stephen Stryjewski's white barbecue chicken thighs with jalapeño sausage skewers and grilled boudin; and April Bloomfield's dry-rubbed lamb ribs with smoked tomatoes, cucumber, and dill (left).
FRIDAY, 2 p.m.: The big event tonight is obviously Burger Bash, to be followed by Robert Irvine's Party Impossible. Irvine could be seen last night helping his Food Network brother Guy Fieri prep for The Q. He was even wearing one of Guy's red restaurant T-shirts. Some of the perennial favorites for tonight's award have to be: Michael Symon (pork burger with pork cracklin'), Shake Shack (smoked bacon burger), Bobby Flay (a "Crunchified" Buffalo-style burger), and Spike Mendelsohn's steaks frites burger (it remains to be seen whether he'll show up again this year wearing the Hamburler outfit or if he has a new schtick planned). Other notable burgers include those by Richard Blais (fried pork belly) and Bulldog Burger (the Luther served with chili cheese tater tots). Funny to note that famed Meatball Madness competitors The Dutch, Little Owl, and The Meatball Shop are all going head to head. Before the entire lineup gets listed, check out this interview with chef Michael Chiarello as he weighs in on Miami as the next big restaurant city, Italian as the trend that won't quit, and his own plans for new restaurants in California.
11:30 p.m.: So the grills are cold, the griddles off, the grease has settled, and this year's Amstel Light Burger Bash at the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival featured an epic three-peat victory by Food Network star chef Michael Symon. It seemed to be a crushing defeat for Symon's fellow Food Network star Iron Chef Bobby Flay, who threw down his hands in exasperation before hugging and congratulating his friend, "I don't mind if Michael wins, I just don't want to come in second," Flay said on camera moments before.
Leave quibblers to muse over their dry patties, having tasted all 32 burgers, it's hard to argue that the B Spot Pork Burger wasn't the event's best, despite several contenders. That pork and bacon burger topped with pulled pork, slaw, and a side of pork cracklin' was definitely the night's juiciest burger.
Guy Fieri took the award for best toppings, and somewhat puzzlingly, judges sided with Whisk Gourmet Food + Catering for its crispy shallot, bacon, and Swiss burger, which probably should have really won the award for longest burger description: Sirloin patty, melted Swiss cheese, buttermilk marinated crispy shallots, pecan wood smoked bacon, tangy horseradish sauce, ripe Floridat tomatoes, and watercress on a toasted bun.
11:50 p.m.: Robert Irvine's Party Impossible in the Herzog & de Meuron designed parking garage at 1111 Lincoln Road was aptly named, impossible to get into that is, unless you were on line in time. A line of frustrated festivalgoers and B-list food TV stars. It was a somewhat inexplicable predicament for anyone who'd been to the festival last year, given that the same space hosted the festival's big dessert event without the same wait downstairs. In any event, it just so happened that the much-discussed restaurant Yardbird was just a few blocks away, making for the perfect stop until the lines died down. Yardbird had been making the rounds on Twitter amongst the food media, and the self-described "house of worship to farm-fresh ingredients, classic Southern cooking, culture and hospitality," wasn't shying from attention, telling Burger Bash chefs to stop on by, the first drink being on Yardbird. It was great hospitality, and as is not always the case, it was real. A tasting sent out by chef Jeff McInnis was accompanied by some of the best service seen by The Daily Meal in the last year. They say that this far south you have to head north to get south. Not so at Yardbird.
11:59 p.m.: Back at 1111 Lincoln Road, anyone who didn't stick around on line got the "treat" of Robert Irvine preparing ceviche shirtless. Why was he shirtless? Why was he shirtless preparing ceviche? MiamiNewTimes explains that the chef was given crazy challenges to perform. "One of the challenges involved making ceviche, using ingredients hidden in a carnival dunk tank. Thinking there was water in the tank, Irvine stripped off his t-shirt to dive in — only to find plastic balls instead of water. With the clock counting down, Irvine decided to finish the challenge sans shirt." Topless ceviche, Robert Irvine, and Guy Fieri. There has to be a "walked into a bar joke" in there somewhere.