The 2015 South Beach Wine & Food Festival has come and gone, and, as we’re sure that any one of the thousands of attendees can tell you, it was a resounding success. Even though there was a slight chill in the air, the weather cooperated and the festival went off without a hitch.
Thursday highlights included Italian Al Fresco Feast on the Beach, a lavish walk-around tasting hosted by Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos, as well as Thrillist’s Barbecue & The Blues, which shone a spotlight on some great local barbecue. Another highlight of the evening was Paella by the Pool, hosted by José Andrés at the SLS Hotel, where some of the world’s top Spanish chefs served their take on paella.
On Friday, the most buzzed-about event of the year, the Amstel Light Burger Bash, took over the main tent on the beach. More than 30 chefs showcased their finest offerings between two buns. With perennial winners Bobby Flay and Michael Symon out of the running this year, Josh Capon (who regularly takes the win during the New York Wine & Food Festival), finally earned the crown this year with his Bash Burger, topped with caramelized onion and bacon jam, pickles, American cheese, and secret sauce.
Happening simultaneously at the legendary Fontainebleau Hotel, the Best of the Best brought the creations of some legendary chefs to a crowd that was dolled up to the nines. 59 restaurants and 35 wineries were represented by their chefs and vintners, including Tertulia’s Seamus Mullen, Greenhouse Tavern’s Jonathon Sawyer, All’Onda’s Chris Jaeckle, Empellon’s Alex Stupak, and Prune’s Gabrielle Hamilton. This was no competition; everybody (especially the lucky guests) came out a winner. Late-night parties that evening, for those who still had stomach space left, included a Japanese-style “night market” hosted by Masaharu Morimoto and a Tiki party hosted by Emeril Lagasse.
Friday also saw the first of the annual Trade Talks presented by Bullfrog + Baum. One of the best talks was with chefs Laurent Tourondel, Josh Capon, Dale Talde, and Alex Guarnaschelli, who candidly discussed everything from how they envisioned their careers to what led them to open restaurants in Miami.
Those talks continued into Saturday, when chef Bobby Flay discussed how his all-female “B-Team” (Stephanie Banyas, Sally Jackson, Christine Sanchez, and Elyse Tyrell) helps keep his life on track, handling everything from writing his cookbooks to planning his schedule. The “big tent” event that evening was the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s Meatopia: The Q Revolution, during which chefs including Guy Fieri (who also hosted), Amanda Freitag, Chris Lilly, Michael Solomonov, and John Tesar cooked every part of the animal over open wood fires. It was a carnivore’s dream, and a wide array of bourbons (and a performance by Blues Traveler) washed it all down. Also on Saturday night was the Chicken Coupe hosted by Andrew Carmellini. Chefs including John Currence, Michael Ferraro, Carla Hall, Carmellini, Art Smith, Robert Stehling, Frank Stitt, and Dale Talde were on hand to serve their finest fried chicken creations.
For those who were able to secure tickets, the Tribute Dinner honoring chef Juan Mari Arzak and wine executive Ted Baseler was an opportunity to sample the cooking of some of the world’s leading Spanish chefs — José Andrés, Quique Dacosta’s Quique Dacosta, D.O.M.’s Alex Atala, and Andoni Aduriz of San Sebastian’s Mugaritz — all in honor of Arzak, whose eponymous three Michelin-starred restaurant in San Sebastian, Spain is largely credited with pioneering avant-garde Catalan cuisine, influencing everyone from Andrés to Ferran Adrià. Held in the Loews’ Grand Ballroom, it was a wonderful (and delicious) way to lavish praise on a man who definitely deserves it.
Things continued on strong as the festival reached its final day on Sunday. A series of brunches (including a Farm to Table Brunch hosted by Geoffrey Zakarian, a “Perfect Pairing” Brunch hosted by Giada De Laurentiis and Andrew Carmellini, and a Southern Table Brunch hosted by Trisha Yearwood) got the day started on the right foot. As evening rolled around, so did the final two major tasting events. Swine & Wine, essentially an epic pig roast held at the stunning Biltmore in Coral Gables, was hosted by chef Marc Forgione. Best of the Munchies: People’s Choice Food Awards, hosted by Andrew Zimmern, which closed out the festival with the help of chefs including Franklin Becker, Linton Hopkins, Shake Shack’s Mark Rosati, Giorgio Rapicavoli, and Harold Moore. Categories included "Terrific Tastemakers" (food media and personalities), "Best Bites" (things like Best Burger, Best Taco or Best Pizza), and "Delicious Destinations" (restaurants and other dining establishments). Voting is open until March 31.
The 2015 South Beach Wine & Food Festival proved that these large-scale festivals are as powerful and relevant as ever. They bring some of the world’ greatest chefs together to not only showcase their cooking, but also to connect with one another and with their fans. We’ll see you next year!