Postcard From South Beach Wine and Food Festival
South Beach, Miami, FL
Jennifer Baggett Brennan, a Food Network producer and regular contributor to TravelChannel.com (as part of the traveling trio The Lost Girls) recently visited Miami to attend the annual Food Network and Cooking Channel South Beach Wine and Food Festival.
Guests who attend this star-studded, 4-day event experience world-class libations from top wine and spirit producers and gastronomic delights from renowned chefs and culinary personalities. Against a backdrop of South Beach’s most glamorous hotels and stretches of sand, festivalgoers can enjoy popular events — including the Burger Bash, Wine Spectator’s Best of the Best, Tacos After Dark, the Oyster Bash, Meatopia, Swine & Wine, Best of the Munchies and the Grand Tasting Village — and mingle with such food legends as Bobby Flay, Rachael Ray, Guy Fieri, Anne Burrell, Robert Irvine, Marc Forgione, Scott Conant, Marcus Samuelsson, Aarón Sánchez and Andrew Zimmern.
I went to SOBEWFF to: Escape the brutally cold New York City winter for a weekend filled with all my favorite indulgences — top-notch food, wine, the Southern sun and the famed beaches.
I stayed at: The Mondrian South Beach hotel. Nestled on the sparkling Biscayne Bay, this chic luxury property is a stone’s throw from all the festival events but provides a welcome sanctuary from all the noise and congestion along the main strip. With a stunning waterfront pool and lounge — which offer full cocktail and food service, hammocks, lush topiaries, private cabanas and even a mini “beach” — an award-winning restaurant, a full-service spa, a gym and complimentary bikes, it’s the perfect place to unwind and recharge.
Packing do’s and don’ts: Flip-flops or other comfy flat shoes that you can walk in for hours (and don’t mind getting sandy) are essential. Also bring several layers — a tank top, a button-down and a lightweight jacket may all be needed as even the balmy SoBe weather gets chilly when the wind whips off the water. Leave your heels and super-fancy items at home, though. Last time I was in Miami, it was like a fashion show on every corner. But the festival is much more laid-back. Even at the swankiest after-parties, most people are in jeans or shorts (albeit stylish ones) or casual sundresses.
Best thing I ate: Unbelievably, my first bite of food at my first SOBEWFF event was the now-legendary burger brainchild of Josh Capon (of Miami’s Lure Fishbar). Layered with caramelized onion, bacon jam, cheese, shaved pickles and a top-secret sauce, this decadent burger earned this year’s judges’ trophy at Burger Bash — and my vote for the best thing I ate at the fest.
Favorite event: Meatopia: The Q Revolution. This uber-laid-back, beachside event is a carnivore’s dream come true. In addition to sampling some of the most mouthwatering displays of barbecue, butchery and pit mastery, I was able to rock out stage-side to the legendary group Blues Traveler, who performed live.
Favorite chef: Franklin Becker, chef/owner of the Little Beet Table, a gluten-free eatery in NYC. He’s also a cookbook author (Eat & Beat Diabetes) and former corporate chef for EMM Group. Franklin’s boundless energy, gregarious nature and inventive culinary approach make him a favorite among fans and fellow chefs. His Polynesian-inspired chicken at the Art of Tiki and his Dirty Dog (grass-fed beef hot dog with onion crunch and special sauce) at Best of the Munchies were 2 of my most memorable bites.
I wish I hadn’t: Eaten so much and stayed out so late the first night. I spent half of the following day feeling exhausted and uninspired to consume more food and wine. A power nap and double shot of espresso got me back in the game, but I shouldn’t have made such a rookie error. While it’s tempting to try to pack in as many events and after-parties as possible, it’s easy to burn yourself (and your belly) out too soon if you’re not careful. So treat the festival like a jog, not a sprint, and pace yourself.
Advice for first-timers: When you first arrive at an event, don’t make a beeline for the first food and wine booths you see. Resist the initial temptation and instead head to the opposite end of the tent or venue and work your way back toward the entrance. You’ll avoid long lines that way and get to sample more variety at a more leisurely pace.
My festival recipe for success: First, get an “eating buddy” to share food with (even small portions add up, so you can each take a bite or 2 and move on). You and your partner can also split up when lines are long — each going to a different station to grab a plate to share. Second, drink a lot of water, especially between wine samples. Third, stash antacids, Band-Aids and lip balm in your bag. And lastly, build in some downtime by the pool or beach, coupled with a detoxifying jog/workout/bike ride and a massage or other spa treatment.
Feel-good factor: SOBEWFF isn’t just about hedonistic pursuits. All proceeds benefit the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Florida International University, so attendees can help foster future generations of culinary professionals. So far, the festival has raised more than $20 million for the school.