The South Beach Wine & Food Festival (#sobewff) is a homegrown, massive event in the winter that has become an essential stop on the national foodie circuit. Across several days, foodies flock to the city for celebrity chef demos, pricey all-you-can-eat extravaganzas, and late-night parties where you can rub elbows with the stars of the food world. The festival is sponsored by the Food Network, so it’s a great place to spot celebrities from that channel, and nearly everyone who has ever appeared on shows like Top Chef.
The brainchild of Lee Schrager, the festival first started in 1997 at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay campus as a one-day event called “Florida Extravaganza.” In 2001 it moved to South Beach and changed its name, and as interest and corporate sponsorship grew, so did its scope. Recent years have found an inaugural New York offshoot of the event, and even international expansion plans are in the works. Still, the Miami version remembers its roots. FlU’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management is still the festival’s official sponsor, and the event has raised millions of dollars to date for the program.
While the daytime and more informal programs vary from year to year, each year offers several flagship events:
Burger Bash: Hosted by Rachael Ray, Burger Bash is one of the most fun and popular annual events in the festival, and thus almost always the fastest to sell out. As the name indicates, it’s a blue jeans-worthy party featuring creative burgers by the country’s top chefs. Burger Bash is also a contest, and the creator of the most popular burger gets to take home bragging rights.
Let Them Eat Cake: This is one of the hottest tickets every year, and the event is one of the most hedonistic. As the name implies, this party is all about everything sweet. The event displays confectionary art from some of the most famous fantasy cake-makers around, who all offer edible portions of their best creations. There’s also chocolate for miles and unlimited champagne. As this party runs later than many of the other evening events, it’s also one of the best places to catch your favorite celebrity chefs letting it all hang out.
Grand Tasting Village: This is one of the more populist and affordable events of the festival. Think an outdoor, haute cuisine food mall. The village is a series of massive, hangar-like tents set up across the sand through which one can proceed tasting hundreds upon hundreds of dishes from fine dining establishments from across the country.
Wine Spectator’s Best of the Best: This is one of the ultimate gourmand events, a pairing of the best wine with the best food. As this is sponsored by Wine Spectator magazine, the focus here is on a massive, sprawling tasting area of wines from around the world. The 2011 edition included more than 250 different wines, including rare varietals form far-flung locales and numerous expensive champagnes. For food, another grand hall offered tasting plates from the country’s top chefs, many of whom proudly represented Miami.
Tribute Dinner: This formal, multi-course seated dinner each year honors one of the legendary living chefs of our time, with the latest big names offering up their own courses in homage. The 2011 edition, for instance, honored Alain Ducasse.
Tickets to the South Beach Wine & Food Festival sell out fast. If you’re even thinking about attending one of the major parties listed above, you’ll have to try to score tickets the day they go on sale. If you wind up not being able to attend, don’t worry — the resale market for these coveted spots is brisk.