It's where Snoop Dogg and ceviche share a stage, where chefs are discovered and careers are made. Welcome to the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. We hope you came hungry.
Guy Fieri and Snoop Dogg putting their mixology skills on display during the 2017 SOBEWFF.
For 17 years, the South Beach Wine & Food Festival has been throwing a four-day, citywide foodie extravaganza, bringing the world’s top chefs to the sands of Miami, connecting Food Network fans with their favorite stars, and offering a platform for South Florida’s talent to show off their culinary skills. Founder Lee Brian Schrager, who hosts the event with Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits to benefit FIU’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism, tips us off to the latest and greatest at this year’s event.
How would you describe the relationship between the festival and Miami’s growing culinary scene? Do I feel that we created the food scene here? By no means. Do I feel that we helped to catapult it to the next level, to bring it to the attention of people and media from around the world? Yes. By bringing in all these chefs who, 17 years ago, never would have thought of opening a restaurant here—the Jean-Georges and Thomas Kellers of the world—they came down and saw a different South Beach than they remembered from growing up.
Tell us about the growth of the local talent. Fifteen years ago, we were talking about Norman Van Aken, Mark Militello and Cindy Hutson, kind of that ‘Mango Gang.’ But look at the talent coming out of here now. Someone like Jeremy Ford who won Top Chef, Michelle Bernstein, Clay Conley, Giorgio Rapicavoli. It’s a robust, thriving food scene that’s on par with the best dining scenes in the country.
Reuben Ruiz at the 2017 SOBEWFF annual Burger Bash.
Attendees are as enthusiastic as ever. How do you keep it fresh? We work hard to tweak our signature events that are popular, and also to bring in new talent. One of our greatest concerns is that we use great chefs who want to come back year after year, and we always say, ‘We love you,’ but we have to bring in other new talent, and that’s the beauty of our festival.
What new events have grown the fastest? We have more and more dinners every year. People love the smaller, intimate events. It’s a different experience than our signature events.
You’ve also integrated music—Snoop Dogg last year, Smash Mouth this year. Why? Food complements music, so it’s a natural fit. It also helps us build an audience. We aren’t just getting the foodies; we are getting people who appreciate music. It’s a different demographic. We want to be here in five, 10, 15 years, and things like that are important.
Favorite new event for 2018? Midnight Munchies on Española Way. We’ve never done an event there, and I’ve always wanted to.