By Valerie Westen Furr
Each winter, culinary powerhouses escape the elements by converging for a gourmet getaway on Florida’s sun-drenched Gold Coast—to eat, attend cooking demonstrations and mingle with celebrity chefs. Now in its 13th year, the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival (SOBEWFF) is presented by Food & Wine magazine and hosted by Southern Wine & Spirits of Florida, benefitting the Florida International University (FIU) Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. Loews Miami Beach Hotel is the host hotel for the event, which truly is hitting its stride after welcoming an unprecedented 65,000 visitors in 2013. This year, the four-day celebration—slated for Feb. 20-23, 2014—once again will showcase the talents of the world’s most sought-after chefs, culinary personalities, and wine and spirits producers.
Originally called the Florida Extravaganza, the event now known as SOBEWFF took place at FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus for five years beginning in 1997. During that time, organizers showcased wine and food pairings from local restaurants and chefs in partnership with students from FIU’s Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. In 2002, Lee Brian Schrager, then director of special events and media relations at Southern Wine & Spirits of America, moved the event to its current location, deeming it the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. The renamed celebration attracted nearly 7,000 guests in its first year; since then, the popularity of the festival has grown exponentially, with nearly 10 times the amount of guests expected to attend in 2014.
Since its inception, the festival has raised more than $18 million for FIU’s Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management (including $2 million in 2013 alone), honoring its original purpose of promoting culinary education. “In addition to going toward student scholarships and faculty education, a large part of the monies raised have gone toward the construction of a new teaching restaurant management lab at the school,” Schrager explains. “The newly constructed facility boasts over 8,000 square feet of state-of-the-art design and technology that will serve as the school’s premier educational platform to train the future leaders of the hospitality industry.”
Schrager promises that this year’s festival will be just as good as, if not better than, previous years’ celebrations. “Our loyal fans love our annual events, but each year we come up with new concepts to keep people coming back and also to attract new audiences,” he says. “A couple years ago we started Chicken Coupe—a tasting of fried chicken from various chefs paired with Champagnes—and this year we have an incredible roster of internationally known chefs hosting intimate dinners during the festival, plus a late-night beach party with rock legend Sammy Hagar and [chef] Emeril Lagasse.”
Attendees shouldn’t be surprised to see some of the world’s most acclaimed chefs, including Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi of New York’s Major Food Group, and Food Network familiar faces Rocco DiSpirito, Giada De Laurentiis, Ming Tsai, Bobby Flay and more. The renowned culinary personalities are known to interact with guests before, during and after the KitchenAid Culinary Demonstrations, making for an exciting experience not soon forgotten.
The beachside festivities will run from morning until late at night, with brunch events offering a head start on the food celebrations and—not to neglect fitness during a food festival—yoga sessions will be held on Saturday and Sunday mornings (accompanied by light bites and Bellinis, of course). The whole family can take part in the Fun and Fit as a Family event, hosted by Robert Irvine at Jungle Island. The next generation of chefs will learn, along with their parents, about healthy food choices as well as explore a garden and participate in interactive workshops. New, exciting concepts include an Asian night market and karaoke event hosted by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and an ice cream social party hosted by Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. This year’s Tribute Dinner at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel, Feb. 22, will honor Union Square Hospitality Group CEO Danny Meyer and Caymus Vineyards founder Chuck Wagner. Loews Hotels & Resorts Chairman Jonathan Tisch will serve as the evening’s emcee.
And while many visitors attend the event with the intention to simply enjoy all the amazing food and wine, the festival also offers unique opportunities to learn through seminars on some of the industry’s hottest topics. In 2014, visitors can purchase tickets to the Wine Spectator wine seminar series, as well as courses on barbecue, wine and cheese pairing, fried chicken and more.
Guests also can look forward to the return of signature events like the Amstel Light Burger Bash, hosted by Rachael Ray; the Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting Village; Moët Hennessy’s The Q tasting, hosted by James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Symon and featuring appearances by 2014 Sports Illustrated swimsuit models; and the second annual Celebrity Chef Golf Tournament hosted by José Andrés.
Besides being the home of this one-of-a-kind culinary festival, South Florida offers an almost endless array of recreational activities. One popular adventure is a visit to Everglades National Park to encounter fauna including massive alligators during an airboat ride through the swamp. Nearby Zoo Miami and tropical animal refuge Jungle Island also offer unique interactions only available in the warm Floridian climate.
For an experience that’s cultural and educational, travelers should consider a visit to one of Miami’s numerous and eclectic museums and galleries. Both the Miami Science Museum and Miami Children’s Museum welcome kids and promise informative experiences for the entire family. For adults, the Bass Museum of Art, the Lowe Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami host exciting exhibitions.
Those who wish to explore Miami’s stylish side can peruse the city’s best retail venues, including Collins Avenue and Lincoln Road, the Miami Design District or Bal Harbour Shops for both name brands and luxury boutiques.
With its high-profile food festival and family-friendly activities, Miami Beach offers travelers a trove of culinary and cultural experiences. Did we mention the 73-degree sunny days? Welcome to winter in Florida. L
Culinary festivals across North America offer foodies the chance to sample regional cuisines.
New Orleans Wine & Food Experience
May 21-24, 2014: This event highlights local chefs while bringing awareness to nonprofit organizations dedicated to fighting hunger and supporting culinary education. (nowfe.com)
Atlanta Food & Wine Festival
May 29 – June 1, 2014: This Georgia culinary festival showcases and celebrates the Southern region and its rich food and beverage traditions. (atlfoodandwinefestival.com)
Sept. 26-28, 2014: Presented by Bon Appétit magazine, this celebration of food and wine features more than 100 of Chicago’s finest restaurants and chefs, as well as renowned vintners, spirit makers and premium breweries from around the world. (illinoisrestaurants.org)
Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival
October 2014: A sister festival of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, this October event brings together the world’s greatest chefs, winemakers, spirits producers and personalities to educate palates and entertain visitors while benefiting hunger-relief programs. (nycwff.org)
San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival
November 2014: One of the largest wine and food festivals in the nation, this event helps shine a spotlight on San Diego’s progressive dining scene while raising funds for culinary and enology scholarships. (sandiegowineclassic.com)
Loews Miami Beach Hotel offers a quintessential South Beach experience. Centrally located on the famed Collins Avenue, the hotel is a perfect destination for Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival (SOBEWFF) attendees and year-round visitors, combining oceanfront elegance with luxurious amenities and accommodations. The property’s Art Deco-inspired ambience is a nod to Miami’s colorful past, and its 790 artfully renovated guest rooms and suites offer stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and the downtown cityscape. A sparkling pool, eight gourmet restaurants and lounges, and a top-of-the-line spa and fitness center complete the package.
Dining options include the Mediterranean-inspired Preston’s, one of the only beachside restaurants in the area; Sushi Sobe, a popular spot for traditional sushi; Nautilus Bar & Grill, which serves light fare and cocktails in a poolside setting; and the brand new Lure Fishbar.
Wellness is taken to a whole new level at Loews Miami Beach Hotel’s spa, where guests can indulge in signature treatments by experienced professionals in an 18,000-square-foot facility that also offers daily fitness classes in a state-of-the-art studio.
For families, Loews Miami Beach Hotel features activities and amenities designed with children and teens in mind. In particular, SoBe Kids Camp will keep the little ones occupied with arts and crafts projects, sand castle contests, beach sports and more.
For more information and reservations, visit loewshotels.com.