Once upon a time, food was something you ate. Period. The average person couldn't even name a chef, with the rare exception of someone like Julia Child. In case you haven't noticed, food is trending. Nary a meal goes by without being Instagramed, everyone is a self-proclaimed foodie, and star chefs come in all flavors. Celebrities in other fields, such as singer Trisha Yearwood, have even crossed over and become food-famous.
Miami, with all of its glitz and glam, famous residents, and world-renowned restaurants, has more than its share of celebrity chefs — and even more up-and-coming toques. There is no better place to see them all on display than the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Dozens of chefs, bakers, mixologists, and famous foodies will show off their best, and even more will attend as guests. The list is long and impressive. Here are three to look for:
James Beard Award winner Michael Schwartz is a well-known fixture on the Miami restaurant scene. A chef and a restaurateur, he owns several eateries, including Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, Harry's Pizzeria, Ella, Cypress Tavern, and — most recently — Fi'lia at the SLS Brickell. But despite his success, Schwartz has a laid-back, easy manner.
"No formal culinary education. Throughout high school, I was already working restaurants. But I'm not self-taught," Schwartz says. "I learned on the job, and lots of people taught me along the way."
At this year's festival, Schwartz, along with longtime friends Marc Vetri and Jonathan Waxman, will host the dinner 10 Years of Genuine. "We wanted to do something at Michael's Genuine to celebrate our tenth anniversary in March, so I thought it would be a good idea to do it at the fest. I asked a couple of my best friends to come and cook and celebrate," Schwartz says. "Vetri and Waxman are two of my great friends and admired chefs, and I feel like we have a lot in common as far as aesthetic and sensibility."
His second event is a brunch at SLS Brickell's Altitude Pool with fellow restaurateur José Andrés, who opened the seafood-centric Bazaar Mar at the hotel alongside Schwartz's Fi'lia. "In celebration of José and our openings and in conjunction with SLS, we thought it would be great to collaborate and have a big brunch blowout poolside," Schwartz says. "There will be lots of interactive cooking stations and, of course, Jose's crazy, dynamic self."
10 Years of Genuine: Dinner hosted by Michael Schwartz, Marc Vetri, and Jonathan Waxman
Presented by Bank of America. 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday, February 23, at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, 130 NE 40th St., Miami. Tickets cost $300 via sobefest.com.
Brunch hosted by José Andrés and Michael Schwartz
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, February 26, at the Altitude Pool at SLS Brickell, 1300 S. Miami Ave., Miami. Tickets cost $175 via sobefest.com.
Alex Kuk and Diego Ng
Florida native and Broward County import Alex Kuk grew up in the restaurant biz. The grandson of a Miami restaurateur and nephew of Mandarin House's Christina Wan, he is part of a family that has owned dining establishments throughout South Florida since 1966. After striking out on his own, Kuk became co-owner of Fort Lauderdale's Temple Street Eatery with partner Diego Ng.
Kuk is Chinese-American, Ng is Venezuelan-Chinese, and their cuisine is what they call Asian-American comfort food. Creating dishes ranging from Vietnamese báhn mì sandwiches and Korean bibimbap rice bowls to Japanese miso noodle soup, Kuk and Ng infuse every plate with international flavor. Kuk is also no newbie when it comes to SOBEWFF. "Diego Ng and I are most looking forward to another year of the festival where we get to spend some time on the sand with the best of the best in the industry and some of our dear friends, who we all went to FIU's hospitality management school with. It's always an amazing time of food, drinks, and friendship," Kuk says. The pair will appear at the Art of Tiki and Lucky Chopsticks during the fest.
"We love the fact that many of our friends and us were some of the first round of student volunteers to work the South Beach Wine & Food Festival," Kuk adds. "It's so amazing to see that many of us have grown into management roles, come back as guest chefs, or work for wineries and distributors. We have friends working professionally in almost every aspect of the festival."
The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown
Hosted by Robert Irvine. 10 p.m. on Friday, February 24 at Surfcomber, a Kimpton Hotel, 1717 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $95 via sobefest.com.
Lucky Chopsticks: An Asian Night Market
Hosted by Andrew Zimmern. 6 p.m. Sunday, February 26, at Ritz-Carlton South Beach, 1 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $85 via sobefest.com.
In 2012, Andrew Gonzalez was a sophomore in college when he decided something needed to be done about his late-night cookie cravings. He came up with Night Owl Cookie, and the late-night cookie delivery service took off to such a degree that he quit school to give it his full attention. In 2017, Gonzalez is one of Forbes' "30 Under 30" and plans to expand from his Miami brick-and-mortar location to cities such as New York, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles.
Gonzalez might be a cookie magnate now, but when he started out, the only thing he knew was that he liked to eat them. "I had no background in baking," he says. "So I had to sit down and teach myself. There was a lot of experimenting and playing. Now I love baking. It's just fun."
Gonzalez's service delivers cookies to your front door from noon to 2 a.m. daily. And he'll serve them piping hot at this year's SOBEWFF.
At Burger Bash, hosted by Rachael Ray, Gonzalez will also dish out ice-cream cookie sandwiches and milkshakes. "Burger Bash is my favorite event," he says. "It's so much fun. Everything else is packed, but this is the crowd you want to be with: Rachael Ray and Neil Patrick Harris. At my last Burger Bash, I met every single Food Network chef."
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He'll also be at the Grand Tasting Village Sunday, February 26, and the cookies will be fresh.
"I've got ovens onsite, so everything we'll be sampling is right out of the oven. Who doesn't like a hot cookie?" Lucky attendees will be able to try cinnamon toast crunch, cookies and cream, and the Ave Maria, made with guava cookie dough mixed with crunchy bits of Maria cookies and white chocolate chips, topped with more Maria cookie crumbles and guava paste chunks, and drizzled with cream cheese frosting. "I love sweets."
Heineken Light Burger Bash
Presented by Schweid & Sons, hosted by Rachael Ray. 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday, February 24, at Ritz-Carlton South Beach, 1 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $250 via sobefest.com.
Goya Foods' Grand Tasting Village
Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, February 26, at 13th Sreet and Ocean Drive, Miami Beach. Tickets cost $100 to $275 via sobefest.com.