SOBEWFF 2017: Founder Lee Brian Schrager Looks Back at 16 Years of the Festival

Lee Brian Schrager
Lee Brian Schrager
Courtesy of Brustman Carrino PR

The South Beach Wine & Food Festival (SOBEWFF) returns February 22 through 26 with more than 85 signature events, seminars, and dinners.

What was once a one-day party has become a multiday event that attracts more than 65,000 people to Miami to eat, drink, and mingle with their favorite celebrity chefs.

More than just a beachside bacchanal, the festival is a major fundraiser for Florida International University. To date, SOBEWFF has raised more than $24 million for FIU's Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management and the Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center. That's a smart move for festival founder and director, Lee Brian Schrager. By investing in the culinary industry's future, he is also ensuring the festival will have fresh, innovative chefs to feature in years to come.

This year, SOBEWFF celebrates its sweet 16 with a robust blend of new events, such as Salty, Sweet & Savory Treats, featuring Wynwood's the Salty Donut, as well as old favorites like the Heineken Light Burger Bash, hosted by Food Network star Rachael Ray. After 16 years of parties, cocktails, and wine bingeing, Schrager is bound to have some stories to tell. From a storm of biblical proportions to welcoming visiting royalty, here are Schrager's 16 most memorable moments from SOBEWFF's past, in his own words:

1. The Great Rainstorm of 2006: I'll never forget celebrating the fifth anniversary of the festival at our beloved BubbleQ when the skies just opened up and starting pouring. Lessons learned — we've tented our iconic North Venue every year since.

2. Debuting family-friendly programming — Fun and Fit as a Family — in 2008 at Jungle Island with Good Morning America and Rachael Ray. That event celebrates ten years this year!

3. Welcoming King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain in 2009.

4. Who could forget when Paula Deen's linen pants fell down from the weight of her mike onstage in 2009? Pretty sure it was New Times that sent that one viral too. [Editor: It was indeed.]

5. When we had the marching band surprise Emeril Lagasse at his tribute dinner at the Loews Miami Beach in 2009 by bursting into the room playing, "When the Saints Go Marching In."

6. Our 2007 tribute brunch honoring brothers Peter and Robert Mondavi. It was the first time the brothers had been together in years.

7. The heartwarming remarks Alice Waters gave at our 2008 tribute brunch honoring Jamie Oliver.

8. The chefs-versus-models volleyball tournament and the Sports Illustrated Swim models from their 50th-anniversary edition cohosting the Q with Michael Symon to kick off the 2014 festival weekend.

9. Unveiling the state-of-the-art facility that festival funds built — the Wine Spectator Restaurant Management Laboratory — at the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at FIU in 2014.

10. The first year that Al Roker and the Today Show joined us in 2003 from the Delano.

11. Launching our Yappie Hour event with Rachael Ray in 2015 — we both love our dogs so much. It was fun to see this one finally come to fruition.

12. Bobby Flay (finally) winning the Amstel Light People's Choice Award at Burger Bash in 2013 — Susan Lucci no more!

13. Our tenth-anniversary party, Let Them Eat Cake, hosted by Emeril Lagasse and Martha Stewart at 1111 Lincoln Road, was truly special. All of the chefs made these exquisite cakes, and there was Moët & Chandon champagne being poured from acrobats hanging from the ceiling. It was such a great way to celebrate that milestone.

14. Introducing our first class of Culinary Captains at our signature Goya Foods' Grand Tasting Village event in 2015. The support that we are fortunate to have from chefs and restaurants across South Florida is really key to the overall festival experience.

15. Honoring Ferran Adrià at our Tribute Dinner in 2006 was a truly special evening created by some of the world's most respected chefs.

16. The screening of No Reservations in 2007 with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart, following the Food Network Awards with all of its talent.

South Beach Wine & Food Festival
Wednesday, February 22, through Sunday, February 26, at various locations throughout Miami and Miami Beach. Visit sobefest.com.


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