The South Beach Wine & Food Festival opens today. One of the nation's premiere food events, it will draw around 70,000 people this year. The
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Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting Village, held Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Ocean Drive and 13th Street, is one of the most popular events. Tickets cost $225.
Yesterday, Devin Padgett, managing director of the Grand Tasting Village, offered three tips to help navigate the Village -- the mother of all SoBeWFF events. His advice to wear sunscreen and sensible shoes, as well as to have a game plan and to drink smartly are all important. After having traipsed through the Village for ten consecutive years, I've picked up a couple of other, perhaps less obvious ideas that I am confident will greatly enhance the experience of the soiree for any attendee. There's a bonus tip thrown in too.
Wear a bathing suit under your clothes
The tents tend to get a bit stuffy when filled to capacity during peak hours. Plus walking under the hot sun while checking out various booths in the open village area can bring beads of perspiration to the forehead (the forecast is for warm, sunny days this weekend). Everyone who walks around the village at some point glances over at the glistening ocean with a wistful look; if you take our advice, you will glance over and say "Let's go for a quick dip!" After all, the tent is located on a beautiful stretch of beach and the beckoning waters are right there. I like to take a cooling dunk into the Atlantic as a break from the action -- it's like a halftime from the sensory overload (the event runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., so there's plenty of time). Clever people will figure out a place to dry off and change before returning to the Village. Another alternative is dive in when you've finished your Festival tour. Guess I should note that you should probably stay away from the ocean if you're drunk. Otherwise, bring along a towel, which you can place in your backpack, which brings us to...
Empty except for said towel. When you first enter the Village you will be handed a canvas Wine Spectator bag with programs and stuff in it. As you walk around the tents you will be offered all sorts of promotional keychains, corkscrews, food magazines, menus, and so forth. It is tricky enough to eat or drink while holding a glass of wine in one hand and a plate of food in the other hand without having to also be lugging a bag. Instead, place the canvas bag along with everything else upon your back and walk around with your hands free. Trust me: It's a lot easier this way.
Bonus Tip: Make a list of when and where the food personalities you want to see will be speaking
It's easy to get lost amidst the bacchanalia of the giant tents; so many foods, wines, beers, spirits and just stuff to see and taste. Devin suggested a game plan for all the restaurants in the tents, which, again, is a fine notion. And yet another really special aspect of the Tasting Village involves the demos going on under the smaller Village tents. There are two stages (Kitchen Aid Blue and Kitchen Aid Green) with performances occurring concurrently. For instance, on Sunday, Michael Symon runs 11:15 a.m. to noon on the Blue stage, while Rocco DiSpirito does his demo next door from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. So if you want to see Bobby Flay, Paula Deen, Anthony Bourdain and such (all also on Sunday), it's best to make note beforehand when and where they will each be doing their kitchen schtick -- or else you may miss them and have to wait until next year.