Last evening, this year's edition of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival kicked off with the first big party, the Q.
On the surface, the Q seemed like the familiar event that put the festival on the map -- a fete filled with barbecue provided by some of the best chefs in the country, accompanied by champagne and cocktails from the Moët Hennessy portfolio. But there were some important subtle changes that improved the experience greatly.
There were few lines and the wait, if any, was whittled down to a perfectly reasonable few moments. It took only about five minutes on line to get into the event, and food or drink lines were never longer than two minutes, tops.
The second improvement is the introduction of SavorBands. These wristlets, provided by Esurance, work something like the new Disney bands. Attendees are invited to tap their wrists to the computers provided at each chef's station, where they can rate the food they've eaten. Once home, guests can then go online to retrieve a list of the bites they've enjoyed and get recipes using a unique two-word code on their band (ours was mild-cola).
You can't have an event without swag. Groupon provided great custom tote bags, silk screened while you wait with your choice of yoga guru, meatballs and spaghetti, or martini. Perfect for (what else) carrying more swag including rainbow colored plastic champagne flutes provided by Chandon that come in handy for poolside parties and packages of flax seed.
Of course, everything pales in comparison to the food, chatting up celebrity chefs, and photo ops with some two dozen Sports Illustrated swimsuit models. Though everything we sampled was delicious, we did discover some extra juicy morsels -- and juicy gossip.
Geoffrey Zakarian served up some sweet and savory cinnamon and pomegranate barbecue ribs, accompanied by mustard and pickled jalapeño-glazed Brussels sprouts. The celebrity chef confided that he spent most of the day shopping around for real estate for a new Miami restaurant. Zakarian, of course, owned the much-missed Tudor House in South Beach.
Rick Bayless' carne asada brava; spicy marinated Creekstone Farms flank steak with spicy salsa huevona packed just the right amount of heat. It was so good, we had to ask what was the secret to his sauce. "I start with really fresh tomatoes. That's the most important part. Then I fire roast them with onions and jalapenos. That's it, really."
Robert Irvine hung out with Tongue & Cheek's Jamie DeRosa, apparently enjoying each others company more than planning their Kitchen Colab lunch. Irvine's dry-rubbed black Angus brisket was the most tender and mouth watering bite of the evening, by the way. Though the evening was a delight for adult carnivores, the muscular chef said that his favorite events are the Fun and Fit as a Family days at Jungle Island. "I love showing the kids there are healthy ways to eat and have fun doing it." Tickets for Fun and Fit are $20 through sobewff.com.
So what did the celebrity chefs love the most? Geoffrey Zakarian sought out Michael Symon's Polish Girl kielbasa before chatting with Anne Burrell for a Food Network segment.
Speaking of Michael Symon, the chef was a great host, sharing the stage with festival organizer Lee Schrager to thank everyone for coming out. Plus, no Sports Illustrated model's got anything on Symon's legs!
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The most shocking event of the evening was a tie for the Q's flavor award. Joey Campanaro (Little Owl) and Chris Santos (Beauty & Essex) will each receive $500 for their charity of choice as well as a big trophy. In fact, a second trophy must be ordered because of the dual winner situation.