Miami has hundreds of food and drink festivals celebrating everything from beer to chocolate to the mango. But none are a spectacularly opulent and massive as the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. But how did a simple university fundraiser turn into one of the world's largest fetes, with foodies and big-name stars of the culinary stratosphere cavorting on Miami Beach's sands annually? Three words: Lee Brian Schrager.
The vice president of corporate communications and national events at Southern Wine & Spirits of America Inc., is the driving force behind the multi-day wine and food extravaganza. Each year, Schrager mixes it up with new events and favorites like Burger Bash.
Now heading into its 14th year, the festival attracts over 64,000 people annually, who come for the wine, the food, and the chance to mingle with their favorite chefs and television personalities. With all this growth, Schrager has kept close ties with Florida International University, with hospitality students cooking alongside the likes of Geoffrey Zakarian and Bobby Flay. The festival continues to be a fundraiser for the school.
Now, Schrager is not only founder of the event, he's the talent, too. This past year, Schrager hosted his very first seminar, Fried & True, which celebrates that picnic staple, fried chicken. Schrager's book by the same name features 50 of the nation's best recipes for the golden bird. It's fitting, really, that this Culinary Institute of America alum should come full circle. And this is only the beginning.
Schrager has plans to tackle another all-time favorite -- breakfast. He's already at work on his new book, Morning Glory, with his mind set on donuts in the future. We're looking forward to the hangover breakfast, bloody mary, and mimosa blowout we can only pray that Schrager is planning for the 2015 SoBeWFF. We're buying a ticket for that!
While the rest of Miami bickers over whether their iPhone or Galaxy is the best, Lee Schrager has no time for such frivolities. He still uses that classic workhorse -- the Blackberry. And forget about Excel spreadsheets. Schrager plans and schedules all of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival on Post-its (here's proof):
In His Own Words
"I've lived in Miami 30-plus years now, and it's been truly exciting to watch the culinary scene here flourish. It's been nearly 14 years since the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival started drawing national and international attention to South Florida as a real culinary hub for renowned talent, and now we have many of those renowned names opening restaurants here!"
Miami Food All-Stars
25. Dewey LoSasso
24. Mark Soyka
23. Jason Starkman
22. Lorena Garcia
21. Barton G.
20. Mike Hampton
19. Chef Creole
17. Cindy Hutson
16. Jack Homes
15. Shareef Malnik
14. Bruce Ozga
13. Robert Is Here
12. Julio Cabrera
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10. Norman Van Aken