From Bright Sands to Big City: Food is Show Business for Festival Founder Lee Schrager

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What began in 1996 as an annual one-day food and wine "extravaganza" hosted at Florida International University's Biscayne Bay Campus has morphed into a four-day culinary power summit on the sands of sexy South Beach. The man behind the South Beach Wine and Food Festival is founder and director Lee Schrager, who hatched the idea in 2002 for Southern Wines & Spirits.

"I never dreamt [the festival] would get this big, but I'm not surprised," he explains. "I try to clone myself during Festival time -- it doesn't work. I mainly look forward to thanking as many sponsors, chefs, etc. in person as I can. "

Schrager's instincts have been on-point since the beginning, always

managing to be one step ahead of trend. Case in point: technology. Traditional media outlets have always been kind to the festival -- in

part due to Schrager's core skill, networking -- and in this new age of

social media, the event has dedicated Facebook pages, and he is on

Twitter (@Lee_Schrager).

"I love these outlets because they allow us to connect on a daily

basis - something that in the past has been more difficult for an

annual event," Schrager reflects.   "Food bloggers have also become a

very important part of this industry."

Planned for the 2010 show is the return of the popular Amstel

Light Burger Bash hosted by Rachael Ray (Thursday, February 25) and the

Perrier-Jouët BubbleQ hosted by Emeril Lagasse (Friday, February 26.)

Newcomers include events like the Wine + Dine + Design (Saturday,

February 27) and personalities like Bethenny Frankel, dubbed a

"celebrity natural chef."

The future is all about bright lights and the big city. Last year,

Schrager brought the festival to New York, and the Big Apple finally

got its own South Beach- and Aspen-caliber wine and food festival.

"We let the location dictate the Festival program, and try to create

events that are unique to the area," says Schrager of the New York

show. "Things that work well in South Beach wouldn't necessarily work

in New York City, and the other way around."

Title sponsor Food Network will again tote its cast of celebrity

chef characters.These days, the food business is show business, after

all, and that's where Schrager shines. He says, "As long as people eat

and drink, they will always have a place in our lives."

Tickets for South Beach go on sale October 26. Visit www.sobewineandfoodfest.com.

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