From Burger Bash to Meatopia: SoBeWFF's Biggest Attractions

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The South Beach Wine & Food Festival arrives February 19 through 22 with more than 75 events, tastings, parties, seminars, and dinners. The bash, which benefits Florida International University's dining and tourism programs, brings thousands of fans and celebrity chefs to Miami.

With so much to do, the festival can be difficult for rookies to traverse. So listen up, newbies. Festival founder Lee Brian Schrager has some sound advice: "People shouldn't overdo it. First-timers always feel like they have to do everything. Any ticketholder should see one of the signature events, the Grand Tasting Village, and one of the smaller events."

See also: SOBEWFF Going to the Dogs: Rachael Ray to Host Canine Cocktail Party

Which of the smaller events? Consider beginning your weekend at the festival's Oyster Bash on Friday, February 20, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Lure Fishbar.

If what you're looking for is a nightcap (liquid or edible), you'll want to score tickets to the late night-events, which range from a tiki showdown hosted by Emeril Lagasse to a desert party where Dominique Ansel (the creator of the cronut) will supervise as you get chocolate-wasted.

Regardless of the approach you wind up taking, here are some of our favorites events. The first four are signature events. The last couple are just flat-out cool.

Burger Bash

More than 25 of the nation's top burger virtuosos will beef it out at the ninth-annual Amstel Light Burger Bash, hoping to take home the coveted people's choice award and lifelong bragging rights (or until next year anyway).

Devise a plan of attack and embrace the long lines with a burger in one hand and a beer in the other. Let the sweet and smoky aroma of grilling meat be your guide, and when you need a burger break, plop down on the sand and take in some of the live entertainment. You might just get to rub shoulders with host Rachael Ray or Top Chef contestants Spike Mendelsohn and Richard Blais.

As for the burgers, years past have seen Coca-Cola caramelized onions, pizza burgers, Nutella on meat, and ramen buns. There's no holding back.

Will one of the local guys from Bread + Butter, Blue Collar, or Lure Fishbar (whose burgers won the New York Wine & Food Festival three years in a row) flip the winning patty? Your vote will decide.

Amstel Light Burger Bash, presented by Schweid & Sons, hosted by Rachael Ray: Friday, February 20, from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. beachside at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach, 1 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $250.

Meatopia: The Q Revolution

There was nothing wrong with the festival's first signature, annual event -- the Q -- which fused copious amounts of bubbly with limitless quantities of all things grilled, braised, or barbecued. But there's something better about a full-on meat festival where whole animals are cooked over an open fire, bourbon is the overflowing spirit of choice, and rock 'n' roll comfort-food king Guy Fieri is leading the wolf pack. "Meatopia is a great carnivore event that's taken place in New York for a few years and that I've always loved and always wanted to get my hands on," SoBeWFF founder and organizer Lee Brian Schrager says.

The world's most recognized meat fest will round up 30-plus notable chefs, all of whom will bring their best chops to this cornucopia of pork, beef, lamb, chicken, duck, turkey, and quail. While animals are the undeniable stars of the show, Grammy Award-winning rock band Blues Traveler will take the stage for a live performance sure to include the group's 20-year-old hit Run-Around. "Vegans and vegetarians, stay home. Save your money," Schrager adds.

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino's Meatopia: The Q Revolution, presented by Creekstone Farms, hosted by Guy Fieri, curated by Josh Ozersky: Saturday, February 21, from 7 to 10 p.m. beachside at the Delano, 1 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $250.

Chicken Coupe

Is there anything more decadent than eating America's number one guilty pleasure -- fried chicken -- with endless champagne? The man behind SoBeWFF and author of Fried & True: More Than 50 Recipes for America's Best Fried Chicken & Sides, Lee Schrager, doesn't think so. This is why he came up with Chicken Coupe, an offshore soiree devoted to crisp golden bird and bubbly.

The Dutch's Andrew Carmellini is back to host the third-annual walk-around intimate tasting that brings together a stellar lineup of chefs to hail the hen. Expect both timeless preparations and radical interpretations of the classic dish from Southern cooking authorities such as John Kunkel and Art Smith.

Because no fried chicken is complete without a side dish, everything from biscuits to grilled watermelon will find its way onto your plate and into your belly. Wash it all down with flutes of champagne, and on your way out, remember to pick up your gratis souvenir -- a copy of Fried & True -- so you can re-create Chicken Coupe at home any night of the year.

Chicken Coupe, hosted by Andrew Carmellini: Saturday, February 21, from 7 to 10 p.m. in the ballroom at the W South Beach, 2201 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $325.

Italian Al Fresco Feast

The Q has kicked off SoBeWFF since its inception 14 years ago, but in the spirit of keeping things fresh and in celebration of Ronzoni's 100 years of making pasta, this year's fest will include the inaugural Italian Al Fresco Feast, hosted by actress Debi Mazar and her Italian husband and cohost of Extra Virgin on the Cooking Channel, Gabriele Corcos.

More than 30 chefs -- most of whom are Italian -- will join the powerhouse couple in this feast on the sand. When the moon rises, chances are you'll want a big pizza pie. You'll get it and much more. Think arancini, mounds of meatballs, specialty pastas, various kinds of charcuterie, impeccably aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, and cannolis.

You can bet there will be a line at Top Chef heartthrob Fabio Viviani's booth, which may or may not serve Siena Tavern's baseball-size meatball. Wait it out with a glass (or two) of vino.

Italian Al Fresco Feast on the Beach, hosted by Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos, presented by Ronzoni, sponsored by Miami magazine: Thursday, February 19, from 7 to 10 p.m. beachside at the Delano, 1 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $150.

Paella by the Pool

James Beard Award winner and America's best-known Spanish toque, José Andrés, will host the first-ever poolside paella bash at the swank SLS South Beach, where his culinary wonderland, the Bazaar, is located.

The new event honors the quintessential dish of Spain, paella, which although universally known, varies from region to region (as any good Spaniard will tell you). The intimate gathering will round up six chefs who will craft their takes on the rice dish à la minute. Watch them being made and then try them all (and even go for seconds). But just in case Andrés' dynamic wit and charm enrapture you, be sure to set an alarm to hit up chef Andoni Luis Aduriz's paella pan at some point. His three-starred Michelin restaurant, Mugaritz, has been ranked in the top ten of "The World's 50 Best Restaurants" list for the past eight years. You might even want to go for thirds -- it's a paella party, after all.

Despaña presents Paella by the Pool hosted by José Andrés: Thursday, February 19, from 7 to 10 p.m. at SLS Hotel South Beach, 1701 Collins Ave., Miami Beach.

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