Hot off the presses, a New Times exclusive: The Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival is set to announce that its 2008 honorees will be internationally renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and the buoyant British chef Jamie Oliver. The former will be feted at the Tribute Dinner on February 23, 2008, and the following morning, as guest of honor at the Tribute Brunch, Oliver will receive the Wine and Food Fest's Outstanding Achievement Award.
"I am touched by the Festival's invitation and accept with delight," said Vongerichten. Lee Brian Schrager, founder and director of the Festival, said, "To have someone of Mr. Vongerichten's wide achievement and intense culinary sensibilities agree to be part of this celebration is, in truth, almost a greater honor for us."
Vongerichten joins a short but impressive list of previous Tribute Dinner honorees (Ferran Adria in 2006 and Eric Ripert and Mague LeCoze, this past month). His innovative interpretation of classic French cuisine at the Lafayette in the Drake Swissotel earned him four stars from The New York Times at age 29. He followed this up with the charming and equally acclaimed Bistro Jo Jo, and then opened Vong, whose Thai-inspired French cuisine was touted by Times as being "explosively flavorful."
Olivers' rise to the top was far more serendipitous. A documentary about the highly-regarded River Cafe in London was filmed while Oliver was working there. When the show aired on national television, Oliver's charming personality caught the attention of production companies and he was soon hosting his own cooking show, The Naked Chef, where he prepared the simple, largely Italian-inspired meals with which he has since become synonymous.
Jaimie has also become well known for his charitable work. In 2002, he founded Fifteen, a restaurant in London staffed by disadvantaged young people who have been trained by Oliver's Fifteen Foundation. The concept has since been extended internationally, with Fifteen restaurants in Cornwall, Amsterdam, and Melbourne. In 2004, he launched his "Feed Me Better" campaign, aimed at improving the poor quality of school meals in the UK. His tireless pressure led to the British Government pledging the equivalent of almost $1 billion to improving school meals.
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Great choices, both. And only 51 weeks to go! --Lee Klein