SoBeWFF 2015 Recap: The Best and the Worst

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As the sun sets on the 2015 edition of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, it's time to take stock of the weekend.

The festival saw an improved Grand Tasting Village that had better flow in the massive tasting tents. There was also a roster of new parties that included Meatopia, the Italian Al Fresco Feast, and the Art of Tiki.

The weekend was packed with dozens of well-organized dinners and fetes, but some suffered serious glitches.

New Times' food writing staff has compiled a list of the best and the worst at the festival.

See also: South Beach Wine & Food Festival Grand Tasting Village Photos

The Best

5. Revamped Grand Tasting Village

Most people have a love/hate relationship with the Grand Tasting Village. On the one hand, it's a monster of an event, incorporating hundreds of winetastings, dozens of restaurants, celebrity chef entertainment, book signings, and a mini consumer show into one megaday at the beach. But the GTV is also known for long access lines leaving ticketholders waiting for sometimes more than an hour at peak times. Once inside? More lines to get food in tents that are jammed with people.

Changes this year included multiple entry points that made for smoother access to the tents and the introduction of culinary neighborhoods. Local restaurants showcasing their food were broken up by location and scattered around the entire village. The result: There was always food to be found, and lines were shortened considerably, making for an experience with more bang for the buck.

4. 101 Gay Weddings

Though not a ticketed event, Art Smith's 101 Gay Weddings proved that the South Beach Wine & Food Festival is at its best when there's a community component. The invitation-only bash invited 101 same-sex couples to marry at the James Royal Palm Hotel, followed by a free reception thrown by Smith and a group of his friends. Guy Fieri was the officiant, Duff Goldman baked the cake, and Chi Chi LaRue spun tunes as couples in matching suits and dresses pledged eternal devotion to each other. And just when you thought your mascara would run down your face and into your Pradas, male strippers strutted in to bring levity to the moment.

3. Yappie Hour

There was a bit of skepticism before walking into this event at the Standard Spa. After all, this was the first dog-friendly party in SoBe Fest's history, and there were many questions: Would the event be too loud and filled with barking mutts, would there be landmines, and would some bitch of a poodle be better dressed than I? Turns out the event, sponsored by Rachael Ray's Nutrish pet food line, was an adorable sundowner. As pooches were pampered with spa treatments and a tasting menu of doggie delights, humans sipped wine and mingled more freely than at other events.

One person quipped that if this Yappie Hour happened weekly, he'd be more apt to meet new friends and make a love connection in Miami. Looks like festival director Lee Brian Schrager had a great time too. Schrager mingled at the event with his pups, and buzz has it that Yappie Hour is a lock for next year's festival.

2. Locals Reign Supreme at the Festival

Every year, chefs fly in from out of town to party like rock stars (and work a bit). But in the end, Miami restaurateurs more than hold their own. This year's fest was the most local ever, with Culinary Captains at the Grand Tasting Village taking us through a delicious journey through their neighborhoods.

New Times' Best Bites on the Beach crowned winners each day, with American Social winning Saturday's competition and Chefs on the Run taking the top spot Sunday. Other local winners include Ortanique's Cindy Hutson, who won People's Choice at Goya Food's Swine & Wine, and Tongue & Cheek's Jamie DeRosa, who attracted big names at his annual Kitchen Collab brunch with Robert Irvine. Kudos to local small operations like Illegal Bakery, LoKal, Zak the Baker, and Proper Sausages for shining at the festival.

Miami also got some people's choice love, with local favorite Pincho Factory getting the fan favorite award at Burger Bash for its croquesta (brisket, short rib, and chuck croqueta topped with Swiss, pickles, mustard, and mayo on a brioche bun), and the Broken Shaker got the popular vote at Art of Tiki for its Paradise Found, a cocktail that combined rum with fresh watermelon, mint, and bitters.

1. Creative Chefs

Running a restaurant takes many skills. Sure, you have to be able to make a delicious plate of food, but you also need business know-how and a ton of creativity. When all else fails and you're in the weeds, you have to think on your feet. This week, some big names in the food world overcame the odds to make their SoBe Fest seem seamless.

When Charles Gabriel, also known as the Fried Chicken King of Harlem, was invited to Chicken Coupe, he left no stone unturned -- including the fact that airlines sometimes lose your luggage. With that in mind, he took his trusty skillet into the cabin with him, saying he can't make fried chicken without it.

Seamus Mullen announced his paella with authority at the Paella by the Pool event by clanging a spoon against a glass bottle, which brought the crowd running. In fact, the chef ran out of his two huge pans of food (which were supposed to serve about 600 portions). Rather than disappoint, the New York restaurateur and author went to work making another batch with his left-over rice.

The Worst

5. The Cold Weather Causes a Red Wine Shortage

As the South Beach Wine & Food Festival kicked off Thursday, temperatures plummeted. At the outdoor Italian Al Fresco Feast, chefs huddled around their grills for warmth. With blustery conditions and gray skies continuing through Friday, celebrity guests at chef Geoffrey Zakarian's Food Talk radio show at the Thompson Miami Beach draped beach towels around their waists and necks, and crisp glasses of rosé wine were replaced by herbal tea as the drink of choice.

Speaking of wine, both the Italian Al Fresco Feast and Thrillist's BBQ & the Blues ran out of red wine. Although there were other options available, like beer and sparkling Moscato, when you want the bottle of red, screw the bottle of white.

4. Paula Deen Behaves

Oh, Paula, every year we look forward to your culinary demonstration at the Grand Tasting Village to see just what you'll do. From dropping your drawers to riding Robert Irvine, you never cease to entertain us with your bawdy antics. This year, although you teased us with some boob talk and introduced your main "man meat" (Irvine), you didn't do anything that could really break the internet. How can we create a great meme without you?

3. Oyster Bash

This year's Oyster Bash was moved from the Hotel Victor's rooftop to Lure Fishbar at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel. The result: What was once an open-air event that had happy people slurping oysters was now squashed into a small space. Impossible lines and tight quarters turned one of the most enjoyable, intimate events into a claustrophobic evening.

2. Frost: A Sprinkles Wonderland

This late-night dessert fest on the Gale South Beach rooftop promised a fantasy land of Candace Nelson's famous cupcakes that Oprah has raved about. But for $95, there were only two tables of cupcakes, accompanied by ice cream, coffee, and champagne. How many cupcakes can you eat for almost a hundred bucks? If this event returns next year, many more chefs should be invited to make it a true "sprinkles wonderland."

1. Celebrity Chef No-Shows

There are two components to the South Beach Wine & Food Festival: food 'n' drink and celebrity sightings. Frankly, when paying for an event billed as hosted by a celebrity, we're paying the money to meet our favorite chefs as well as chow down on some burgers. So when Guy Fieri and Fabio Viviani spend only a few token minutes at their stations and then disappear the rest of the party, we're sorely disappointed. If Scott Conant can spend all evening at his Scarpetta area at Best of the Best and Rachael Ray can smooch with pooches at her Yappie Hour, every other celebrity can spend a few hours meeting his fans -- especially when those fans paid a few hundred dollars for the opportunity.

Additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson, Valeria Nekhim, Carina Ost, and Carla Torres.

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

Follow us on Facebook at Miami New Times Food & Drink.

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