SOBEWFF 2016: Chef Todd Erickson's Tips for Conquering the Grand Tasting Village

The South Beach Wine & Food Festival (SOBEWFF) comprises dozens of fabulous parties, informative seminars, and intimate dinners, but the event most closely identified with the five-day celebration of food and drink is the Grand Tasting Village.

Each year, the sands of Miami Beach are transformed into a culinary wonderland, with hundreds of wineries, restaurants, and distillers sharing their finest with thousands of foodies. Add a liberal dose of celebrity chef demonstrations by luminaries such as Rachael Ray, Rick Bayless, and Geoffrey Zakarian, plus a pinch of nonstop music and entertainment, and you have the recipe for a perfect party.

Of course, you must pace yourself. The Grand Tasting Village (GTV) poses its own set of challenges, from fickle weather to tricky-to-navigate sand. And let's not forget figuring out how to balance a glass of Cabernet in one hand and a plate of food in the other while trying to take a selfie with Robert Irvine.

As always, it's best to turn to a pro for advice. Todd Erickson, executive chef and partner at Haven Hospitality Concepts (Haven South Beach, Huahua's Taqueria, and Haven Fort Myers), is a SOBEWFF veteran, having participated in events such as Best of the Best and the Grand Tasting Village.

This year, Erickson will participate in Tacos After Dark, taking place Thursday, February 25, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.; the Grand Tasting Village Saturday, February 27, from noon to 5 p.m.; and at Fun and Fit as a Family Sunday, February 28, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Chef Erickson was happy to share his festival dos and don'ts to ensure you make the most of your epicurean adventure.

Don't go hungry: The tastiest dishes at the Grand Tasting Village are usually accompanied by lines. If you arrive starving and start drinking, the afternoon probably won't be the best experience for you. The days are historically warm, and plenty of people end up with Bambi legs, caused from hitting the wine tent without food in their stomachs.

Do have a pre-festival bite: It might seem counterintuitive to eat before you go to a food festival, but it's the smartest thing you can do. Grab something nearby — Le Sandwicherie and BLT are two great choices within walking distance of the tents. You'll still want to leave room for all the delicious food at the festival, but a small nosh will make all the difference between enjoying the day and suffering from hunger.

Don't park close to Ocean Drive: South Beach parking can be a nightmare on the weekends. Add hundreds of additional cars to narrow streets and you get a double whammy of traffic and garages charging sometimes $30 — or more — for the day.

Do be creative with transportation choices: Take advantage of the festival's free park-and-ride shuttle, exclusively available for GTV ticketholders. Simply park at the festival parking lot at North Miami Avenue and NE Eighth Street in downtown Miami and hop on a shuttle. The shuttles run continuously from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and will drop off and pick up beachside at 13th Street and Collins Avenue. If you're feeling especially adventuresome, rent a Deco Bike bicycle, available throughout South Beach, and get some exercise.

Don't wear stilettos: This goes for men and women — no stilettos, high heels, or uncomfortable footwear. Trust me: When they say the Grand Tasting Village is on the beach, they're not kidding. The activities are on soft sand that's not packed enough to support tiny heels. Wedges are almost OK, but be forewarned that the sand is a lot softer than you think. When you remember that alcohol is also involved, well, just don't go there.

Do wear comfortable shoes: Now is the time to break out your cutest Havaianas. The sand is abrasive (and gets everywhere) and you'll be on your feet for hours. Wear flats or flip-flops and save yourself.

Don't get dehydrated: The Grand Tasting Village is a veritable wonderland of drink, and you can't take a step without someone offering you a fabulous cocktail, a rare vintage, or a sip of a new spirit. There's no way you can drink your way through everything, so don't even try. Don't drink fast and furious.

Do hydrate: Pace yourself. Seek out wineries and distilleries you appreciate, and discover ones that you're not familiar with but suit your palate. Most important, take advantage of the water sponsors and enjoy the nonalcoholic beverages as well. While you're at it, make sure you wear sunscreen.

Don't cut in line for food: Everyone else is as hungry as you, and we're all in this together.

Do plan ahead before you queue up: Fill your wine glass before you wait in line. Strike up a conversation with the people in front of you. If you're with someone, separate the duties and have your friend wait for the ceviche while you grab a slider; then share your combined bounty.

Don't stick to the wine and food tents: Take a break from the winetastings and head to the north part of the village, where you can play games, have your favorite cookbook signed by the author, and watch celebrity chef demos.

Do say hello to your favorite chefs: If you see your fave celebrity chefs walking around, feel free to approach them for photos and conversation. We like talking to people. But if we're in a hurry or we've got a big knife in our hands, understand that while we love meeting you, we're also here to work. Just catch us another time and we'll be happy to chat.

Don't get caught up by everything right at the main entrance: All of that wine and food will still be there when you leave.

Do walk to the very back tent and work your way forward: It works at Disney World, and it works just as well here.

Don't try to take bottles of booze: This is a big no-no at the festival, and security will find you and stop you.

Do take home as much swag as you like: Fill your bag with fun giveaways that vendors provide. In the past, we've nabbed sunglasses, sunscreen, cocktail-flavored lip balm, T-shirts, and other fun items. Be sure to take business cards for restaurants and wineries you've enjoyed and follow them on social media.

Don't drink and drive: Call a taxi, Uber, or a friend if you've had one too many.

Don't try to ride Paula Deen: That's Robert Irvine's job.

Goya Foods Grand Tasting Village Featuring MasterCard Grand Tasting Tents and KitchenAid Culinary Demonstrations: Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, February 27, and Sunday, February 28, at the Grand Tasting Village, 13th Street and Ocean Drive, Miami Beach. Tickets cost $225. A special "3-5 p.m. on Ocean Drive" ticket (good for admission Sunday, February 28, from 3 to 5 p.m. only) costs $100.

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