Celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis waves to adoring fans.
Celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis waves to adoring fans.
All photos by Valeria Nekhim Lease

SOBEWFF 2016 Grand Tasting Village: "It's Because of Rachael Ray That We're Here"

The South Beach Wine & Food Festival's founder and organizer, Lee Brian Schrager, made quite the statement about celebrity chef Rachael Ray this past Saturday. "There is nobody more loyal, honest, fair, and genuine than Rachael, and she has been my biggest supporter, and it's because of Rachael that we are here with all of you," he said. Schrager was introducing Ray, who was doing a live cooking demonstration at the Goya Foods Grand Tasting Village yesterday afternoon. 

Once the star got onstage, she said, "I love you, Lee," and made the audience laugh with a self-deprecating comment. "The kitchen is so weird for me because I'm so short and this stove is literally boob-high, so this can get freaky and uncomfortable at some point." Ray then said that when the festival began 15 years ago and Schrager asked her to participate, she felt like she didn't belong among the most talented toques in the industry, but Schrager made her feel comfortable. He even asked her what she'd like to see at the festival, and her idea was to have the best chefs make meals, put them on buns, and serve some beer with them so everyone could enjoy. And that, folks, is how Burger Bash was born. 

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During her KitchenAid-sponsored demonstration, Ray chose to make her mom's favorite lemon spaghetti, and her husband was there helping her. Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis took the stage before Ray, and, like last year, the slim chef was asked about her weight. Someone from the audience took the mike and said, "I hear you should never trust a skinny chef." In response, De Laurentiis flashed her signature grin and said she looks the way she does not because she restricts what she eats, but because she limits her portion sizes. She also said that she works out regularly and that her mother is also petite. 

The Goya Foods Grand Tasting Village was extra-crowded this year.
The Goya Foods Grand Tasting Village was extra-crowded this year.

Attendees who purchased a $225 ticket to the event because they wanted to see Food Network's biggest stars likely got their money's worth. However, if you came to the Grand Tasting Village mainly to eat and drink, you might have been disappointed, because the tents were unbelievably crowded. The lines to get food and drinks were twice as long as they were last year, and the sheer number of people was overwhelming at times.

What ended up happening at many of the food stations was once you got to the front of the line, you had to wait further for the chefs to prepare and serve the food. That said, there were some standout bites, including a personal favorite: short rib with jalapeño mash from BLT Prime in Doral.

The short ribs with jalapeño mash from BLT Prime in Doral were excellent.
The short ribs with jalapeño mash from BLT Prime in Doral were excellent.

This year's participants were mainly from South Florida, and there were many familiar faces. Jimmy'z Kitchen, Coyo Taco, Blackbrick, Buns & Buns, Chef Adrianne's Vineyard Restaurant & Wine Bar, and Haven were all represented. 

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