You're hungry. You're thirsty. You're ready for the sun, sand, and celebrity chefs at the 16th-annual Food Network and Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
But what you really want right now is a game plan. What you need is some professional insight into the best way to tackle what has become one of the nation's largest annual food festivals.
Alex Guarnaschelli, a Food Network star and executive chef of New York City's Butter, knows how she'll spend the weekend: with flip-flops in hand. And although she would do anything to attend Burger Bash, one of SOBEWFF's most popular events, her one piece of advice is to do the exact opposite.
"The real way to enjoy the South Beach Wine & Food Festival is to go to as many smaller events as possible," Guarnaschelli says. "There is much to be learned, and with the smaller events, chefs have more time to share their knowledge. That's my pro tip for the fest."
Jim Pastor, executive chef of Miami's iconic Rusty Pelican, says to keep two essentials on hand during the weekend: a camera and an open mind. "I've done a few of these events and am baffled by people who don't want to try new foods. It doesn't make sense: That's the whole point, to expose yourself to something new."
When it comes to celebrity chefs navigating their own course through SOBEWFF, there's plenty of advice to be heard. Here's how some of South Florida's top toques — and a few from across the nation — plan to prepare for this year's event.
Jose Mendin, executive chef, Habitat, Miami Beach. Pace yourselves so you get to try as much food as possible. You don't get to see all of these amazing chefs in one weekend often. I would love to go to the dinner between Daniela Soto-Innes, Diego Oka, and Carlos Garcia. I admire their styles of cooking, and I know there will be a lot of flavor in that menu. Dinner hosted by Daniela Soto-Innes, Diego Oka, and Carlos Garcia, part of the NYT Cooking Dinner Series, 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, February 23, at Obra Kitchen at Jade at Brickell Bay, 1331 Brickell Bay Dr., Miami. Tickets cost $250 via sobewff.org/obra.
Sean Brasel, executive chef/co-owner, Meat Market, Miami Beach. Try not to party too much the opening nights, and save some energy for the events you really want to attend. I never miss the Grand Tasting on Sunday. There are so many different dishes to try and people to catch up with — it's almost like one big tent party. Goya Foods' Grand Tasting Village featuring Mastercard Grand Tasting Tents & KitchenAid Culinary Demonstrations. Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, February 25, at the Grand Tasting Village, 13th Street and Ocean Drive, Miami Beach. Tickets cost $225 to $275 via sobewff.org/gtvsun.
Michael Pirolo, executive chef, Macchialina, Miami Beach. My pro tip is to arrive as early as possible to the events. The lines get long, and you don't want to be waiting. There are so many events that are all really exceptional, but if I had to pick only one, it would have to be the dinner hosted by Missy Robbins and Tony Mantuano at Casa Tua. I've been to both of their restaurants: Lilia in Brooklyn and Spiaggia in Chicago. I am a huge fan of what they're doing. Dinner hosted by Missy Robbins and Tony Mantuano, 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday, February 22, at Casa Tua, 1700 James Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets are sold out.
Steve Mendez, chef de cuisine, BLT Prime, Doral. First-timers to the festival tend to be a bit shocked by the vastness of it all. I would say people should show up hungry and excited and be prepared to take it all in. There is nothing more exciting than a beach filled with wonderful things to eat and drink — and, of course, the swag. This year, we will be doing the Beachside BBQ. I'm most excited by the thought of seeing people from all over the world having champagne and enjoying barbecue. Beachside BBQ, hosted by Michael Symon, 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday, February 25, at North Venue, Beachside at the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach, 1 Lincoln Rd. Miami Beach. Tickets cost $150 to $200 via sobewff.org/bbq.
Jian "Kenny" Loo, chef, Hakkasan, Miami Beach. Be flexible and attend multiple events and get the most out of the festival. Of course, I'd love to attend Lucky Chopsticks hosted by Andrew Zimmern. I'd love the chance to taste a variety of different chefs' Asian dishes and ask him what's the weirdest thing he has ever eaten. I wonder if he actually likes durian. Lucky Chopsticks, hosted by Andrew Zimmern, part of the Crave Greater Fort Lauderdale Series, 8 to 10 p.m. Friday, February 23, at W Fort Lauderdale, 401 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $125 via sobewff.org/lucky.
Paula DaSilva, chef, Burlock Coast, Fort Lauderdale. Bring a change of shoes and clothes. You can easily go from flip-flops at the beach to a swanky afterparty, and it's important to look good. I would love to attend the Portuguese Dinner. Portuguese cuisine is often underestimated but very hot right now. George Mendes and Henrique Sá Pessoa are two incredibly talented chefs. There aren't many Portuguese restaurants in South Florida, so this is a one-of-a-kind opportunity. Also, Portugal is on my list of places to travel one day. Portuguese Dinner, hosted by George Mendes, Henrique Sá Pessoa, and Ilde Ferrer, 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday, February 22, at Como Metropolitan Miami Beach, 2445 Collins, Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets are sold out.
Carl Schaubhut, chef/owner, DTB (Down the Bayou), New Orleans. Don't rush through thinking you have to see, do, and eat everything. Stop and enjoy the moment. Instead of scurrying to get from event to event, try to relish in the place you are. Interact with the chefs, talk to them about the food, and simply enjoy everything you're tasting. Best of the Best is my top event choice. I am a huge fan of Wine Spectator and an admirer of the craftsmanship of winemaking. To be in a place where the top-rated wineries are coexisting with some of the finest chefs and cuisine is simply a magical experience. And meeting Jean-Georges Vongerichten — he captures what modern American cuisine is all about. He's not afraid of pushing the boundaries of food, and it's something I really look up to. Being from New Orleans, where Creole cuisine is made up of so many influences, I really admire how he uses his French background and Asian influences to create a type of food unlike anything we've seen. I also think that as big of a talent as he is, he's still humble and stays true to his passion. Fontainebleau Miami Beach presents Wine Spectator's Best of the Best, sponsored by Bank of America. 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday, February 23, at Fontainebleau Miami Beach, 4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $350 via sobewff.org/bob.
Isaac Toups, chef/owner, Toups South and Toups Meatery in New Orleans. Go slow and take a breath. It's tempting to eat and drink everything in sight at SOBEWFF, but make sure you're actually enjoying and appreciating what you have before you rather than just mindlessly eating. Midnight Eats with Action Bronson and Jean-Georges is my top pick for sure. I love Action; in fact, I just did his new show in Brooklyn and it was such a good time. And Jean-Georges is such a great influence on our food culture — what a dynamic pair of guys to hang out with late-night. Midnight Eats: An Española Way Block Party presented by Thrillist, hosted by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Action Bronson. 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday, February 23, on Española Way, entrance at Washington Avenue and Española Way, Miami Beach. Tickets cost $95 via sobewff.org/munchies.