For nearly two decades, Lee Brian Schrager has put his heart and soul into throwing Miami Beach's biggest party. Reminded that the South Beach Wine & Food Festival (SOBEWFF) will enter its 19th year this February, Schrager quips, "It's a long time. I was young back when it started."
The festival — set to take place February 19 through 23, 2020 — began as a single dinner and has evolved into a mega-weekend filled with more than 100 parties, seminars, classes, and dinners throughout South Florida. Though the epicenter of the festival is South Beach, dinners and parties are held as far north as Palm Beach, where Martha Stewart will cohost a dinner.
Schrager says the key to the festival's success is blending tried-and-true favorites with new ideas. "I have to constantly motivate the motivator, which is me." He says festival favorites such as Burger Bash, Best of the Best, and the Grand Tasting Village are what consumers want. "We sell thousands of tickets, and that's how we make money for the charity." All of the net proceeds from each weekend benefit the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management's Wine Spectator Restaurant Management Laboratory and the Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center at Florida International University. To date, the festival has raised more than $30 million for the school.
Schrager says SOBEWFF isn't only about making money. Each year, the festival hosts intimate dinners where stellar chefs from around the world are enticed to travel to South Florida to show their stuff. "I think the dinners are extraordinary. We attract the newest and best names in the culinary world." One such top toque is Mauro Colagreco, the Italian-Argentine chef behind the three-Michelin-star restaurant Mirazur in Menton, France, recently named the 2019 Best Restaurant in the World. Colegreco is set to host a dinner at Florie's at Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach (2800 S. Ocean Blvd., Palm Beach) Friday, February 21, at 7 p.m. Though some might not be able to afford the $500 ticket price, it's a once-in-a-lifetime dinner for foodies who can't easily hop a flight to France to experience the chef's culinary skills.
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If dinner with Colegreco is out of your price range, there are a host of happenings that cost $100 or less. Says Schrager: "Those events bring in that young demographic. We do incredibly well with these parties, which tend to be cocktail-driven." Though there are several new offerings, Schrager's pick is the Nu Deco Ensemble Evening of Wine, Food, & Music at the North Beach Bandshell (7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach)
Saturday, February 22, at 8 p.m. (tickets cost $95 each). "Nu Deco is fantastic, and I love the Bandshell," he says. The music is paired with food and drinks curated by the people behind the food hall Politan Row, and Rev Run is scheduled to perform a few numbers with Nu Deco.
Another new event is the Chef Mash-Up at Ace Props (398 NE 78th St., Miami) Thursday, February 20, at 10 p.m. (tickets cost $95). The host will be Samantha Schnur, who's behind the wildly popular Naughty Fork Instagram account. Schnur will bring together a group of Miami's favorite chefs, including Scott Linquist (Coyo Taco), Giorgio Rapicavoli (Glass & Vine and Eating House), and Eileen and Jonathan Andrade (Finka Table & Tap) for an evening of food, drinks, and surprises. Don't forget to take a selfie at the custom beehive, courtesy of the app HoneySpot. Schrager says that when Schnur approached his team with the idea, he was delighted. "First of all, we love her. She's connected with all the chefs, and she's lovely to work with." He says collaborations with people like Schnur bring new life to the festival. "We love a brand-new set of eyes."
From familiar faces, like Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri, to new experiences, like the Gospel & Falafel party with Zak the Baker, the South Beach Wine & Food Festival boasts a roster of events offering plenty for even the pickiest foodie to chew on.
South Beach Wine & Food Festival. February 19 through 23, 2020, at various locations in South Florida. Tickets cost $25 to $500 via sobewff.org.