It was the perfect night for a barbecue--or as us South Beach Wine & Food Festival aficionados like to call it--"The Q"; the sun had begun to set, painting the sky in aqua and peach, and a marching band serenaded eager ticketholders, but the scent of smoke wafting through the tent was the most soul-stirring sensation of all... That is, until we started our charred eats and sweets binge.
Star-spotting? You probably saw Marc Murphy, one of the judges on Chopped; Dave Martin and Richard Blais (Top Chef Seasons One and Four); and Dutchess LuAnn de Lesseps (Real Housewives of New York City), at least, wandering around and getting their eat on. A-list chefs like Emeril Lagasse, Guy Fieri and Masaharu Morimoto had booths, along with dozens of other toques true foodies would recognize, but we were also pleased to see some of our local faces representing: Dewey LoSasso, Michelle Bernstein, and Jordi Valles, for example. (For the record, their dishes were all palate-pleasers.) Paula DaSilva was there, too, but without her chef coat; seems The Beach Channel managed to convince her to be their lovely correspondent.
Local couple Laura Schneider and David Kramarz had covered about a quarter of the tent when we asked them which dish got their thumbs up. "This barbecued pork egg roll is awesome," Schneider said of Jacques Van Staden's offering. "And it came with this cute baby barbecue sauce bottle!" What can we say? Us chicks dig cute stuff. Local PR guru Matt Brooks kindly shared his Sweet Pimp from Big Gay Ice Cream truck, which turned out to be a sinful combo of sweet vanilla ice cream, viscous olive oil, creamy chocolate shell, and crunchy bits of sea salt. Chef Adrianne Calvo, though admitting that Lagasse is her all-time fave chef, gave props to Scott Conant's crispy pork shoulder.
We really dug John Rivers brisket "street tacos" but weren't too thrilled with the flavors emitted from his novel Mountain Dew cupcakes sprinkled with Doritos, chocolate Coca-Cola cupcakes with chocolate-dipped potato chips, and grape Nehi cupcakes decorated with Nerds. E for effort, though, Rivers.
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The table of female tourists we sat with for a spell were less than enthused by some of the other chefs' samples. Cliff's Notes of their commentary are as follows: Chris Lilly's Wagyu beef brisket with barbecue hollandaise was "bad," Christopher Hastings' smoked and grilled quail was "yucky," Michael White's grilled pancetta with glazed figs and toasted pistachios was "gross" (though one of the gals argued that she thought it was "amazing"), and Tom Douglas' salmon bacon with rhubarb pickle was "bad, bad, bad." "I spit it out," announced a gal from New Jersey.
Also a little weird were the Swarovski crystal-encrusted cow (though we secretly coveted one for our office) greeting us inside the tent and a vegetation-covered Champagne bottle. However, once Tony Abou-Ganim taught us how to mix our own Belvedere Lemon Tea Raspberry Caipiroskas (like a caipirinha with vodka instead of rum), everything we saw that night from then on became decidedly more appealing. Cocktails are magical that way.
Would we have spent the $300 for a ticket, in retrospect, if we weren't given freebies? Well, we're cheap bastards so perhaps we aren't the best folks to ask. But since celebrity sightings were aplenty, the band rocked hard, Moët was flowing freely, lines weren't too long, and the samplings were pretty out-of-the-ordinary, we still think you won't be disappointed if you fork out the cash for Q tix next year.