411: Food, Glorious, Food! SOBEWFF- Part I of II

The Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival (SOBEWFF) took over our fair city for four days and nights of sheer joy filled with decadent tasting, sipping and celebration. From February 21-24, culinary giants from all over the nation gathered on our shores for America’s most prestigious (and fun!) gourmet gathering. While we can’t tell you everything that went on- really, we physically cannot- we will share some of this year’s most memorable moments. Check back next week for even more of the festival fun- that could not fit in just one column!

It All Started with The Q

More than 3, 000 excited guests joined a newly svelte, Paula Deen on Thursday evening at Moët Hennessy’s The Q, the official kick-off to the SOBEWFF- a reunion of sorts for the many foodies who had experienced a void since last year’s festival. Deen’s very-buff son, Bobby Deen, was also on-hand for the ocean-side party, presented by Omaha Steaks, in an enormous tent on the sand. The event brought together 40 chefs from cities throughout the United States to sear, filet, grill, smoke and serve many varieties of meat alongside gourmet accompaniments, for food enthusiasts who did not mind packing on a few extra pounds or waiting in line to get a taste of the offerings. Top choices served at The Q included tastings from Red, the Steakhouse in Miami and Four Rivers Smokehouse in Orlando.

Chef Todd English received The Omaha Steaks Award for Culinary Excellence, as judged by Rocco DiSpirito, Pat & Gina Neely, and Omaha Steaks’ Todd Simon. As a prize, Omaha Steaks made a donation to Florida International University (FIU) Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management Teaching Restaurant and its Southern Wine and Spirits Beverage Management Center in English’s name. Chef Jonathan Waxman, was awarded the Kingsford Charcoal King of Q by Kingsford Charcoal judges Aarón Sánchez and Marc Murphy. To accompany the food, Moët Hennessy provided several varieties of libations for all to enjoy.

Burger Bash

Having scarcely escaped triple by-pass surgery, we headed to the 7th annual Burger Bash presented by Amstel Light and hosted by Rachael Ray for, you guessed it: a party filled with the aromas and tastes of too many incarnations of America’s classic favorite: the hamburger. If there was ever a time to wish we could channel the poor bovines, sacrificed for the feast, with their multiple stomach compartments, it would have been during this great celebration on Friday, February 22, also under the big tent on the sand. Upon arrival, the line stretched for more than a block, as eager carnivores waited to get their “meat on.” Once inside, we realized this bash was worth the wait. Our favorites included (not necessarily in this order): Quality Meats, NYC, Bacon and Blue burger (like butter!), Jeff Mauro’s (A.K.A the Sandwich King) Patty Melt, with fried jalapenos, (kind of like a cross between a Reuben Sandwich and perfect burger) and returning champion, Michael Symon’s B Spot “hot patty” burger, complete with hot peppers and Wickles.

All of the chefs joined Lee Schrager and Rachel Ray on the stage for the jovial awards presentation at around 10 p.m. The People’s Choice Award went to: Bobby Flay, who dethroned Michael Symon (Symon took second this year), Guy Fieri took third place for most creative burger (a pressed burger on a marble rye toast). We agreed with the judges, Iron Chef, Geoffrey Zakarian, Anne Burrell, Andrew Zimmern, Jeffrey Chodorow and previous winner Spike Mendelsohn, who awarded the prestigious Judges Choice award to our favorite, Jeff Mauro. The judges awarded second place to Josh Capon of Burger and Barrel in New York, who had only half of his ingredients available, yet still managed a win. Best dressed burger went to another one of our top picks, Quality Meats, NYC.

Goya Foods’ Swine & Wine

A great culminating event for this year’s festival took place far from the beach. The Goya Foods’ Swine & Wine event on Sunday, February 24, was held at the Biltmore Hotel hosted by James Beard Award-winning chef Michelle Bernstein, brought together nineteen chefs incorporated the use of the Caja China to prepare their best roasted pork recipes. Participating chefs included: Bernstein, Michael Schwartz, from Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink; John Kunkel, from the just-opened Swine; reigning champion, Ingrid Hoffmann; favorite RHOM co-star/chef, Ana Quincoces; Douglas Rodriguez, from D. Rodriguez on the Ocean and Dena Marino from MC Kitchen, to name a few. There was also a concert by the Chirino Sisters, who belted out favorite songs in Spanish and free flowing wine and Mojitos.

Chef Ryan Nielsen from Bongos Cuban Café and Larios on the Beach, who participated for the first time this year, recreated the perfect Cuban dish to be eaten in one bite: traditional lechon asado and sweet maduro mash layered on a crispy pork skin and topped with crunchy Spanish onions and took home the Pat La Frieda “Piggy Choice Award” for receiving the most votes from the crowd. Second place went to Hoffmann and Quincoces took third.

The Numbers:

The 12th annual Festival expects to raise $1.9 million for Florida International University’s (FIU) Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management and the Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center. After a year of both record ticket and sponsorship sales, the festival entertained and educated approximately 60,000 passionate gourmands and wine and spirits aficionados during this star-studded, four-day destination event.

Mark your calendars:

Dates for next year’s SOBEWFF are set for Thursday, February 20 through Sunday, February 23, 2014.

Celebrity Sightings:

Cotton’s 2nd Annual 24 Hour Runway Show kicked off on Friday, March 1st at 8 pm and ran for a full 24 hours. The 24-hour show featured 1,440 looks (1 every minute). Bill and Giuliana Rancic, hosted the show while Lauren Conrad, Camilla Belle, Michael Yo and Louise Roe came to check out the fun, versatile looks!

Over the weekend, Jerry Bruckheimer dined with a group of 10 at Scarpetta.

Terrance Howard dined with a group of friends in Hakkasan.

Jon Bon Jovi was in concert at the BBC on Saturday night, performing all of his classic hits and several songs from his upcoming album, to the delight of a sold-out crowd.

Cheeseburger Baby on South Beach has seen its share of celebs recently. From singer, Christina Milian and rapper N.O.R.E to Food Network star, Anthony Bourdain. He and his crew hung out in the backyard Tiki Bar and chowed down on Cheeseburger Baby’s tasty little burgers. After the meal, he and owner, Stephanie Vitori, traded tricks of the trade. She was quoted saying, “I have watched him for years. I am a huge fan of his. He was such a nice guy and it was a honor to meet him. It was an even bigger honor for him to say he loved my burgers!”

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