Drinking It All In at SOBEWFF
Being a South Florida resident comes with an advantage each February: we’re right here for this four-day national star-studded event, showcasing some of the world’s toP culinary luminaries, including wine and spirits producers, chefs and mixologists.
It’s grown into a big deal, all right. Formally known as the Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival presented by Food & Wine and hosted by Southern Wine & Spirits of Florida and Florida International University – whew! – SOBEWFF is about to embark on its 15th consecutive season Feb. 24-28, benefiting FIU’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management and the Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center.
This gastronomic mammoth had its humble beginnings as a one-day festival known as the Florida Extravaganza held at FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus. From 1997 to 2001, the student-organized event paired wines from national and international wineries with food from local restaurants and chefs. When Lee Brian Schrager of Southern Wine & Spirits of America took over the event in 2002, he relocated it to South Beach. “Once I experienced my first Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and joined the SWS team, I knew we could grow the Florida Extravaganza into something much bigger to raise funds for the school. I never could have dreamt it would be the success that it is today,” says Schrager. Today, the festival attracts more than 60,000 guests annually to its 75+ events, and has raised more than $22 million for the school.
This weekend is all about indulging in your vices. South Florida’s drinking traditions remain heavily influenced by our Hispanic and Latin American cultures. It’s no surprise that one of the longest standing events at the festival involves a snifter and a good cigar. At Cigars and Spirits, held Feb. 26 at the intimate rooftop lounge of The Betsy Hotel, get ready to swirl and sip on rich and lustrous bourbons, whiskeys, scotches and tequilas from the Southern Wine & Spirits of Florida portfolio, while specialists guide you through the distinctive characteristics of the spirits and tobaccos. If your vice is on the sweeter side, the Sweets and Spirits seminar combines the best of two worlds: fine chocolate plus whiskeys, bourbons and other robust brown spirits. Hosted by pastry chef Andrew Shotts of Garrison Confections, named “Top Ten Artisanal Chocolatier” by USA Today, and wine expert Anthony Giglio, this event will be held Feb. 28 at the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach.
This year the festival is spreading north, with eight new events in the Taste Fort Lauderdale Series. “Broward’s dining scene has been growing steadily over the past few years, and we’re always looking for new talent to showcase at the festival,” says Schrager. Our brunch cocktail of choice gets top billing at the Bloody Mary Brunch Feb. 28, hosted by the cast of Chopped at the Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale. Local participants include Yasmine Kotb of Mina’s Mediterraneo, Melanie and Jason Schoendorfer of Babe Froman Fine Sausages, Chris Palmer of American Social and Allen Susser of the Cafe at Books & Books, to name a few, plus network stars Alex Guarnaschelli, Amanda Freitag and Ted Allen.
The Return of Tiki
The big spirited event, in its second year, is the The Art of Tiki: A Cocktail Showdown. Hosted by Food Network celeb Guy Fieri at the Surfcomber Feb. 26, this evening of Polynesian flair serves up fruity, spicy and boozy flagship cocktails from highly regarded tiki-inspired joints across the country. Some of the best bartenders in this classic category include local talents Ayme Harrison and Demi Anne Natoli from Kreepy Tiki, Navind Boodoo from the Mai-Kai Restaurant, Rob Ferrara from The Rum Line, and Bar Lab’s Elad Zvi and Gabriel Orta, who’ll be representing their crown jewel Broken Shaker, competing to be Tiki King or Queen. Fieri, together with an esteemed panel of judges, will evaluate the contestants’ rum-centric offerings, while you sample all of the creations and enjoy light Polynesian-inspired bites.
And speaking of Bar Lab, we’re really looking forward to the Past Meets Present Pairing Feb. 27, where chef Timon Balloo of Midtown’s SUGARCANE Raw Bar Grill will share his personal, professional and cultural expression of food and family, expertly paired with libations mirroring similar influences from Zvi and Orta from the award-winning Bar Lab group.
“We met Timon 10 years ago in New York City and met back up in Miami after that and are huge fans of his food,” says Orta. “The inspiration is about our different cultures coming together – Chinese, African, Colombian and Middle Eastern – and utilizing all these flavors from our backgrounds into the cuisine and cocktails.”