Miami will get a big taste of France this week as the South Beach Wine & Food Festival celebrates its 10th Anniversary (Feb 24 to 27) and a slew of French chefs show up to strut their culinary stuff.
For one long weekend each February, sixty to eighty of world’s most-popular chefs drop what they’re doing to transform southern Miami Beach into the world’s largest and liveliest kitchen, providing four days of nonstop food-and-wine-drenched decadence for those lucky enough to land a ticket.
An equal number of winemakers will be on hand, pouring the crème de la crème of both old and newer vintages.
If you’re curious about current food-and-wine trends, want to see what top chefs are putting on their plates today, looking for a great party or just get hungry to get away from nasty winter weather, there’s no better place to be in late February.
Or maybe you want to support the next generation of culinarians, wine experts and hoteliers-in-training? This is a pretty pleasant way to do it as every penny of festival profits benefits culinary and wine education at Florida International University. To date $11 million has been raised.
The festival also allows FIU students to work side-by-side with top chefs and wine experts, getting valuable experience which leads to great jobs. Many return as volunteers after graduation.
Maybe you’re a young chef, job-hunting or looking to move up. Maybe you’ve got a cookbook in you just waiting to bust out—if you could only meet an agent to get the ball rolling. Maybe you dream of being on TV, like Bobby, Rachael, Emeril, Paula and Jamie, all of whom will be at SoBe. Indeed for four days straight, celebrity chefs are everywhere on South Beach: cooking, eating, helping out their friends, eyeing the competition, swimming, sunning and schmoozing up a storm.
SoBe long ago eclipsed other events of its type in terms of A-list attendance, industry relevance, food and wine quality and fun factor. “Anyone who’s important is there, having the time of their life,” Wolfgang Puck says.
I’ve been to a million food-and-wine events. Not only is SoBe the largest and most successful, it’s far and away the most fun. "When it comes to SoBe, I can't find anything to complain about," Tony Bourdain told me. "And I complain about everything."
The festival is an enormous undertaking that requires 18 months of planning to pull off. This year, 50,000 people will attend at least one of 50 different events, ranging from sandy-feet casual to supremely refined.
And this year as in years past, the French flag will be flying high.
Alain Ducasse, who earned his first Michelin three-star review in 1990 at age 33, will be honored at a glittering Saturday night Tribute Dinner—and seven of his favorite chefs will do the cooking. Six hundred people paid $500 each to attend the sold-out event.
Born on a farm in Southwestern France, Ducasse was 12 when he famously proclaimed “Grand-mere, these beans are overcooked!” and 16 when he began his culinary career. He’s considered a master of Provencal cooking, which he has elevated through his cooking schools, cookbooks, restaurants, food products and more.
Today Ducasse has more than 20 restaurants in eight countries, including three Michelin three-stars: Monaco, Paris and London.
Ducasse was one of the SoBe festival’s earliest supporters and festival founder/director Lee Schrager credits him with helping to nudge the then-tiny event into the national spotlight. It was Ducasse’s participation, Schrager says, that encouraged other big-name chefs to sign on, to agree to leave their busy kitchens behind and come down to cook for a great cause.
Following SoBe tradition, Mr. Ducasse chose the chefs who will cook his Tribute Dinner. (If I were a chef and Alain asked me to cook his Tribute Dinner, I’d be pretty proud, eh?) The chefs he chose? Laurent Gras (soon to open a restaurant in NYC), Alex Stratta (Stratta at the Wynn, Las Vegas), Charlie Trotter (Charlie Trotter's, Chicago), Frédéric Robert (former exec pastry chef, Wynn Las Vegas) and Frédéric Delaire (exec chef, Loews Miami Beach Hotel).
Doing the hors d’oeuvres for the reception are three chefs currently working for Ducasse: Phillipe Bertineau (Benoit Bistro, NYC), Didier Elena (Adour Alain Ducasse at the St Regis, NYC) and Sebastien Rondier (Mix on the Beach, Vieques, Puerto Rico).
Jean Paul Veziano, a top baker who once worked with Ducasse, is coming from Antibes to do the breads. And Marc Ehrler, who hails from Antibes but now lives in Houston, is bringing buckets of luxurious butters—truffle, yuzu, brown, sea salt—from National Dairy Brands, where he’s now the corporate chef.
French actress and model Carole Bouquet will be the evening’s emcee. Bouquet has appeared in more than 40 films--she’s best known to Americans as Bond girl Melina Havelock in the 1981 filmFor Your Eyes Only--and was the face of Chanel in the 1990s. Bouquet is also a winemaker: she has a home in Pantelleria, a small island between Sicily and Tunisia, where she produces a sweet white wine called Sangue d’Oro.
The 790-room Loews Miami Beach Hotel is both the venue for the Ducasse Tribute Dinner and the host hotel for the festival. Overseeing the hotel’s vast kitchens is French chef Frédéric Delaire, a native of Agen. I rang Delaire up just now to ask him how his festival prep was going and found him triple-checking his market list for the week ahead. For the Ducasse dinner alone he’s ordered 60 whole turbot (about $6,000 wholesale), three pounds of Perigord truffles ($3,000) and 400 lamb loins ($6,400) plus scores of other luxe ingredients.
But the chefs producing the Ducasse Tribute Dinner are hardly the only ambassadors of French cuisine who will be out and about at SoBe this year. Since it launched in 2001, the festival has always had a strong French accent, thanks to elite chefs such as Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Eric Ripert and Claude Troisgros, who have become mainstays on the talent roster....
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Tickets to a few SoBe events are still available. For more info, visit the SoBe website here.
To buy the cookbook, go here. To enter to win a copy, go here.
Bid on tons of great items in the SoBe online auction here.Photo of Alain Ducasse by Mikael Vojinovic.
Julie Mautner writes about food, wine and travel for major magazines and websites in the US, the UK and France. Check out her blog about France at ProvencePost.com