If December is all about art in Miami, February is decidedly gastronomic. That’s when the who’s who of the culinary and spirits world flocks south for The Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine and Food Festival (SOBEWFF).
Entering its 18th year, the much-anticipated annual gathering returns February 20 through 24 with a variety of new offerings and a smorgasbord of tastings, dinners, parties and seminars across Miami, Fort Lauderdale and, for the first time, West Palm Beach.
More than 60,000 people are expected to attend the various events. Plus, all proceeds from the festival benefit the Chapin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Florida International University.
Here are the highlights and keys to making the most of your gourmet tour:
WHAT TO EXPECT
The five-day foodie fest is brimming with opportunities to wine, dine, learn and rub elbows with celebrity chefs, winemakers and other gourmands. With more than 100 events happening across three counties, you’ll want to decide what you’re looking to experience to avoid getting overwhelmed.
Tastings are a popular option, especially for first-timers who want to sip and savor a bit of everything. If you choose just one, opt for the Grand Tasting Village, as it’s the most diverse. There’s also a handful of themed offerings, ranging from barbecues and clambakes to Italian- and Asian-themed affairs.
For one-on-one time with chefs, intimate dinners are the way to go. Some of the more popular options are already sold out, but you can still snag a seat at a few delicious tables, including dining with Michael Mina (February 21) at Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Bourbon Steak, Miami; the Shabbat Dinner with notable kosher baker Zak Stern and Israeli chef Amos Sion (February 22); and the Cristal Dinner (February 23), where your meal is paired with four vintage pours.
Late-night parties are always an entertaining draw for celebrity sightings. Travel Channel’s Man Finds Food host Adam Richman is anchoring Mixing It Up on the Miami River: Best Bars, Bites and Beats (February 21), a gathering receiving much hype for its free-flowing libations and food truck bites.
If you just want to learn something new, look into the festival’s array of seminars, including wine-pairing lessons and a José Andrés-led lecture on immigration and the hospitality industry. There are also new tempting-looking master classes, including a Cajun-cooking session and a cookie-making course.
WHERE TO STAY
If you’re planning to linger in the Miami Beach area, you’ll have no shortage of luxe lodgings from which to choose. Stylish retreats on Collins Avenue include Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Fontainebleau Miami Beach, Four-Star Loews Miami Beach Hotel and the chic 1 Hotel South Beach. For an art-deco hideaway tucked away from the fray, check out historic The Plymouth.
Further north, the new Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach, Four-Star The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale and recently refreshed The Diplomat Beach Resort are solid, family-friendly stays all hosting festival-related events.
Tip: Many area hotels are offering special rates for SOBEWFF attendees, but you’ll have to go through the festival’s contact to book instead of calling the properties directly.
WHAT TO TASTE AND SEE
If you’ve waited until the last minute to book your trip, don’t worry — we have you covered. Last we checked, tickets were still available for these fan favorites and new arrivals:
Dinner with Donatella Arpaia at Terra Mare
Acclaimed chefs Donatella Arpaia, PJ Calapa and Michael Chavez will host a beachfront dinner at Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach’s Terra Mare, where curated dishes from each toque and a selection of sips from beverage distributor Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits will be featured.
Tacos After Dark
Stroll along the stunning Loews Miami Beach pool while sampling more than a dozen of the nation’s best pork-, beef- and chicken-filled tacos and tequila-based tipples, hosted by Food Network personality Michael Symon.
Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka return to host this mouth-watering burger taste-off. Wash down the juicy patties with beer and wine while casting a vote for your favorite to take home the people’s choice award.
Clambake with Alex Guarnaschelli
Soak up ocean views and South Beach seafood served up by celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli and Conrad Ford Lauderdale executive chef Jorge Ramos atop the luxe hotel’s rooftop deck.
Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Ping Pong, Pizzas & Peroni
Everyone’s favorite (unofficial) event is back with host Vongerichten serving an Italian spread (and plenty of brews) for his chef buddies over a friendly round of ping pong at Four-Star The Miami Beach Edition.
Grand Tasting Village
Pace yourself through a smattering of more than 50 local restaurants serving their best sips and savories. The tents are grouped by Miami’s different dining districts, so you can sample your way around the entire city with your toes dipped in the sand.
Fun and Fit as a Family
Work up an appetite at this family-friendly event that lets parents and kids try their hand at whipping up healthy dishes and exercising together alongside Food Network and Cooking Channel personalities like Andrew Zimmern, Robert Irvine and Rocco DiSpirito.
Sunday, February 24
Bloody Mary Brunch
End your weekend on a high note with this jazz-accompanied spread from Food Network’s The Kitchen co-hosts Jeff Mauro and Geoffrey Zakarian. Set at Point Royal (Zakarian’s eatery inside The Diplomat Beach Resort), the indulgent brunch consists of roasted suckling pig, an extensive raw bar, bloody marys and a show-stopping dessert room to cap it all off.