BY ANGELA CARAWAY-CARLTON
Every year the South Beach Wine & Food Festival impresses with star-studded dinners, grand tastings and evening extravaganzas overflowing with wine and food. This year’s event comprises more than 100 events around South Florida. But what really happens behind the scenes to pull off one of the biggest foodie festivals? From the revered Tribute Dinner (where 3,200 glasses are used for wine pairings throughout the night) to Wine Spectator’s Best of the Best and the long-running Burger Bash with more than 57,000 burger patties, Festival experts dish on what it takes to make culinary magic happen—even when the food doesn’t arrive on time. Feb. 19-23, sobewff.org.
President & Founder: Randy Fisher
Culinary Related Entertainment and Marketing (CREaM)
The Event: Heineken Burger Bash
Festival founder Lee Brian Schrager asked Fisher to produce the very first Burger Bash in 2007, and, if you count the sister festival in New York City, he’s produced all 25 since then. With numbers like 57,600 burger patties, 1,182 gallons of Heineken Light, 16 varieties of cheese and 89 propane tanks, this is a monstrous production to pull off, yet Fisher makes the long-running event under the white tents on the beach look easy.
With stats showing around 11,250 pounds of beef on the grill, how do you prepare for that? Events like this are logistical monsters, with many moving parts, personalities, and potential problems and our success comes from clear and concise communication with all of our stakeholders. For example, we get into the minds of the chefs when planning with them and we’ve come to appreciate the subtleties of the kitchens they are coming from when they walk onto the sand to prepare 2,000 burgers for our anxious and excited guests. Managing expectations goes a long way.
Over the course of all the years, what’s your most memorable moment? We have a ton of great memories, but one highlight was the 10th-year celebration. Buddy Valastro, the Cake Boss, surprised Rachael Ray with a sensational 400-pound burger cake that we forklifted onto the stage. There was a culinary who’s-who with us singing “Happy Birthday,” complete with indoor fireworks, a 2,000-person Champagne toast, and huge cheers from the crowd. It was a truly great celebration for what has become the best-known and most successful burger event in the country. Clearly, Lee Schrager and Rachael knew that this thing had long legs.
What is your main job in preparing for and executing Burger Bash? Since we’re constantly on the lookout for the very best burgers in the country for Burger Bash that’s pretty much where our responsibility starts each cycle. Once invites go out, we plan every detail including menus, food procurement, equipment sourcing and staffing. And that’s just the stuff that takes place “behind the curtain”—we also design the event by overseeing decor, entertainment and the run of show. Everything you see at Burger Bash, our team has touched in one way or another.
What’s the most stressful thing that’s ever happened during Burger Bash? Our anxiety comes from those things we cannot control, like all of Mother Nature’s tricks. But trust me, there have been plenty of restless nights caused by portable refrigeration units filled with tens of thousands of raw burger patties. Overnight temperature monitors have done wonders for my sleep. And, there was that one time a champion’s buns mysteriously went missing right before the doors opened, but that’s a story for another time.
How many burgers do people eat on average that night? And, are there ever leftovers? I have stopped trying to figure out the answer to this magic question and typically just reply: a lot. I counsel people to pace themselves by taking a bite or two, but never three of any one burger. We have 32 burgers out there; there’s really no other way to get through them all. We do have leftovers and we have created a very effective food recovery plan that allows us to safely collect unused product for a local food bank partner.
Executive Chef: Frederic Delaire
Loews Miami Beach Hotel
The Event: Tribute Dinner
For the last 19 years, Loews Miami Beach Hotel has served as the Host Hotel of SOBEWFF — and for more than 10, Executive Chef Frederic Delaire has been at the helm of the hotel’s flurry of culinary events and activations, including Tribute Dinner, Tacos After Dark, Oyster Bash and Southern Brunch. The Tribute Dinner is by far the most complex: a 500-person, multi-course meal that requires precise timing, plating and service—yet Delaire doesn’t seem to break a sweat. Even the late Anthony Bourdain gave props to Delaire at the 2017 Tribute Dinner, remarking, “It’s the man with the earpiece who is truly running the show.”
For the 2019 Tribute Dinner, you served 2,500 plates, had 52 chefs plating and 120 servers running food, with each course served in under eight minutes. How do you do it? Preparations for a night like this take several weeks. First, we get the list of chefs who’ll be attending and then send a very detailed email asking questions that are critical for putting together their dishes. We then put everything into a master plan grid that’s distributed to all of our teams. For a few days leading up to the dinner, we meet with our visiting chefs, explain the run of show, walk them around the culinary facilities. The whole experience is similar to a theatrical production where you run your lines, mark your spots on stage and wait for the curtain to rise.
Do you have any special way of communicating or protocols in place?
On the night of the Tribute Dinner, the key chefs on my team will be on radio. We’re like the secret service, but in chef coats. We keep constant communication, since you never know when timelines for service will shift. In the plating room, we place pictures of each dish on the wall with all components, so staff knows what needs to be done and where each ingredient goes. We also place an enlarged version of the evening’s timeline on the wall to keep track of each course and the pace of
What’s the most stressful thing that’s ever happened during SOBEWFF for you? One year, a guest chef shipped important items that he’d prepared from his restaurant and the package got lost in transit. We had to think fast and order everything the chef needed, in addition to providing him with additional staff, to prep the food. It was a scramble, but we made it happen and I’m glad we did, because everything he shipped arrived the day after
With five days of SOBEWFF events at your hotel, how do you keep the regular food and beverage program running smoothly? Once the Festival events are organized, we turn the focus onto our food and beverage outlets and guest offerings. The team knows they’ll work long hours, and during the course of that week, we’ll accumulate hundreds of hours of overtime. We also have a large volume of VIP guests in house that week, as well as festival guests, so we create a customized in-room amenity that is festival-themed, along with passed welcome amenities in the lobby. Last year, we did burger macaroons for Burger Bash. All of these culinary touches help our guests feel like they’re part of the event on a daily basis.
Vice President of Culinary: Thomas Connell
Fontainebleau Miami Beach
The Event: Wine Spectator’s Best of the Best
With the word “best” in the title, this coveted event showcases 60 of the nation’s top chefs creating gourmet samplings paired with more than 100 wines rated 90 points or higher on Wine Spectator’s scale. This year will be Connell’s 10th as host, a gig for which his day-to-day responsibilities include the coordination of chefs and all of the property’s signature restaurants including Scarpetta, Hakkasan and StripSteak by Michael Mina—and, of course, when it’s time for SOBEWFF, Connell has to keep it all together (including a back-up plan for little blips, like running out of wine glasses).
What’s your most memorable moment that most attendees wouldn’t know about? A few years ago, one of the chefs’ product was destroyed in shipping from his restaurant and he showed up less than 12 hours before the event started and had no food. It took a big team effort to procure and assemble all of his ingredients to be able to make it in time. We made it with literally minutes to spare.
What’s the most stressful aspect of Best of the Best for your team? The most stressful thing about the event is the event itself; coordinating 50-plus chefs to be able to execute in our kitchens. There is always a high level of intensity, but we did have one year where it seemed most of the chefs were late or less organized and the panic level amongst a few got too high. My job in that situation is to fight fire with water and defuse the panic by reassuring everyone that we will make it on time, then push the support teams and the FIU hospitality students, whom I could not do this without.
How do you hold it together under all that stress? I’ve worked in kitchens and high-stress environments for 35 years and learned how to keep my cool. If my ears get hot, I need to be quiet, take a minute and go in the cooler to settle down before I continue. The key is to control yourself to keep poise and focus.
What surprises can people expect this year? At the Best of the Best, the level of product and refinement is always getting better and I look forward to being able to showcase this to all the guests of the Festival. We will see the use of more high-end ingredients and more complex pairings with the wines.
This year, there are a record number of SOBEWFF events right in Aventura’s backyard, and there’s something for everyone.
For the carnivore
Meat lovers can’t miss this intimate dinner where self-proclaimed carnivore Michael Symon teams up with acclaimed Chef Michael Mina at his popular Aventura steakhouse at the JW Miami Turnberry Resort. Mingle with these celeb chefs while sipping wines from the Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits portfolio. Feb. 20, Bourbon Steak by Michael Mina
For the seafood lover
Pretend like you’ve escaped to the Bahamas at A Taste of Atlantis Dinner with culinary greats Chef Angelo Elia and the masterminds behind Atlantis, Paradise Island’s food and beverage program team (where Elia has a restaurant). Expect an Italian-meets-island theme with a five-course tasting menu infused with Bahamian flavors and locally inspired cocktails. Feb. 21, Casa D’Angelo Aventura
For the family
Foodies of all ages can enjoy a family-friendly flick under the stars in Hallandale Beach with beloved host Valerie Bertinelli at Foodie Movie Night in the Park. Catch the movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs while sampling wine and other family-friendly beverages, along with bites from some of South Florida’s best food trucks. Feb. 22, Hallandale Beach
For the music lover
Concert on the beach? Yes, please! Snag tickets to the Nu Deco Ensemble Evening of Wine, Food & Music, where these eclectic musicians will put an untraditional and fun spin on the orchestra experience, along with a special performance by Run-DMC’s front man Rev. Run. Nosh on bites from food hall Politan Row Miami. Feb. 22, North Beach Bandshell