South Beach Food and Wine Festival

As this years SOBE Food and Wine Fest approaches I’m reminiscing about the amazing experience I had at last year’s event…

The Miami morning sun beats down on my shoulders as I squirm, anxiously waiting outside the Whole Foods tasting pavilion.  I scurry down the sandy beach, receiving my welcome packet, wristband, and enormous Riedel wine glass – complete with a handy contraption that allows you to wear the glass around your neck, the bowl cradled between two hinges.  Yes, as I look around, everyone is willing to sacrifice fashion for the ease of having both hands free for maximum food sampling and transporting.  These are my people.

Finally, the gates open and I race to Tent A, hoping to get a front row seat for the first cooking demonstration with one of my favorite Italian legacies: Michael Chiarello.  The tent is equipped with a full size range, stove, and oven, complete with a mirror that allows audience members to gaze inside the pots and bowls to see the real action.  I giggle as the master of Napa Valley cuisine strolls onto the stage and I join the queue of fans hoping to get a photo with him.   I observe attentively as Michael prepares red wine drenched pasta and a sauté of spinach and prosciutto topped with a poached egg.

All this cooking is sure luring my appetite.  Next stop: the Grand Tasting Exhibition.  Hundreds of restaurants and food and beverage companies line the perimeters of massive outdoor tents, handing out scrumptious samples.  There’s fresh sushi, kobe beef sliders, butternut squash soup, bananas foster, and coconut gelato, not to mention wine, beer, and liquors hailing from every corner of the globe.  Men rush to the Belgian beer exhibit and ladies sip hand-made cocktails at the Sonnema VodkaHERB tiki bar.

Big name corporations like Green and Black Chocolates and Absolut Vodka are mingled with local restaurants and bakeries.  I join the thick crowds of ravenous people devouring tuna tartars and rum cakes while replenishing their glasses with Merlots and Chardonnays.    I must say, it’s a bit of a sensory overload.  Creamy sweet potato purée, donned with a sliver of caramelized duck breast, and perched atop a salty crisp is a symphony of flavors as it hits my tongue.  Paula Deen’s crisp mixed greens salad with sugared pecans and blue cheese is a welcome classic.  There’s even a booth that pairs French wines and cheeses- my favorite being the tangy combination of Riesling and Roquefort.

By the time the coastline radiates with the setting sun, I’ve seen everyone from Paula Deen and Claire Robinson to Michael Symon and Bobby Flay; I’ve eaten and drunk myself to the point of exhaustion and my camera is running out of memory space. Luckily, I’m toting bags full of chocolate, kitchen tools, spice mixes, and cookbooks to bring a bit of the whirlwind experience back to North Carolina.  Oh what a day…

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