So much wine (and food), so little time.
How else to explain the bacchanalian bash that is the 7-year-old South Beach Wine & Food Festival? Over the course of four days, the event, which concluded Sunday, showcased some 200 wine and spirits makers and 75-plus restaurants, plus an assortment of exhibitors promoting everything from pasta sauces to chef-inspired footwear.
This isn't a trade show: It's a huge party, with a budget of around $5 million, that has arguably become the most prominent culinary festival in the country. (The closest competitor is the Aspen Food & Wine Classic.)
There's the sex and sizzle of its Miami Beach oceanfront setting -- the festival's "Grand Tasting Village" sits literally on the beach, just steps from the Atlantic. But the festival has also benefitted from the TV factor: Because of its partnership with the Food Network, the festival now features just about every major celebrity chef, often in one-of-a-kind events.
And so, Rachael Ray had her "Burger Bash," in which restaurateurs from around the country competed for the honors of best burger. Giada De Laurentiis had her BubbleQ, as in bubbles (Champagne) and barbecue (from more than 20 star chefs). Emeril Lagasse had his "Sugar Shack," showcasing some of his signature desserts. And Paula Deen had "Paula's Poker Party," featuring Southern food, courtesy of James Beard award-winning cookbook authors Matt and Ted Lee, and gambling galore (with play money).Not that there isn't a more serious and educational side to South Beach. For starters, the festival serves as a fundraiser for Florida International University's School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, bringing in $2 million this year alone. It's also something of an open classroom -- students at the school do much of the behind-the-scenes cooking and prep work.
Plus, the festival's programs aren't all so party-minded. This year, South Beach incorporated a family expo emphasizing healthy eating and fitness -- perhaps something of a contradictory message at a bash where foie gras constitutes its own food group, but an important one just the same.