South Beach Wine & Food Festival Grand Tasting 2009

“Don’t let some chef sit up here and tell you how to eat. I can teach you how to cook–not how to eat.” - Tom Colicchio

This was my first year attending the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, which experienced a name reversal this year. Whew. For a moment, I thought I had been getting it wrong for years.

I attended the Grand Tasting on Saturday (by invitation), which according to Cindy Hutson of Ortanique, is much less crowded than Sunday. She refused to do the Sunday craziness this year, but she said that she still really enjoys working at the Festival.

I was disappointed that I arrived too late to see Martha Stewart and Rick Bayless do their cooking demonstrations. The cooking stages have a viewer-friendly set up with wide overhead mirrors and open sightlines. I did get to see a very genteel, Southern-accented Cat Cora prepare tasty looking crab cake sandwiches with avocado salsa and mango coulis.

Tom Colicchio was my favorite. He was articulate and savvy, with a good sense of humor. He urged us all to free ourselves from recipes, as he demonstrated techniques for making and cooking with vinaigrettes. As he prepared a fish with vinaigrette, someone asked how done the fish should be. Colicchio said that people should prepare the fish to their liking: “Don’t let some chef sit up here and tell you how to eat. I can teach you how to cook–not how to eat.” As he cooked the fish, he said, “Just leave the pan alone. All that back and forth with the flames shooting out-that’s for TV.”


There was of course, the requisite yelling of “Why did Fabio go home, and not Stefan?” I’m sure he gets that a lot, but Colicchio seemed nonplussed as he answered for what was probably the hundredth time about how the judges only see the chefs at serving time, Chef’s Table, and perhaps for some moments in the kitchen.


Someone asked about the recession and Colicchio spoke about the ways his Craft restaurants were getting creative: “We at Craft are trying to create new experiences, instead of just taking a few dollars off wine.” For example, at Damon: Frugal Friday, Craft uses its private dining room to serve enticing small plates, all 10$ and under. Take heed, South Florida restaurants.

The crowds at the Grand Tasting required some negotiating, but there was always a table open, and lines tended to move quickly. One of my favorite parts of the festival, food-wise, was the Spanish tent, with its jamones, cheeses, and paella. The paella was made by Lyon + Lyon, the folks who cater for the Wolfsonian, and the “Lyon” of Fratelli Lyon. I also had two helpings of the seafood salad with sweet and sour cherry tomatoes from Gia Italian Kitchen and Bar, which is located in the Eden Roc hotel. Plugra Butter had a whole stand set up, with Dale and Dewey LoSasso of North One 10 at the helm. Someone had recommended the bread pudding made with Plugra, and they did not steer me wrong. Also incredible were Chef LoSasso’s herbed pretzels with caviar compound butter and smoked salmon. I was taking whole bites of compound butter, but I felt like I was eating cheese. I could eat a whole stick of that compound butter. Also noteworthy was an alligator picadillo made by the staff from the Governor’s Mansion, if only for the novelty. It tasted like well, picadillo. And it sure is local.

Here’s another impression of SBW&F 2009, by Ed Levine of Serious Eats. I have to agree with his opinion that some people felt that it was an “8-hour-long open bar.” However, if that’s what people wanted, then they got what they paid for. The seriously fabulous weather and serene beach setting could only contribute to the indulgence and decadence. Over-indulgence, for some. The chefs wear flip flops for a reason. This is Miami, and yes we are getting more serious about food, but Miami always wants its fun too.

Despite the recession, there was record attendance this year.

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