The Untold Truth Of The South Beach Wine & Food Festival

Each year, the South Beach Wine & Food Festival takes over the sands of Miami Beach and beyond. The multi-day event attracts thousands of people who clamor to eat, drink, and see their favorite celebrity chefs in person. According to the festival's site, The South Beach Wine & Food Festival (SOBEWFF) just celebrated its 20th year this past May, but it wasn't always a huge event spanning a long weekend.

SOBEWFF started out as a small event called the Florida Extravaganza. The event offered tastings of wines from around the world, paired with food from Miami restaurants. The event also had local South Florida chefs working in tandem with students from Florida International University's School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. The school, located in Miami, has become a beneficiary of the festival, with proceeds from ticket sales benefitting the school.

The beginning of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival

In 2002, the director of special events and media relations for Southern Wine & Spirits of America took over the Florida Extravaganza. They moved the festival to South Beach and renamed it the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. The inaugural SOBEWFF featured a host of dinners, seminars, a live auction, and an event called the BubbleQ, which paired champagne and barbecue dishes. The first SOBEWFF also held its first Grand Tasting Village, where literally hundreds of wines and spirits could be sampled. The event proved a success, with over 7,000 people attending.

The first South Beach Wine & Food Festival already had an impressive roster of culinary talent, with the likes of Alain Ducasse, Todd English, François Payard, Chris Lilly, Armen Petrossian, and Joshua Wesson as some of the chefs participating in the various dinners and seminars. The first year, the emphasis was on restaurateurs and chefs, with celebrities joining the party in the future. 

Spring break for chefs

In 2003, the festival started attracting celebrity chefs. Appearances by Bobby Flay, Eric Ripert, Rocco DiSpirito, Alton Brown, Tom Colicchio, and other high profile celebrities joined he festival to host dinners, conduct cooking demonstrations, and more. Over time, Food Network became a title sponsor of the festival. According to BizBash, the sponsorship allowed Food Network to build its brand. In turn, the festival gained access to its roster of celebrity chefs. 

The festival got the nickname, "spring break for chefs", according to the Miami New Times, with chefs seizing the opportunity to eat and drink in South Beach after their festival duties were over. Anthony Bourdain would famously hang out in a Miami Beach dive bar called Mac's Club Deuce while making an appearance at the festival. Time Out reported that Bourdain loved the bar so much, he featured it in an episode of his show, "The Layover."

A party for pups

The South Beach Wine & Food Festival has had its share of creative events that cater to everyone from wine lovers to chocolate fanatics, but nothing beats the time the festival went to the dogs.

The first Yappie Hour was hosted by Rachael Ray and sponsored by her pet food company, Nutrish. According to Chewy, the fête was attended by dogs and their owners — all dressed in their finest. Humans sipped on cocktails and wine while dogs were treated to snacks from Ray's dog food line. Highlights of this canine-friendly fete included am ice sculpture shaped like a fire hydrant, a giant burger-shaped treat tower, and butlers carrying around silver trays loaded with treats. 

The Yappie Hour was an annual hit with dog owners. While Ray hosted the event several times, celebrities like Katie Lee and Ted Allen also hosted the annual event that allowed two different species to get together to have a good time in the Florida sun (via Miami New Times).

Music and food at the Festival

The South Beach Festival has also seen its share of top musical performers. Some musicians and singers have appeared at the festival after having dipped their toes into the culinary arena. Some notable musicians-turned-foodies include Rev Run from Run DMC, per Miami New Times. The musician and ordained minister has a Cooking Channel show called "Sunday Suppers" and is a frequent festival host. 

Country songbird Trisha Yearwood also hosts a down-home country brunch at the festival where she sometimes graces guests with a song or two, according to Food Network

The festival has also hosted live concerts by some top tier talent. Past musical guests have included Ziggy Marley, Sammy Hagar, and KC and the Sunshine Band. This past year, the festival celebrated its 20th anniversary with a performance by the Chainsmokers. 

For several years, the festival's Grand Tasting Village was also home to the "David Grutman Experience," per the Miami Herald. Hosted by Miami nightlife guru, David Grutman, who owns LIV nightclub in Miami Beach, the "Experience" would bring internationally-known DJs to the festival.

The New York City Wine and Food Festival

In 2007, the South Beach Wine & Food Festival expanded to the Big Apple with the first annual New York City Wine & Food Festival (NYCWFF) according to Eater. The multi-day festival took some of the best-loved events of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, like the Burger Bash and Grand Tasting Village, and gave them a New York twist. New events were created just for New York, like the Broadway Brunch, which featured performances by actors on Broadway.

The festival, now in its 14th year, raises funds and awareness for New Yorkers with food insecurities. Organizations like God's Love We Deliver and Food Bank For New York City benefit from this festival, according to the NYCWFF site.

Since many chefs call New York City home, the festival draws top-tier names like Giada De Laurentiis, Alex Guarnaschelli, Geoffrey Zakarian, Eric Ripert, and Martha Stewart.