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5 Changes to Look for at This Year's South Beach Wine & Food Festival

Form an expanded slate of events in Fort Lauderdale to more seated dinners, this year's festival has new things to offer.

By Tracy Block February 21, 2018, 7:01 AM EST

The Food Network & Cooking Channel’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival kicks off its slate of more than 100 events tonight.

Photo: Seth Browarnik/WorldRedEye.com

More than 100 events are slated for the 17th installment of the Food Network & Cooking Channel’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival, which kicks off tonight and runs through Sunday. From a first-time Family Ice Cream Social with Duff Goldman to panels such as Predicting Future Food Trends: Big Data in an Evolving Industry, there is an event for every eater and imbiber touching down in Miami—or Fort Lauderdale. “We are all about adding value and enhancement for everyone participating,” says festival founder Lee Brian Schrager.

Here’s a look at five big-picture themes in store for this year’s extravaganza.

1. Continued Northern Expansion
In 2016, Broward County welcomed its first—and only—event of the festival. Now, the Crave Greater Fort Lauderdale Series counts 11 events within its borders. “The response over the last three years has been amazing, extraordinary,” Schrager says. “It’s better than we had ever hoped for.” Participating venues include the Diplomat Beach Resort, Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach, W Fort Lauderdale, Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale, Casa D’Angelo Ristorante, and Broward Center for the Performing Arts. From the return of Geoffrey Zakarian’s Grand Bloody Mary Brunch (co-hosted by Aaron Sanchez) to the relocation of popular, signature event Lucky Chopsticks from Miami Beach, Schrager expects every Fort Lauderdale event to sell out.

However, don’t expect to see the festival’s signature beach tent on this northern turf. “It isn’t that we don’t want to do a tent on the beach—the sand is too soft,” says Schrager. “That is the only issue. We wanted to, but it’s a limitation. We really have the best part [of the beach] in Miami, which is why we have been there all these years.”

2. More Health-Conscious Events
Previously, events such as Badia Spices’ Fun and Fit as a Family and Buddhas and Bellinis may have seemed like outliers at a food festival. But Schrager, who has a passion for yoga himself, said health-focused events can draw in a new demographic to the food festival.

Chef Robert Irvine, who has authored a wellness cookbook and founded Robert Irvine Foods to improve the nutrition of food products, will host Barry’s Bootcamp and Bites at 1 Hotel South Beach Saturday morning. Other events are geared toward vegetables and plant-driven foods. Vegetable Dinner hosted by Anita Lo, Amanda Cohen, and Kinsler Josaime takes place at Soul Tavern Thursday night, while Plant Miami takes over Sacred Space Miami for a master class about superfoods and local biodynamic produce hosted by chef Horacio Rivadero.

“This is a way of living and a lifestyle that our audience is interested in, and we know our audience,” says Schrager.

3. More Intimate Experiences
Another trend that continues to grow in popularity is the seated dinner. This year will have 33 seated events—approximately one-third of the total event offerings—with more than 20 sold out to-date. “Every week, I ask, ‘How many dinners do we have?’ We were so nervous that we had too many, but they will all sell out, of course,” Schrager says.

According to the founder, guests want smaller, more intimate experiences. “The more we keep adding, the more we sell out, even though people say I’m crazy,” Schrager says.

On Wednesday’s opening night, barbecue guru Chris Lilly joins hosting venue the Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach’s chef Jorge Ramos to deliver a Jim Beam Black comfort food pairing under the stars. Thursday night’s dinner hosted by Michael Schulson and Chris Consentino spotlights Hollywood’s current hot spot Monkitail Sushi Room, while Friday night’s Shabbat Dinner curated by Joan Nathan with Michael Solomonov, Michelle Bernstein, Zak Stern, and Adeena Sussman features Jewish delicacies at the Ritz-Carlton, Bal Harbour’s Artisan Beach House.

4. Curating a South Beach Soundtrack
Last year’s festival, which attracted 60,000 attendees, had a millennial-centric goal, with heavy cocktail culture and entertainment components. Two of the festival’s 2017 events will return this year, including the Saturday-night Bacardi party (being billed as Walshy Fire’s Rum & Bass Beach Party) and the David Grutman Experience at Sunday’s Grand Tasting, which will bring big-name house DJ Alesso to the decks. In addition, long-time sponsor Thrillist’s new installment of Midnight Eats: An Espanola Way Block Party will merge the culinary talents of chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten with eccentric DJ-turned-food enthusiast Action Bronson. “Food is a great complement to music,” Schrager says.

5. Bringing Back Barbecue
Synonymous with South Beach Wine & Food Festivals of years past are the copious amounts of meat served throughout the weekend. From the Burger Bash to signature barbecue events (over the years, there was Bubble Q, the Q, and Meatopia), the weekend-long festivities have catered to the carnivorous crowd. After Schrager put barbecue on a hiatus last year, it’s back at the festival closer: Michael Symon’s Coca-Cola Beachside BBQ, which will take over the north venue tents on Sunday night. Attendees can anticipate an array of smoked, braised proteins, from pulled pork to beef, turkey, and chicken.

“It’s probably one of the best menus across the board,” Schrager says. “Barbecue is what put us on the map. There’s no question about that.”

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