South Beach Wine & Food Fest: Inside Black-Tie Dinners, Beach Bashes, and Tasting Tents

The massive culinary event featured celebrity chefs, big brand activations, and the return of Paula Deen.

By Tracy Block with additional reporting by Beth Kormanik February 25, 2014, 6:28 PM EST

At the Grand Tasting, Del Monte's banana mascot posed for photos with guests. The fruit-theme activation included a chandelier made from bunches of bananas.

Photo: Elizabeth Renfrow for BizBash

The 13th annual Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival, which ran Thursday to Sunday, mixed its signature events such as the Burger Bash and the Grand Tasting with new parties, each with its own look.

The North End tent, which hosted the bulk of the high-traffic events throughout the weekend, was able to continuously reinvent itself from one affair to the next, with decor and entertainment elements courtesy of Panache Party Rentals: A Classic Party Rentals Company, and a production squad with planners from companies including Designs by Sean and Just to Please You that worked around the clock to strip each theme and replace it with another in a matter of hours.

“Basically the site became a 24-hour production, essentially running two shifts each day once we started with the Q event on Thursday night,” said Kelly Murphy, event manager of Moet Hennessy’s the Q. “Much thought was given by the event teams to create some fun elements and reposition seating or add activations each night as well the complete change of themes and inspirations. … This is a team of incredible talent that are very familiar with the festival and the nuances of working on the sand and certainly all have plans B, C, and D in their back pocket.”

New events fared well, with popular debuts of Flaunt at Delano, Mix It Up With Morimoto and Friends at Shelborne Wyndham Grand South Beach, and the Rockin’ Beach Party hosted by Emeril Lagasse and rock legend Sammy Hagar. The variety of events catered to a versatile crowd, from the affluent crowd, which attended the $1,500-a-person Ocean Liner dinner with Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, Daniel Boulud, Francois Payard, and others, to the health-conscious, who indulged in the first Vegetarian Dinner hosted by Alfred Portale and Alex Guarnaschelli.

Highlight activations included Esurance’s SavorBands, which encouraged guests in the North End tents, to swipe their N.F.C.-enabled bracelets to collect recipes and discounts from participating vendors. Groupon created a custom silk-screen tote bag for attendees who experimented with the site’s new search functions. At the Grand Tasting, Evian returned with its popular photo booth, this time incorporating a projection of the participant’s future offspring, and DO AC promoted travel to Atlantic City via swag from a Twitter-operated vending machine that dispensed free wine bottle koozies.

While the lineup again provided a slew of celebrity chefs hosting events, one unannounced name created a lot of buzz over the weekend. Paula Deen, formerly a fixture at the festival, appeared at multiple events. Deen is embarking on a reputation rehabilitation campaign following her admission that she had used a racial slur and criticisms over an endorsement deal for a diabetes drug. She received warm greetings from her fans and made another public apology.

Sign up for the BizBash Daily - stay current with the event industry.
Your email inquiry will be sent to 3 venue