10 reasons to be at Miami’s biggest food festival

It’s year 18 for the annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival, a five-day fest with more than 100 food and drink events across Miami. Stars of the culinary world – José Andrés, Michael Symon, Martha Stewart, Marcus Samuelsson, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Giada De Laurentiis, Andrew Zimmern, Bobby Flay, and many more – head to the Magic City February 20-24 to host dinners, cooking demos, wine tastings and cocktail competitions alongside acclaimed local chefs.

If some of those names have you thinking “Food Network,” it’s not a coincidence: the festival is put together by the Food Network and Cooking Channel to raise money for the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Florida International University. 

With so many events planned from brunch through late night, choosing which to sign up for is a little overwhelming – especially if you’re not trying to spend a whole paycheck. Here are 10 good bets, including less expensive options and big-ticket splurges. (Note that all tickets have surcharges, so mentally add up to $20 to the price before clicking through to buy.)

Need a hotel too? A handful of hotels are offering discounted rates for festival-goers, like the chic, eco-friendly 1 Hotel. Other popular options include The Standard, known for its extensive spa and infinity pool overlooking Biscayne Bay, and the modern Cadillac Hotel & Beach Club, an Art Deco-styled beachfront property that reopened in summer 2018 after a multimillion-dollar renovation.

Dinner with Nina Compton, Edouardo Jordan, Dolester Miles, and John Kunkel 

Thursday, February 21, from 7 to 10 p.m. at Yardbird (1600 Lennox Avenue)

There’s a lot of culinary talent packed into this one, starting with Edouardo Jordan of Seattle‘s JuneBaby, which was named best new restaurant in the 2018 James Beard Awards. Jordan also brought home the award for best chef in the Northwest. Joining him are fellow 2018 James Beard Award winners Nina Compton of Compère Lapin in New Orleans, named best chef in the South, and Dolester Miles of Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham, Ala., recipient of the outstanding pastry chef honor.

All three head to restaurateur John Kunkel’s Yardbird Southern Table & Bar to collaborate on an all-star meal. Tickets are $250. 

Tacos After Dark with Michael Symon 

Thursday, February 21, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Loews Miami Beach Hotel (1601 Collins Avenue)

Is there anything America loves more than tacos? The fan favorite gets the late-night treatment at this poolside party hosted by Michael Symon. Several chefs will be churning out pork, chicken and beef tacos while you eat your way through the lineup and sip tequila-based cocktails. Tickets are $150.

We Are Immigrants: The Hospitality Industry and the Need for Immigration Reform

Friday, February 22, from 11:15 to 11:45 a.m. at Grand Tasting Village (13th Street and Ocean Drive)

The Grand Tasting Village is one of the main events of the five-day festivalThe Grand Tasting Village is one of the main events of the five-day festival — Photo courtesy of South Beach Wine & Food Festival

The South Beach Wine & Food Festival may be first and foremost a party, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for serious conversation. James Beard Award-winning chef and humanitarian José Andrés and Emmy and Peabody Award-winning broadcast journalist María Elena Salinas lead a discussion on immigration policies and what they mean for the restaurant industry.

It’s free to attend but RSVP first. 

Heineken Light Burger Bash 

Friday, February 22, from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. at Marriott Rewards North Venue, Beachside at The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach (1 Lincoln Road)

Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka host this culinary competition, with attendees testing out hamburgers and casting votes for the people’s choice award. Meanwhile, celeb judges, including Al Roker and Run-DMC’s Rev Run (a.k.a Joseph Simmons, Cooking Channel host), will be also voting to see which burger is best. 

A $250 ticket gets you as many bites as you can handle. Expect beer (Heineken Light, as the event name implies) and wine as well. 

Art of Tiki Cocktail Showdown

Friday, February 22, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Kimpton Surfcomber Hotel (1717 Collins Avenue)

Colorful Mai Tais and Zombies adorned with paper umbrellas might not be an actual thing in Polynesia, but that doesn’t stop the obsession with “tiki” drinks (rum and tropical fruit – what’s not to love?). Chopped‘s Ted Allen, a culinary competition expert, will be on hand to guide this tiki cocktail contest between area bartenders.

Attendees can make their own judgments as they sip the concoctions. There will be snacks too, to balance out the alcohol. Tickets are $95. 

Bootcamp & Bites

Saturday, February 23, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., 1 Hotel South Beach (2341 Collins Avenue)

Those in need of a break from all the eating and drinking – perhaps especially the drinking – can sign up for a morning workout with TV chef, cookbook author and fitness aficionado Robert Irvine. Don’t worry: After you build up an appetite with the exercise, there will be food to fuel up on. Tickets are $50. 

Goya Foods’ Grand Tasting Village

Saturday, February 23, from noon to 5 p.m. at 13th Street and Ocean Drive 

The signature event of the festival, the Grand Tasting Village is an all-you-can-eat experience with bites and libations from more than 50 restaurants. The restaurants will be grouped together, with each group repping a South Florida district. While you roam the tent, sampling savory and sweet nibbles, Food Network and Cooking Channel chefs will do demos on stage. 

There are a few ticket options, starting at $191.25. 

Vegan Dinner with Plant Miami and Vedge

Saturday, February 23, at 7 to 10 p.m. at Plant Miami (105 NE 24th Street) 

If you can’t even look at another piece of meat after the Burger Bash, keep it plant-based for a night. Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby of the renowned vegetable-focused Vedge in Philadelphia head to vegan hot spot Plant Miami to cook with Plant’s executive chef Horacio Rivadero and pastry chef Veronica Manolizi. The stylish indoor/outdoor restaurant serves biodynamic wines and a creative vegan, kosher, organic menu – think mushroom ropa vieja, jackfruit and pineapple tacos, and avocado lime tarts.

Tickets are $175. Rivadero and Manolizi are also hosting a cooking class and dinner the next day ($150).

Midnight Eats: An Espanola Way Block Party

Saturday, February 23, from midnight to 2 a.m. at Espanola Way (the entrance is at Washington Avenue) 

Like Miami itself, this event has a lot going on. Let’s break it down: Espanola Way is a pedestrian-only stretch of South Beach’s Art Deco district with shops, hotels and restaurants. Extra Virgin‘s Debi Mazar (actress, cookbook author) and Gabriele Corcos (chef, cookbook author, husband to Debi Mazar) are hosting a block party on Espanola Way complete with all types of food, plus cocktails from Bar Lab, the team behind the hugely popular Broken Shaker.

Not enough? Rev Run of Run-DMC will be providing the night’s soundtrack. Tickets are $95. 

Family Ice Cream Social

Sunday, February 24, from 3 to 5 p.m. at Loews Miami Beach Hotel (1601 Collins Avenue)

If you’re got the kids in tow (or just want ice cream – no judgment), try the ice cream party hosted by Buddy Valastro of Cake Boss. Unlike a lot of the other South Beach Wine & Food Festival events, which are designed for those 21 and up, this casual, outdoor event is family-friendly. More than a dozen local dessert shops will be offering treats. Tickets are $35 for kids and $75 for grownups. 

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