This year the South Beach Wine and Food Festival (SOBEWFF) celebrated its 20th anniversary, and as expected, delivered until the very last day.
Although COVID restrictions were in place, the city was flooded with celebrity chefs, including Andrew Zimmern, Geoffrey Zakarian and Bobby Flay. Only about 25,000 people attended this year, a third the usual amount, and there were 74 events, far fewer than the 111 last year. There were dogs sniffing out attendees to make sure they didn’t have COVID, temperatures were taken at entry points, and an app questioned whether people had been exposed to the disease.
One of the celebrities present was Guy Fieri, a California chef who has hosted many TV shows, including “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and authored several books. He hosted the festival’s barbecue and champagne event – BubbleQ. The event that started at SOBEWFF two decades ago and helped put South Beach on the culinary map hadn’t been held for several years. But it came back this past Saturday afternoon.
To ensure the health and safety of the staff, talent and attendees, BubbleQ on the beach at Lincoln Road was split into two sessions. Both had the same wine and spirits, ambiance and culinary personalities. Festival-goers were only allowed to enter one session priced at $250, and were not granted access to the other.
Randy Fisher is the president and founder of Culinary Related Entertainment and Marketing. His goal was to keep everyone safe while creating a fun experience for all.
“There were two big challenges. One was perception so that people who had not attended the event in a long time understood that we were going to create an event that was safe for them, and the other challenge was designing that space so that it still works.”
Proceeds from the festival benefit the students of the Florida International University Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management who assisted festival organizers in festival planning, logistics and overall execution. In its first 19 years, the event raised $31.8 million for the school.
FIU student Chris Hernandez volunteered at this year’s festival. “This is a great opportunity not only for restaurants but also for students,” he said.
Hernandez, a public relations and advertising student at the Biscayne Bay campus, was recruited for the guest services team and handed out disinfecting wipes for those people looking to take a break and sit at a table to enjoy their bites.
This was among the first big food festivals to take place during COVID and everyone seemed to be relaxed while enjoying creations from more than 20 chefs and sipping on crisp Moët & Chandon champagne.
One of the chefs invited was Eileen Andrade, who will open Barbakoa by Finka in September at The Doral Yard. “This is my favorite week of the year,” she said. “This is my first time doing BubbleQ. This is amazing. Champagne and barbecue, you can’t ask for anything else.”
Attendees tried a variety of sliders from beef to seafood, and in between some pork and poultry.
SOBEWFF will be back next year to celebrate its 21st birthday. In other words, the festival will be legally old enough to drink.
Tentative dates are February 24 to 27. The festival’s honoree: Guy Fieri.