MIAMI -- The South Beach Food and Wine Festival turns fifteen this year and as any Miami quinceañera will tell you, it's important to make a grand entrance.
On Thursday night, SOBEWFF officially kicked off a round of tastings, seminars, dinners, and parties that will take place at venues all over Miami Beach, spill over onto the mainland, and even make their way up to Fort Lauderdale for the first time. Miami obliged with an impossibly perfect day of pool-blue skies, shimmying palm trees, and tropical winter weather that could only be described as chilled champagne.
It was fitting that we started our own round of festival events with Paella & Tapas by the Pool hosted by chef José Andrés. Passing through the lobby of the SLS Hotel and walking through Andrés' Miami Beach restaurant The Bazaar, a black-clad army of hostesses ushered you down the stairs to the pool area where Andrés' team was standing over multiple moon-sized paella pans producing countless plates of duck confit paella with morel mushrooms, foie gras and duck tongue. It was a dish inspired by his friend chef Jean Louis Palladin. We asked Andrés what inspiration he found in Miami.
"[Florida] is the first place where a Spaniard came from old Europe and found a new world full of opportunity," he explained. "I was in the Spanish navy the first time time I came to the United States and so like them, I navigated my way here. We arrived in Pensacola where they were celebrating the Fiesta of Five Flags including the Spanish one. It may seem strange but that moment was very special."
It was easy to imagine the sailor come to shore as Andrés worked his way through the crowds, submitting to a steady onslaught of selfies, and ending up with a face full of lipstick marks to show for it.
Along the deck, a solid line up of mostly local chefs put out their best bites. José Icardi of Katsuya restaurant topped chu-toro nigiri sushi with Osetra cavier while Ernesto Lorenzo Veloz of Piripi went tropical with a poached octopus, avocado mousse and mango coulis. Wendy Lopez of Tapa Toro boiled a Spanish fabada down to the essential white bean purée, chorizo, morcilla, and braised pork belly in a jamón iberico broth while Juliana Gonzalez of Barceloneta made valentines with creamy burrata cheese over a beet red gazpacho. And still there was more.
It may have been the excitement of the the first day but guests were beaming as they floated between stations. For Patricia Sanchez Abril, an attorney born and raised in Miami who had never been to the festival before, it was a new experience. "I feel like I'm in an episode of the Food Network," she admitted with a laugh. "The Miami food scene has changed and now there's more diversity, availability, sophistication and excitement."
When you live in a city that's in a constant state of reinvention, it can be hard to keep up but its always worthwhile when you do.