SOBEWFF Recap: Grand Tasting Village
A culinary extravaganza!

Just like the other big cultural festival in Miami, Art Basel, the South Beach Wine & Food Festival consists of a variety of different events simultaneously occurring over a period of several days. The main event every year at SOBEWFF occurs at the Grand Tasting Village right on the sands of Miami Beach with the rolling surf and hot bodies working on their tans only steps away. Hosted this year by Whole Foods Market, the Grand Tasting Village was a sensory overload for any lover of food, wine, and spirits. Besides sampling food from over 35 local restaurants, there were also representatives from vacation destinations, new food and cooking products to try out, cocktails made with some well-known and not-so-well-known liquors, and lot’s of wine. In between getting tipsy and nibbling on tasty morsels, attendees were able to watch cooking demonstrations from some of the most popular TV cooking personalities like Anne Burrell, Emeril Lagasse, Guy Fieri, Paula Deen, and many others. Occurring over a two day period, here are some highlights from the first day of the Grand Tasting Village on Saturday, February 23rd.

Despite the large number of restaurants and exhibitors participating in the event, there seemed to be an even larger number of festival-goers, which made for long lines at some of the more desirable booths. Nevertheless, patient foodies were duly awarded with some pretty tasty bites that represented a mixed bag of South Florida dining - everything from higher-end restaurants to local fast food chains. A few standouts that didn’t require such long wait times included some tasty pub fare by Gravity Brewlab, the standard-bearer of the locally-made beer scene in Miami. Offerings included a Gravity Brew braised veal meatball with micro basil that could best be described as a drunken meatball, as well as a sweetened stout-braised “organic raised pork belly” with beer bread.

Miami food truck, Palate Party, was present with a perfect dish for the balmy Saturday afternoon: a honeydew and cucumber gazpacho topped with a blue fin crab salsa a drizzled with chili oil. In addition to providing an elegant rendition of the cold soup, they were showcasing and promoting sustainable local seafood. Suviche offered a nice take on a traditional Peruvian ceviche, although a few festival-goers were a little dismayed at their use of swai instead of a better quality, local fish. Serafina South Beach, the newest location of the Northern Italian restaurant giant, was also present with perfectly made ravioli stuffed with imported ricotta.

Mercadito Midtown was handing out the miniature tacos that they have become so famous for, the ones at the Grand Tasting Village being filled with a Michoacan style carnitas, mexican slaw, and peanuts. Devon Seafood + Steak, which had just opened not too long ago in Kendall, demonstrated its skill at dishing out American seafood classics with their New England style lobster rolls in bruschetta form.

There were also a great deal of Caribbean tourist destinations represented at the event, and many of them appealed to foodies with samples of their native dishes. While Trinidad and Tobago’s chicken and potato roti bites were delicious, Curaçao’s keshi yená was something that one could definitely crave on a regular basis. The dish, which means “stuffed cheese” in Papiamentu, nods to the island’s Dutch heritage with gouda cheese stuffed with a zesty mixture of seasoned ground chicken and raisins.

While trying to sample dishes from the various restaurants and exhibitors proved to be an arduous exercise in patience at times, getting a delicious cocktail was easier at the Grand Tasting Village than perhaps anywhere else. Leblon cachaça made an appearance in “cocktail truck” sporting their signature lime green color while representatives of the brand passed out açaí caipirinhas, and cachaça-spike Brazilian lemonades. Rhum Barbancourt, the Haitian rum distiller that represents perhaps one of the oldest and finest rum traditions in the Caribbean, also made an appearance and promoted their flavored rum, Pango, with a coconut cream and pineapple punch topped with a pinch of nutmeg that would be a hit at any party. Gin drinkers were able to sample cocktails from Tanqueray, including ones with the distiller’s re-released Malacca Gin, a softer variety of the spirit in which the juniper acts as a member of an ensemble cast rather than the leading lady.

Being the main sponsor of the event, it came as no surprise that Whole Foods Market would have a large and unique presence at the Grand Tasting Village with its outdoor cafeteria-style exhibit. Visitors were given sustainable trays made from pressed shaved wood and proceeded from station to station where they were handed samples of panzarella, traditional raclette, shrimp cocktail, and a deliciously light ricotta cheesecake with crushed pistachios from a local bakery in Palm Beach County. The best part were the shaded bistro tables that offered respite to tired feet and allowed festival-goers to enjoy their food in comfort! Fresh fruit mimosas and a coffee bar only added to the experience.

Evian’s presence was everywhere, which was a Godsend given Miami’s heat and humidity that afternoon. Their “Live Young” photo booth allowed festival-goers to take photos of their faces attached to baby bodies, like in the French mineral water’s ad campaign. In addition to the cute and comical photos, Chef Richard Blais was taking over Evian’s instagram account to document the whole Grand Tasting Village experience.  

Perhaps the most interesting thing was sampling reggae legend Ziggy Marley's new line of organic Caribbean-inspired products, including organic, cold-pressed, seasoned coconut oils that were drizzled onto popcorn.  His organic seasoned hempseeds had a unique, nutty flavor and offered none of the delirium typically attributed to the plant.

The gastronomic sensory overload was only heightened by simultaneous cooking demos - Rachael Ray and Alex Guarnaschelli at the time I was leaving - and book signings by Anthony Bourdain and Nigella Lawson. Given the hot sun, the great food, the numerous celebrities, and a good measure of alcohol, it was hard for any foodie not to feel like he or she was in a dream....a deliciously good dream. South Beach ice cream icon, The Frieze, was conveniently located near the exit, and a scoop of their famous Indian mango sorbet was just the thing to cool any festival-goer before going off to the next event of the day before getting a picture taken with Chef Aaron Sanchez who was posing right by The Frieze’s booth.