Champagne in one hand and a plate of seared pork belly in the other makes me one happy girl. It was my second night at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival and I was at the Bubble Q party hosted by Bobby Flay, where revelers sipped countless flutes of Perrier-Jouet while devouring plates of barbecue-themed food prepared by 30 chefs, including Cat Cora, Rick Bayless and Todd English.
While bubbly and barbecue may seem like an odd pairing, it worked—and the juxtaposition of high and low was a fitting metaphor for the 10th year of the festival. James Beard Award-winning chef Nate Appleman chatted about suddenly going from niche to mass when he left New York City's buzzy Pulino's Bar and Pizzeria to develop new cuisine for Chipotle. The Grand Tasting Village, which had booth after booth of food and wine samples and appearances by stars like Anthony Bourdain, featured tastings of pricey wines as well as supermarket olive oil. And one could encounter Alain Ducasse (who is the only chef to possess 19 Michelin stars) one moment and have a festival worker foisting samples of Rachael Ray's new dog food line on you the next.
In any case, there's no question that four-day event—which Emeril Lagasse called "spring break for chefs"—is a lot of fun, whiffs of commercialism, and a few instances of so-so food and crazed foodie fans notwithstanding. And you can't argue with a multimillion-dollar event whose proceeds go to benefit students in the hospitality and restaurant programs at Florida International University.
My favorite sighting? Matsuhara Morimoto looking as happy slinging burgers at one event as he does concocting one of his gourmet creations on Iron Chef. Definitely inspiration to allez cuisine.