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Greetings from South Beach Wine & Food Festival

February 26, 2010

Even before the massive storm was headed towards the Northeast, anyone who was Miami-bound for the annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival was avoiding the penetrating gazes of their spouses and colleagues. Sure, we’re all heading south for “work,” but when “work” involves copious amounts of eating, drinking and staying out late, it’s hard to look or feel put upon. And when big fat white snowflakes are hitting the side of your cab as you pull away from your building, waving bye-bye to the kids…well, let’s just say not a lot of pity points are being racked up.

But here in Miami, there are in fact a lot of people working, and working hard. This is an amazing food festival, one of the biggest of its kind. The Burger Bash (last night Michael Schwartz of Miami’s own Michael’s Genuine won Best Burger with a perfect, straightforward bacon cheeseburger), The Bubble Q, and dozens of other events and seminars feature über-chefs and wine professionals, and people fork over cash to attend and indulge. And though it may just look like a bacchanalian fest, the event raises money for students studying in the hospitality industry here in Florida.

But the students are also are the behind the scenes glue that holds the event together.  Do you think that all of these mega-watt chefs are spending their days peeling fingerling potatoes with their crews, preparing for the evening’s events? No, they are not. In fact, in most cases, a well-oiled platoon of culinary students under the guidance of team leaders are doing the cooking, and the finished dishes then make their way to the events where they meet up with their chef-creators.  But clearly these recipes better turn out just as the chefs meant them to be, the same way they prepare them with their very own hands.

Those sandwiches won't stuff themselves. Photo by Nathan Valentine.

So, how does that happen?  I found myself in the convention center, where a makeshift kitchen housed over a hundred students and their teachers as they got things ready for tonight’s Bubble Q (an event that showcases barbecue from the likes of  Adam Perry Lang, Susan SpicerNorman Van Aken, and the Neelys, all to be washed down with champagne…I told you, this is not exactly bricklaying).

Here’s the synopsis of what happens, as told to me by A.J. Mindermann, one of the head chefs working with the students:

The participating chefs are asked to submit a dish idea for Bubble Q, and there is a bunch of back and forth to make sure it’s the right kind of dish: works well for this many people, in this kind of tent-on-the-beach venue with all of the logistical obstacles, etc. There were a few amusing stories, too, like the chef who wanted to make a matzoh ball stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon. (A.J. wouldn’t say who.)

Isn't it beautiful? Photo by Nathan Valentine.

Then the recipes are submitted, which have to be multiplied and adapted to feed almost 1,000 people. They are then gathered up in (here my heart starts to beat faster.)… a COOKBOOK.  There are only two editions of this loose-leaf binder book, which is referred to reverentially as “The Bible.”

Check out the names on these tabs! Photo by Nathan Valentine.

The students were bustling away, and very excited to meet “their” chefs the next day. I was left alone with “The Bible” for a little while, though A.J. kept his eye on me. I clearly had displayed a disproportionate amount of enthusaism for the book.  The ingredients quantities were staggering — all told (vegetarians, put your fingers in your ears, hum, and skip this paragraph), the Bubble Q serves up 2450 pounds of ribs, 1160 pounds of pork belly, 120 whole filet mignons, 660 pounds of brisket, 632 lobster tails, and much much more. Oh, and 3,000 bottles of Perrier-Jouet.

Ok, well, gotta run, gotta get back to work.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Ross Lewis permalink
    February 26, 2010 4:54 pm

    I’m there next year. Even if I have to sell my first born!!!!

  2. Katie Workman, Editor-in-Chief permalink*
    February 27, 2010 8:39 am

    There’s also the Wine and Food Festival in New York, in the fall, which is pretty good, too!

  3. Kim (Miami) permalink
    February 27, 2010 4:34 pm

    Chef Norman Van Aken’s sandwich was AMAZING!!

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