It was early on a Saturday morning, much earlier than I would usually wake up on a weekend. But, this day was a special day. Waking up with only four hours of sleep, instead of the usual workweek-recovery eleven, is entirely fueled by hunger. Not a breakfast hunger, or a hung-over hunger. It’s the type of hunger usually reserved for Thanksgiving, or in this case, the South Beach Wine and Food Festival.
10:07 AM: Talking about food but not eating food
I arrive at The Betsy Hotel on South Beach for a panel hosted by Food & Wine’s Editor in Chief, Dana Cowin. What happens at food panels, you ask? That’s an excellent question. I have no idea. And after realizing my epically rookie mistake of skipping breakfast this morning, I was really hoping attending this panel meant I’d be able to sneak a few hotel pastries. Not the case.
For the next hour, I listened to a group of three chefs recount their worst (and most amusing) disasters in the kitchen.
Dominique Ansel is one of the panelists. He’s the French pastry chef who invented the Cronut. I also recognize Anne Burrell, who’s that kooky blonde lady that hosts that show on the Food Network that I watch on mute. Chris Consentino is there too, and I only know him as that dude who won Top Chef Masters the year I actually watched Top Chef Masters.
“This is pretty cool,” I think, gritting my teeth and fantasizing about Dominique’s face being a Cronut.
As soon as it’s over, I stand up and blow right past Bobby Flay, who’s standing in the back of the room. My appetite has already shut down the part of my brain that could give a damn about Bobby Flay.
11:05 AM: Sunglasses and snacks
The dauntingly named Whole Food Grand Tasting Village is set to open in less than an hour, so we decide to run two critical missions: eat a snack and buy sunglasses for Carlos the Husband. Carlos was already dramatically squinting his way to the nearest Urban Outfitters on the beach, so my hunger situation would have to wait.
Holding a pair of blue animal-print sunglasses, he asks, “Are these stupid?”
“No, they’re rock and roll.” My answer pleases him.
We stop at Abuela’s Cuban Kitchen (formerly David’s Café II) on Lincoln Road and order exactly four ham croquettes and two cortaditos. “Why do we try to convince ourselves that there’s any better breakfast than this?” says Carlos, as I squirt ketchup on a saltine cracker.
12:00 PM: Media badges: how do they work?
Because of this blog that you find yourself on, I’ve been able to convince the powers-that-be that I should be awarded a bright pink badge that says “MEDIA” on it. It also blatantly says “NO ACCESS” on it. Since this thing doesn’t come with any instructions, I naturally assume it’s to identify myself as a member of some sort of media, without granting me any special or complimentary access to any events.
As a newly recognized member of the media club, this badge holds yet unrevealed powers that I’m excited to explore. So far, the only thing it gets me is a man in a sweaty white t-shirt who startles me on the street by whispering, “Got any tickets?” in my ear as I power-walk to the entrance gates of SOBEWFF.
12:04 PM: Media badges: WHERE ARE YOUR POWERS?
Part of the SOBEWFF Grand Tasting Village experience is receiving your complimentary wine glass, wristband, and goodie bag at the entrance. Naturally, I run up to the goodie bag table and extend my arms lovingly for the plethora of sponsored knickknacks.
Someone on staff grabs the volunteer by the hand violently. “Wait,” she says, looking me up and down. “No,” she says. “Not for media.”
12:31 PM: Giada De Laurentiis and little people empowerment
The crowd swoons as soon as Giada De Laurentiis walks onstage for her cooking demo. You really can’t help it: she’s petite, has a vibrant personality, and a big smile that takes up about half of her face. You’re just happy to witness it.
I try testing the powers of my media badge by asking if I can stand in front of the stage to get a picture of Giada. The result was this: as evidenced by the photo above, despite having the credentials and the permission I still convince myself that I should hide behind a giant plant.
The thing about Giada is that people have the balls to ask her obviously uncomfortable questions like, “How are you so skinny?” and “What are you doing on Saturday night?”
The better thing about Giada is that she skillfully navigates these types of invasive questions by answering with, “I eat a little bit of everything, but not a lot of anything.” She laughs off the date requests. “Little people can cook too,” she continues. My heart fills with love.
1:00 PM: Food strategy, or lack thereof
After Giada’s Italian cooking demonstration, we make our way to the first of two giant food tents. We’ve been here for an hour and have consumed exactly one bright pink rum cocktail (which I use to swallow my Zantac 150).
“Let’s, uh, do a quick walk around and strategically plan this thing out before we start eating,” says Carlos. I nod in agreement as we walk to the nearest table and accept the first dish that’s handed to us.
It’s a duck confit crepe, from the folks at Barton G. In just a short while, I’ll stop being able to enjoy food and just resign myself to putting things in my mouth and making grunting sounds.
1:25 PM: Coconuts and drunk old ladies
After a blur of cheap and expensive wine (a difference I infer only on the criteria of a screw top vs. a cork) we go for a harder buzz.
We discover that both Botran and Malibu rums will serve you a full-size cocktail inside an actual coconut from either of their booths setup on opposite sides of the festival.
“Where’d you get that coconut?” you’ll be asked not long after you get one, probably from a soon-to-be drunker old lady.
1:30 PM: An essential break
Malibu coconuts in hand and a straw permanently attached to my face, we stop at Michael Chiarello’s cooking demonstration.
Our visit to his demonstration is partly an attempt to take a seat and slow down the increasing risk of indigestion. I start feeling the bloat of my upper stomach take hold and I began to wonder if that Zantac food condom I had taken earlier was expired or if the confidence in which I negligently mixed alcohols and foods became too strong a force in my bowels.
“One must carry on,” I say to myself in a Maggie Smith voice, rubbing my belly and digging my feet into the sand.
2:08 PM: Nods for wines
After a successful sitting-down break and several attempts to burp myself, I’m ready for round two of eating.
Switching from rum to wine, I wordlessly jut my arm out in front of various wine vendor booths in a silent understanding that I was here on a mission to taste the fruits of their fruits.
As they pour and tell us riveting grape stories, Carlos and I nod gratefully. The cacophony and sheer number of wines assure that we retain little to no information about them. We pretend to care, they pretend we care, we maintain the illusion of purpose to keep the emptiness of our souls and our glasses at bay.
2:25 PM: A surprise fork in my shoe
Here we observe the rare shoe fork, known to latch onto its inebriated host for the purpose of displaying its dominance.
2:30 PM: Marcus Samuelsson and The Greasy Fried Chicken
It’s mid-day and the crowd has taken a noticeably drunker tone. By contact high or by also drinking, Chef Samuelsson is loose and charismatic.
I further test the powers of my media badge by sitting firmly in the VIP seats. “They need us to take cool pictures, right?” I try to convince myself. They do not.
We somehow maneuver our way back to the special black chairs as the presentation begins since not enough VIPs want to VIP here. This rewards me with an enchanting view of the back of Chef Ludo Lefebvre’s head. This privilege also puts us firmly within the ‘does anybody want to try this?’ splash-zone.
I’m rewarded with fried chicken cooked by Marcus Samuelsson himself, one of the flagship dishes from his Harlem comfort-food restaurant, Red Rooster. It left me with oily fingers and no other option but to wipe them on my shirt.
I lend Chef Ludo a pen to sign an autograph. It was pretty greasy. Sorry, Ludo.
4:15 PM: Chefs get down.
Ming Tsai shills sake. He’s pretty enthusiastic about it.
4:30 PM: Guy Fieri is a rock star.
Earlier in the day, Carlos and I made firm plans to hate-watch Guy Fieri’s cooking demonstration. My feelings about Fieri are limited to an unwarranted prejudice against bad puns, frosted tips, and extreme eating of really gross things.
By four o’clock, we’re drunk enough to be convinced this is a good idea. The mood around the Grand Tasting Village is teetering on straight-up wasted.
We’re immediately met with rock music, a wildly cheering crowd, and Guy Fieri tossing t-shirts like a baseball mascot into the frenzied audience.
“This is insane,” Carlos half-smiles. Guy runs out of t-shirts to throw, and instead, begins tossing spices from his spice rack into the still-cheering crowd.
“This is really, really insane.”
I put my wine glass down and start taking photos. A man grabs my glass and gulps down the rest of my wine. I ignore it.
The animals stir.
“PUT SOME CREAM DE COCO IN THAT SHIT,” yells another drunken man in the crowd as Guy works on a blender cocktail that I think has Horchata and a shit-ton of tequila in it.
“Oh my god. I want to fuck him right now,” a girl tells her friend behind me.
Before things go full-on Burning Man, Guy ends his approximately 15-minute intro to announce how privileged he felt to have officiated 101 gay weddings in a mass event organized by chef Art Smith.
“My sister was gay, and the time I saw her the happiest was when she found her life partner,” he explains to the crowd.
He later invites a few aspiring chefs from the Best Buddies charity he’s actively involved with and asks the audience to give them a big round of applause. My irony button malfunctions.
It gets loud and crazy again and to be honest with you I’m not entirely sure what Guy was teaching us how to make. A bucket of really fucked up looking nachos he said had Cotija cheese and skirt steak. He plops it down unceremoniously onto the counter and yells at the crowd, “Does anybody want some?!!”
The crowd goes wild again. Drunk Cream de Coco Guy goes nuts and rushes the stage along with pretty much everybody there. Guy serves everybody individually.
I couldn’t possibly dream of wanting nachos at this point, but Guy’s energy is infectious and it made my prejudice all the more stinging.
Yes, Guy Fieri is the opposite of refinement. Yes, he looks more like a custom hot-rod than a human being. No, I no longer than think this excludes me from respecting his ability to be so damn pumped about food and people.
5:15 PM: Drunken taxi
I pull up my Uber app on my phone only to discover a 22-minute wait for the nearest available car. I can easily walk to my apartment on the beach, but I’m pretty sure I have a baby ulcer inside my body. The situation is dire.
We hail a cab instead, give the driver (who never speaks a word) our address and enjoy a quiet two-minute ride home.