Sobe Wine and Food: Doug Frost nipping at my cellar door

Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain

11:30am too early to start drinking wine after a long night.  Hell no, if you are doing it in the name of education.  This is the only tasting I signed up for and was anticipating.  Doug Frost, a Master Sommelier and hired by United Airlines to purchase and write about wines), is a specialist on the wines of Spain.  He gave us a great intro to the wines of this country that have been blowing up the wine making playing field.

Doug is character and puts on a great seminar.  I can often learn more about how to present in one of these seminars than about the topic itself.   I already know a good amount about the wines of Spain as I have studied the region fairly extensively when I was simultaneously learning about its cuisine.  There is no doubt it is great wine country.  Now that wasn’t always the case as Doug Continue reading

SOBE Wine and Food: All you need is love and a wristband

Michael Symon

Today we decide to brave the Whole Foods grand tasting tent.  Six years ago when I went to this event, I was blown away at how many people were waiting to get into the grand tasting tent and how many people were waiting in line to get signatures from the famous chefs.   This food celebrity thing is taking off I thought.  Who was famous six years ago:  Tyler Florence (who I had barely heard of), Emeril, Rachel Ray, Paula Dean, Ming Tsai and an emerging celebrity Anthony Bourdain.

Six years ago I walked into the grand tasting tent and along with all the other attendees struggled to get food samples from the different local restaurants and taste wines from the different distributors.  It was hot and fans were blowing air into the oppressive stagnating environment that I chose to spend a few hours in.  I walked out exhausted, a little annoyed and tipsy.  I ran into Anthony Bourdain Continue reading

SOBE Wine and Food: The best of the worst

The anteroom to the "Best of the Best"

I wake up surprisingly early considering when I collapsed in bed the night before.   Ted takes pity on me and offers to pick up the coladas (cuban coffee) at Davids.

Lunch arrives quickly and Ted gets us together with his friend John, his wife and their 8 month old son for lunch at Smith and Wollenskys.  This is a steak house your grandparents would take you to.  This is the recent outpost of the NYC classic started in 1977 and advertised along with all the other classic steakhouses found in every in flight magazine.  In Miami it is located in the newly re-worked south point park on “government cut” across from Fisher island.

We have a classic steak house lunch and later stroll in the park on the most gorgeous day of my trip.  The parking lot looks like a fine automobile sales lot.

I reconnect with Julie and make plans to meet at the newly remodeled Fontainbleau for the “Best of the Best” event.  The event features a multitude of the nation’s top chef and winemakers.  The anteroom is focused on fine champagne and their food counterparts.  The main room is a very large banquet hall set up with a multitude of booths.  At every one of these events it’s impossible to hit every booth so you have to be selective and try to feed and drink based on recognized names or by long lines.

We talk to Stephan Pyles, Terrance Brennan, Alfred Portale and Larry Stone of Rubicon.  All the dishes I sample are outstanding, with one very recurrent theme: the use of cheap cuts of meat braised for a long time.  This is why I dub this post “the best of the worst.”  It takes an accomplished chef to cook tough cuts of meat properly and utilize them in a dish.  This is no longer a trend among chefs, it’s clearly the norm.  Some of the chefs are using meat found higher on the animal but most of the time I was pin balling from dishes featuring oxtail, cheek, shortrib and the ubiquitous pork belly.  All delicious and the wines at this event rose to the occasion.

A view inside the new banquet hall at the Fontainbleau

To not miss out on the simultaneous event occurring on the beach, we head to the Bubble Q.   This is the event that seems to be on everyone’s list.   It is held in the same tent as the Burger Bash the night before.  However they had completely changed the set up to accommodate the event.   When we get there it is already packed and the thumping techno, hip hop and techno re-worked classic rock overtake any opportunity for conversation.  Clearly not the focus of the event.  People (a seemingly older demographic) are here to celebrate by drinking champagne, eating upscale grilled foods and dancing to their favorite tunes.  It is another all star line up of chefs from around the US with Emeril leading the pack.

I’m satiated from the previous event and more in the mood for a mellow environment, so the event is lost on me.

The Miami feminine contingency is still very competitive and in their more advanced years the work is more maintenance and remodeling.  One young lady sticks out in my memory. I would describe her as classy sleazy or the female equivalent of a mullet.  Perfect low cut party gown with matching shoes with one arm tattooed to a full sleeve.

The Perrier Jouet champagne fairy

The big focus of entertainment, beside the DJ with a sax player and drummer playing along with the music, is a young lady in a leotard that they pull up on a rope to fill the crowd’s champagne glasses with Perrier Jouet the sponsors of the event.

We end the evening at the Sagamore just behind the Bubble Q tent.   Two women are in the water in mermaid outfits dancing to the music and basically being mermaids.  I’m exhausted and decide on an early night.

SOBE Wine and Food: Feeling the heat in a cold wave

The mandatory daily Cuban colada at David's each morning

Drinking Cuban coffees first thing in the morning has been our ritual since I arrived.  I love these coladas.  Super concentrated coffee with a heavy hand on sweetness to counteract the bitter.  They have just enough caffeine to jump start your morning.  Of course we get there in Ted’s Carrera and we usually run into the enforced 15 mph school zone which are highly monitored with police.  There is construction taking place on all the roads so it can be slow moving.

Our transportation

Ted has been fighting sickness since I arrived. Ted sick is still a force to be reckoned with.  His 60% is my 100%  rate of energy.

I meet up with Julie Mautner at the Dorchester for a gathering of a chef friend of hers named John Gray.  He owns several restaurants on the Riviera Maya.  We then head over to the Delano and go to a book signing of Tony Ayoub who has written a mixology book . The Delano is a gorgeous property and their infinity pool has been replicated by many of the newer hotels on the beach.

The infinity pool at the Delano

After the book signing we head to the Burger Bash.  It is being held in a huge tent with open sides (thank goodness with the amount of grills aflame) From a distance it looks like a scene from close encounters of the third kind.

Burger Bash tent

The line is huge to get in, but with our guest passes we go right to the front.   It is easy to move around initially and the first burger I taste is from the Morimoto booth and it becomes the standard to compare all the others.  After a while though it becomes pretty congested and the burgers less accessible.  I try some of the big names.  Daniel Boulud’s famous foie gras and braised short rib burger is very nice but still doesn’t quite measure up to Morimoto.  I also try David Burke’s burger.  I am remotely connected to several of the these top chefs through some of my more successful students and it’s great to hear these star chefs praise my former students.

Rachel Ray who is hosting the event tastes each of the burgers in sequence surrounded by seven body guards.  This seems a little over the top and is maybe in place for show, but you can’t escape her entourage.

A view inside the tent

They announce the people’s choice award at the end of the bash and it is between Bobby Flay and Michael Symon.  Micheal Symon takes it.   On the way out of  the tent I am introduced to Bobby Flay as casually as you would introduce anyone.

Julie heads back to her hotel and I make my way to the next venue, which is the Patron party at the W Hotel.  This is a pool side party and the theme is the great Patron debate (crushed ice or frozen, salt no salt on rim).  There are tasting booths everywhere with the same concept played out (tuna carpaccio vs tuna tartare) etc.  Participants of the party are encouraged to text their comments on a huge TV screen with a ticker tape view.

Ted urged me to take a sweater and it quickly becomes a necessity and the envy of many of the party goers who are dressed in Miami high fashion.  Sex sells and this is an open marketplace.   Patron has hired a about ten dancers scantily clad to take turns dancing in front of the huge TV screen.  They are in naughty librarian outfits and have clearly gone to advanced stripping school.  They have all the techno moves.  The rest of the Miami feminine contingency is competing for who can get away with the least clothing and pushing that dress line to the maximum.  Add to that the amount of silicone and body improvements and it turns out to be quite a fashion show.

Towards the end of the party I meet an interesting couple and we decide to continue on to the hotel nightclub.  We run through the hotel and bump into two French men.  I start to chat to them in French. I turns out to be Sacha Lichine and Patrick Léon.

Sacha Lichine is from the famous Bordeaux family (also owner of the famous Rosé Chateau d’Esclan) and Patrick is the former wine maker for Mouton Rothschild and was in the movie Mondo Vino.  Two living legends in the world of French wine.  Later waiting in line to get into the club I run into Thomas Trois Gros the grandson of the famous Trois Gros brothers.  He runs two restaurants in Rio.   These are the types of people I want to run into.  Those body guards can have Rachel Ray.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

SOBE Wine and Food: foreplay

The view towards the beach from my friend's apartment

The view towards downtown Miami

I got into Miami yesterday afternoon for the SOBE Wine and Food festival.  My old high school friend Ted picked me up.   He drove us to his apartment in his daughter’s Hello Kitty Audi TT.  His other car a turbo S Carrera couldn’t accommodate my luggage.  We had dinner with his daughter Charlotte (who I hadn’t seen since she was 3).  She is now 16.  We ate at Georges in the Grove.  A small French restaurant in Coconut Grove.  It was nice to be with Ted again and see how much his daughter had grown.

Today, we went to pick up my festival credentials at the Loews Miami.  Driving with Ted is always an experience.  Miami is filled with police and slow speed zones.  This is not conducive to the acceleration capabilities of the 500hp Carrera, but Ted uses every opportunity to accelerate the vehicle within the range of what is allowable in the zone.  He is a very good driver but the sensation is very slow 1st gear to very fast 3rd gear to very slow 1st gear.  Throw into the mix a mind numbingly loud stereo pumping the latest techno music and you can get a feel for the experience.  It always amuses me.

We get to the Loews and I try to find the hospitality suite.  Nobody seems to know where it is.   I walk into Emeril’s restaurant and who is there but Emeril himself going over the plan for the following day.  They don’t know where the suite is so I return to the hotel and find the concierge.  They direct me to the suite.  They can’t find my credentials right away so they tell me to return in a few hours.

So Ted and I head to the fashion district to eat at Michael’s Genuine.  This is a restaurant I have heard a little about (it was featured in Art Culinaire recently) and it turns out to be one of Ted’s favorites.   We eat at the bar as the restaurant is full and the patio looks iffy as potential for rain is imminent.

Burrata with heirloom tomatoesi

I believe I see Rachel Ray sitting with a group of ladies and she goes up to hug one of the chefs.  Ted orders the burrata with heirloom tomatoes.  It is an excellent example of imported Italian burrata and the tomatoes are shockingly ripe and juicy.

Crispy pork belly with kimchee

The crispy pork belly was amazing.  Crisp around all the edges with slightly sweet glaze, digging into it further you flake through savory meat bound with succulent pork fat.  All of this combines nicely with the kimchee giving an extra level of texture and acidity.  Ted orders the spicy beef salad and they utilized the kimchee as the base in that dish as well.  I get the wood fired pizza with shrimp and chorizo.

At the end of the meal it starts to rain heavily.  We decide to hunker down to a chocolate and banana panini and some coffee to ride out the storm.  Our attractive bartender (who isn’t beautiful in this town, well maybe the people living in tents under the causeway) was very attentive to our needs throughout the whole experience.

The sun returns and we head back to the Loews to the thumping sounds of techno and high rpms rolling at 15 miles an hour in a school zone.  I get my credentials.  I’m ready.

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