Wine and Food Festival turning up the heat in 2012

By Sylvia Simioni / Staff Writer

Over 400,000 people can claim residency to the Magic City.

From attracting the National Basketball Association’s finest to ranking sixth on COED Magazine’s Top 10 “trashiest” (by implication, the most coveted) spring break sites, Miami is home to the world’s largest cruise passenger port and is sizzling with internationally renowned fine arts venues and year-round outdoor entertainment.

It’s only getting hotter— literally.

The Food Network’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival, also known as the SoBe Fest, will open from Feb. 23 to the 26 for a weekend filled with events showcasing the talents of globally acclaimed chefs, culinary personalities and wine and spirits experts.

More than 200 sponsors will fund the event, including Whole Foods Market, Bank of America, Southern Wine & Spirits of Florida and the University’s own Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management.

The Festival will kick off beach side on Thursday with Moët Hennessy’s “The Q,” an event hosted by industry giants Emeril Lagasse and Guy Fieri. “The Q” features a collection of preeminent barbecue chefs preparing their ribs and brisket signature dishes.
Following Emeril’s “Bam!” catchphrase are 50 more flame-inducing events that will culminate on Saturday with “The Flavors of Flay,” celebrity restaurateur Bobby Flay’s sample tasting function that will introduce guests to his trademark southwestern cuisine.

Since its debut in 2000 as the Florida Extravaganza, the Festival has grown exponentially in terms of attendance and profit.

Over 55,000 guests attended in 2011 alone and $14 million have been raised toward the Chaplin School’s physical and academic expansion.

Revenue is currently invested in the renovation of the Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center, a 4,500 square-foot facility that features the latest technology for beverage tasting and analysis at the Biscayne Bay Campus.

This year, funds are expected to aid in the development of the hospitality management building’s dining room into a state-of-the-art full service teaching restaurant that will be managed by hospitality students.

“SoBe Fest requires a tremendous amount of student involvement,” said Richard Lopez, program manager. “It’s also something that is inherently ‘FIU’ and sometimes that’s not in the limelight [to the Modesto Maidique campus].”

“The process is yearlong; we never have downtime. We always have people coming into our office. These celebrity icons and personalities are just regular people who our students can work with.”

Over 900 students of management and other fields fill positions in sponsorship activation, operations, logistics, public relations, marketing and auction coordination. Together, they build the backbone to the production of the Festival.

“It’s not just a kitchen,” said Lopez about the hospitality industry.

“We are hospitality managers. We are here for tourism, gaming, hotel and dining trade. The event planning community is on the rise right now and hospitality is creating jobs.”

The University’s SoBe Fest committee has likened the festival to a career fair for its students.

“After participating in the festival, we have so many students that come again to volunteer because it’s something they get jobs out of. These positions come into contact with celebrities and high-profile clientele.”

Celebrities aren’t the only key to potential job opportunities.

Lopez stressed that, “You may not know the person’s name but he or she owns several companies or runs wineries and vineyards and is flying from Los Angeles and New York for this single event. Pretend like everyday is an interview because you never know who you’re going to meet on site.”

As a 2012 exclusive, the festival will be offering the public its first sneak peek at the new Miami Marlins Ballpark in the “Diamond Dishes” event that will be hosted by Julie Loria, cookbook author and wife of the Marlins owner, Jeffrey Loria. Attendants will participate in a walk-around dinner from South Florida’s finest chefs.

“There’s so much that’s directed into our backyard and we sometimes take it for granted.”

“We’re a very hip and fun-filled city,” remarked the SoBe Fest committee. “Take advantage of the fact that so many people want to come to Miami and be a part of it.”

For more information regarding the festival, visit HM 249 at the Biscayne Bay Campus or on the web at

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