The FN Dish Goes to Miami (The South Beach Wine & Food Festival)

At the end of the weekend and our trip to The South Beach Wine & Food Festival, my director, Matthew Horovitz, turned to me and said, “You’ve met everyone now. There’s no one left to meet!”

Watch the following video–the 2nd official episode of “The FN Dish”–and tell me if you disagree.

If that video left you dazzled and discombobulated, allow me to walk you through everything you just saw: a day-by-day breakdown of the festival with some big surprises thrown in too.

On Thursday, we arrived in the late afternoon and my stomach was so empty it inverted and became a liver. “We need to eat right now,” I demanded like a good diva to Matthew and my producer Jill.

“Let’s go to the News Cafe,” suggested Jill and that sounded as good as any cafe and though the walk took way longer than I wanted, this plate of hummus (which I ordered because I asked the waiter what the fastest thing he could possibly bring out was and he said, “hummus”) was just about the best thing I’ve ever tasted, I was so hungry:

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Matthew and Jill fought bravely against my greedy hand as I dragged pita after pita through the chickpea mass, but I prevailed. I even had room for this Middle Eastern Salad which wasn’t half bad:

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And this is Matthew and Jill, in case you want to know what they look like as we proceed with our story:

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After scarfing down half the inventory of the News Cafe kitchen, I joined Matthew and Jill as we made our way over to the Loews Hotel where the Wine & Food Festival is headquartered (is it not called the Food & Wine festival so it doesn’t get confused with Food & Wine Magazine?) Over there we entered the hospitality suite (which we re-dubbed “the hostility suite” because they gave us some trouble handing us our media passes for the weekend events):

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Once we had our tickets, I met up with my brother Michael who drove down from Boca to join us (here he is in my hotel room):

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And sauntered over to the Rachael Ray Burger Bash.

Now here’s where I’ll get a little critical of the Wine & Food Festival (sorry Food Network!):

(1) All of these events sort of bleed together in my mind because;

(a) they all took place in a large tent;

(b) they all contained giant hordes of people who paid upwards of $150 a ticket to revel;

(c) the music at all the events was the thumping bumping sort that drives one mad;

(d) the food was ok but certainly not worth $150 or more and certainly not the kind you’d be happy with at a restaurant.

But, alas, there were–as you saw in the above video–food stars galore and there are worse things than standing around drinking free wine and champagne and eating burgers. Unfortunately, I missed the winning burger that night: a burger from Radius in Boston. So if you live in Boston, go to Radius and have their very winning burger.

After the Burger Bash, we headed over to Paula Deen’s Poker Party and, as I said in the video, it was insane. Before we went in, I asked Matthew and Jill: “Who pays $200 to play poker with Paula Deen?” The answer: gay men, Southerners, gay Southerners, and drag queens.

The next day, Friday, I crossed the street from our hotel (the very-much-to-be-avoided Catalina, where thumping techno music in the lobby made my room vibrate all night, every night) to the beautiful Delano where I had a very relaxing (and not very healthy) smoked salmon benedict for breakfast:

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The food was very good, but it was the scenery that made it worthwhile:

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It’s a very relaxing place to eat breakfast: I highly recommend it.

Afterwards, I met up with Matthew and Jill and went to the Ritz Carlton for a panel discussion on childhood obesity with Alice Waters (one of my heroes), Jamie Oliver and Rachel Ray. You can watch the corresponding video now:

It’s difficult to contain any serious discussion or debate in a three-minute video but, truthfully, the conversation was quite riveting. My favorite moment was when Alice Waters and Rachael Ray butted heads: Rachael said we need to make quality food cheaper and Alice Waters said, “Food should not be cheap.” Her point–and one that’s echoed in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and other recent books–is that our culture is happy to spend its money on cellphones and cable television, but doesn’t want to pay more than the very minimum for its meat and produce. Our kids are fat not because of anything they’re doing but because of our own unwillingness to spend the time or money to feed them well. It’s a troubling topic and maybe one I can get into again in a later post.

But back to my own journey towards obesity: after this panel, we began a serious night of partying. We started poolside at a hotel (I forget which one) for a Food Network only party where I met Cat Cora and The Lee Bros (who I’d met before); after which we all headed to the giant tent in the sand, where the Burger Bash was the day before, for the Bubble-Q.

Unlike the Burger Bash, actually, the Bubble-Q was a pretty classy affair. The name comes from the marriage of two seemingly opposed entities: BBQ and champagne. The champagne is Moet & Chandon and the BBQ is BBQ from around the country. The most memorable bite of the night goes to Chef Zak Pelaccio of Fatty Crab in New York who served burgers made of smoked fat back which sounds gnarly but was pretty fantastic and flavorful.

It was at the BubbleQ where I met the large bulk of celebrities that you see in the main video: Ted Allen, Ilan Hall, Jared from Subway, and many others. I told Ted that many of my readers think that I look like him and he thought you were crazy. CRAZY. He said I look more like Carson.

After the BubbleQ we hit Emeril’s Sugar Shack which was, as far as an event, pretty lame (Emeril rolled with a big entourage and the desserts were fine, but minimal). There were non-English speaking models dressed as butterflies flapping their wings (the objectification of women was a main feature of the festival: at the BubbleQ, scantily clad ladies ate fire and climbed into giant plastic orbs–it was weird) and if this took place at a Holiday Inn I would’ve thoroughly hated it, but instead it took place at the Raleigh Hotel which is gorgeous and sitting poolside in a little cabana was a real treat. If you hit South Beach, go visit the Raleigh (or stay there, if you can afford it): it’s fantastic.

The next morning, again I breakfasted alone at the Delano (Matthew & Jill were eager to hit the beach; I’m less of a beach nut) and this time I had granola to negate the fat back burger I ate the night before:

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After that, I met up with Michael and his girlfriend Tali for a quick walk on the beach:

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And then we joined Matthew and Jill at the Tasting Village, which is the main event, I’d say, of the Wine & Food Festival. There you see demonstrations by the likes of Emeril and Giada, there you see celebs signing books like Rachael and Madhur Jaffrey and there you join hordes upon hordes who hang wine glasses around their necks (they have wine glass necklaces so you don’t have to hold your plate) in getting drunk, meeting Danny DeVito and eating food–mostly mediocre–from around South Florida. The best bite? Actually, Danny Devito’s meatball hero: the meat, I’d guess, had pork and veal and was really tender. The worst bite was a parfait of peanut butter, foie gras and jelly topped with champagne. I hated it (and I had to taste it on camera).

After parading around this event for a few hours (and hanging out, for a moment or two, with Michael Ruhlman) I left Michael and Tali behind (they were having fun) and walked along the beach back to my hotel. Funny, when I looked back at my footprints there were two sets during the happy parts and only one set during the hard parts. Where were you God? WHERE WERE YOU?

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That night was the last big event of the weekend, at least for us. A dinner at Danny DeVito’s Restaurant cooked by Mario Batali and Jamie Oliver.

Matthew, Jill and I arrived early and stood on a red carpet and waited for celebs to arrive but once we realized we’d met most of the celebs already–Jamie Oliver, Danny DeVito–we entered the party and it was a mess of people.

There were so many people, in fact, that we threw our hands in the air and decided to just sit and enjoy the night: we’d done enough taping. Even that was difficult, though, as the food was served buffet style and we had to fight our way through masses and masses of people just to get near any of it.

But the pasta was mighty tasty (there were three kinds) and the steak–Fiorentina steak from Tuscany–was epic and memorable (grilled, as it was, by Adam Perry Lang).

Soon we were ready to call it a night but on a whim I said to my director: “Maybe we should pop into the kitchen with the camera, just to interview Mario.”

Mario, as many of you know, is my favorite TV chef. 90% of what I’ve learned about cooking–and I don’t think I’m exaggerating–comes from his show. I love him, I love his food, and when I opened the door to the kitchen I expected to see only him.

Instead, I hit the mother-lode: standing there was Mario, Jamie Oliver, David Pasternack (from Esca), Adam Perry Lang (from Daisy May’s) and the man himself–the Joker to the Food Network’s Batman–Mr. Anthony Bourdain, who I’d been pursuing all weekend for an interview.

But first Mario. Here’s my moment with him and Jamie:

Soon after, and with some prodding from my director (who told Bourdain we wanted him to rant and rave about Food Network on our show) I got my moment with Sir Anthony and the ensuing hilarity (and conversation) is both highly amusing, offensive and dangerous to my already tenuous career as the online face of Food Network. Currently, we are fighting to get it up online. Stay tuned for progress.

Just as we were about to go, who should enter, though, but another giant star: a very pregnant Giada DiLaurentis.

Ok, so maybe I shouldn’t have accused Mario of being Giada’s baby daddy but hopefully it was good for a laugh. (I wish I could hear what Bourdain’s saying in the background?)

After that, you’d think the night (and weekend) would’ve been over but The Food Network Addict, Jacob Strauss, invited us to a party at the Versace Mansion where we finagled our way in and hobnobbed with the cast of Ace of Cakes, Padma Lakshmi and Pat Nealy. My head is still cloudy with all the glitter and glamour.

Finally, on Sunday morning I did another amazing thing with another amazing person but I can’t tell you about that yet (that video will air, hopefully, in the next few weeks) but soon I was on a plane and soon it was all over.

I’m sure for my longtime readers this must been as surreal for you as it is for me: who would’ve thought that the person who made musicals with eggs and sang songs about lasagna would be at the Versace mansion with Padma Lakshmi waiting in line to tour the guest house? Certainly not me. But I guess that’s how life works: you do the thing you love to do and hopefully you’ll get rewarded. And if that’s the case, this weekend was like a giant, gleaming trophy, one I’ll have (at least online) forever.

Now then, while you’re still buzzing with excitement, it’s time for you to join forces with the FN Dish. We need you to spread the word about our show and blast our traffic through the roof. Please link to the site, link to the videos, embed them on your blogs, your Livejournals, your Facebook, your MySpace, your Friendster. Tell your friends, tell your neighbors, and keep watching, rating, and leaving comments. The bigger we can make this now, the more likely I can make this show an actual platform for great food content on the web. And if you have any suggestions for things you’d like to see–places you’d like me to go, subjects you’d like me to interview, recipes you’d like me to undertake–please leave them in the comments. Thanks for watching, loyal readers! You’re the ones who made all of this possible.

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