Thursday, March 3, 2011

R'evolution on the Road: Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival

Last weekend was the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, which Food Network puts on. I was honored to be asked to participate for the fourth year, this time representing Restaurant R’evolution for the first time. In my opinion, South Beach is one of the best food and wine events in the country, so it was great to get Restaurant R’evolution out there on a national level. We passed out a lot of information about the restaurant, and people seemed excited, which is always fun to see.
Michael Symon at Burger Bash. Credit:
Jody (my chef de cuisine) and I arrived on Thursday morning, and the fun kicked off that night at Rachael Ray’s Burger Bash. This is the biggest and most anticipated party of weekend, where 40-some nationally acclaimed chefs compete for best burger. There were around 3,000 people there, and the wait to get in had to be almost 2 hours long at times. But the burgers were amazing. Iron Chef Michael Symon, the defending champion from last year, once again took home the coveted People’s Choice prize, and Marc Murphy of New York’s Landmarc won the Judge’s Choice award. View photos from the event here.
Friday was when the food and wine stuff – seminars, demos, tastings – started. Danny Meyer did a great Shake Shack seminar. There were wine seminars and tastings, and demos on this huge main stage tent they have set up on the beach with audiences in the hundreds.

Bobby Flay and Michael Symon at Bubble Q.

Friday night was Bubble Q, Bobby Flay’s event that’s all about Champagne and BBQ. There were huge, elaborate ice carvings and outdoor grills and smokers. Rick Bayless was there doing these great tacos. The nice thing about South Beach is that all of the celebrity chefs actually come themselves, and they get to bring four people to help them (and most of them usually have at least 4 more), so the chefs actually get to greet guests themselves, pass out food and take pictures. It can make the lines pretty long, but it’s great that people get the chance to meet their favorite chefs. Each night, there were big stages with live music. One night it was KC and the Sunshine Band, and other nights there were famous DJs spinning, which really created a party vibe.

The Bubble Q tent. Credit:
Saturday was another day of seminars, demos and tastings. The main stage that morning kicked off at 11 a.m. with Emeril doing a demo, then Antony Bourdain and then Bobby Flay and Tyler Florence. It’s like watching the Food Network come to life, right on the beach. It also feels a little bit like the culinary version of Lollapalooza to me. Jody and I spent a good portion of that day prepping our dish for the event we were doing on Sunday, Paula Deen’s Down Home Cookin’ Sunday Gospel Brunch.

Saturday night was when the big sit-down events happened, which included a tribute dinner for Alain Ducasse, as well as the “Best of the Best” walk-around tasting with all of the top fine dining chefs. For the other big party that night, the theme was “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” based on the Food Network show. That was really fun because the chefs got to recreate their favorite dishes from OTHER restaurants. Photos here.
Paula Deen and Maryel Epps. Credit:
Jody and I didn’t party too hard because we knew that come Sunday, we’d need to have our game faces on for our event. I normally do the “Best of the Best” event, but this year because of R’evolution and our New Orleans connection, I did Paula Deen's Gospel Brunch, which was primarily Southern chefs. Maryel Epps, this incredible gospel singer, performed live, and all of the chefs were doing their renditions of classic Southern soul food – whole roasted pig, fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, black-eyed peas.

Shrimp & Grits "Bacon & Eggs"
We did our version of shrimp and grits: creamy grits with eggs chopped up and folded in, topped with head-on shrimp wrapped in bacon that we seared off and topped with a smoky tomato sauce. It was so great to get to do this event this year, especially since I’m a newcomer to the South. It was amazing working alongside Southern chefs like New Orleans' John Besh, Cat Cora (a proud Southern girl), Tim Love of Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in Texas, and Joseph Lenn of Blackberry Farm in Tennessee.

Emeril Lagasse at the Let Them Eat
Cake event. Credit:
Even though South Beach has a completely different vibe from New Orleans, there were moments when I felt like I was back in the French Quarter. We went to Martha Stewart and Emeril’s “Let Them Eat Cake” event with Duff from Ace of Cakes, and the theme was actually Mardi Gras. There were 20 different bakeries from all over the country doing these outrageous Mardi Gras cakes. What was really cool was that they took the entire top floor of a parking structure and transformed it into this massive event space for 2000 people. You could see the whole city of Miami spread out around you. It was a stunning sight.

Back in New Orleans, the whole team is focusing on Mardi Gras right now. Jody, Muhammad and Molly are all helping out down at the Royal Sonesta, as they enter the craziest time of year for the hotel. Personally, I’m focused on my new book, Scars of a Chef, which launches this week, so the next four weeks I’m pretty much booked with book tour stuff. Right now I’m headed to Chicago for the International Home and Housewares Show. Then I’m in New York next week for some TV stuff, and it’s LA after that. Earlier this week, I was at Bittersweet Plantation, wrapping up selection of glassware, china and silverware for the restaurant. The kitchen design is finished, which is great. When the book tour craziness is over next month, then we’ll be starting on brunch tastings. Then we’ll be working on all the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes into opening a restaurant, but nobody knows about: systems, recipes, costing, hiring.
And then comes the waiting for the place to physically be built. It all feels like it’s still a long way off, but there are fleeting moments when I realize that it will be open before we even know it. So for now, it’s just one day at a time.
- Rick

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