Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Then again, South Beach Wine and Food Festival isn’t all bad.

Bobby Flay usually demos and signs later in the weekend, but he opened this year. He’s been nothing but nice to me, and I’ve never heard him be anything but agreeable, outgoing, and professional to his fans, but in four years working next to him I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that he’s kind of an asshole. I think it’s the set of his brows; he always looks like he’s judging.

Well as long his books keep selling, he can judge all he wants. Books & Books needs the Bobby Flays and Paula Deens and Emeril Lagasses to be as successful as they are to make these events worthwhile.

One woman drunkenly bypassed everyone waiting in the rain to meet the Neelys. When security told her she needed to buy a book at Books & Books and wait in line, she mocked him. “Buy a book! Buy a book!” she screamed, like oh, it’s all about the money. “I’m not buying any fucking book.”

One of the security guys politely asked her to take her drunken mess down the road.

The celebrity chefs don’t need book money; they’ve been paid advances for their efforts. Books & Books needs the money. I’m sure chefs aren’t thrilled when folks put a poster or apron in front of them for signing, but my vision goes red and my teeth grind down.

Buy. A. Book. You. Cheap. Mamma. Jamma.

Wait, wasn’t this supposed to be the happy post?

Your toes are in the sand and people bring chocolate and alcohol to you on trays. There’s live entertainment in the form of drunken antics, odd characters, and barely-covered skin. Call it dinner theater of the sweaty elite.

And oh, what food. Fresh-baked cornbread cracker with a sweet potato spread and roasted duck on top. Stone Crab. Hot and sour soup with shrimp. Angus steak with a sprig of rosemary. Battered shrimp on a stick with mango salsa. Roast beef with horseradish sauce. Cupcakes. Every chi-chi hotel restaurant and SOBE eatery brings their “wow” dish.

Thankfully, I’m not a reporter. I sucked down prosecco, breakfast stout (!), rum, vodka, lemon-infused bourbon with ginger ale (far more delicious than it sounds), absinthe (seriously), and several delicious wines, so no one expects me to remember any of the eateries for later explanation. The Jello shots, for instance. I remember the guy naming four ingredients. Some signature item at their hotel bar on SOBE. I remember the crowd made jokes about the year, or college, or whatever. I remember they tasted delicious. But if you want to find out where to go on SOBE for a gourmet Jello shot, you’ll have to Google it.

The best part is, all of this is bite-sized. You can be a glutton without getting full. You can be a lush without getting drunk.

Well, that’s true for those of us working the festival. Some festival-goers were stumbling over the sand by noon, falling over themselves by three, and belligerent by five. But they’re the minority. Most people are just boisterous and looking for a fun time.

Anthony Bourdain hasn’t been to the festival since his child was born, but he came back this year to close the festival with Eric Ripert. The two of them had crowds at the demo and folks in line cracking up. They had people at the Books & Books tent smiling, trying to keep the tables stocked with books.

I ate delicious food, talked books with some folks, got a nice buzz, saw a full double-rainbow spanning the horizon, and was escorted home by the Queen of the Nile.

Taken as a whole, I’ve got nothing to complain about.

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