Earlier today I sat down with the friendly and talented Lee Schrager, the man who created the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the food industry's Spring break, and Schrager has much to celebrate. In the past 10 years, the event has grown from a couple hundred attendees to over 20,000. Here's how our conversation went down.
YumSugar: How will this year's SOBE be different?
Lee Schrager: It's our 10th year and we have some events that we've created just for the anniversary. The official anniversary party is tomorrow night — yes, you should wear sequins! — and it's hosted by Martha Stewart and Emeril. It's called Let Them Eat Cake and we have 15 cakes that have been created by amazing cake artists in New York City. A special cooler FedEx truck went around this morning to pick up each of the cakes and is driving them down for the party tomorrow.
YS: Why do you think the festival has become so popular?
LS: Well, clearly the rise of the culinary scene in general. The Food Network's popularity, the rise of the celebrity chef and the culinary personality. The consumer is more educated about food than they were 10 years ago. They're more sophisticated, they're looking for that sophisticated experience. Also, I always say some people are into golf, others are into tennis, but who doesn't like good food and good wine?
To see what event Lee is most excited for, keep reading!
YS: What event are you most looking forward to?
LS: I'm really excited for the Alain Ducasse tribute dinner. Ten years ago he cooked at our first tribute dinner, and I always knew that if we made it to 10 years, that would be the year we would honor Alain. I also can't wait for the anniversary party. It's the official Miami launch of the SOBE cookbook as well!
YS: What's your favorite SOBE memory?
LS: I have a bunch of different memories, but one that stands out is the first year when I walked into BubbleQ. It was on the beach with five chefs and no tents and no parameters, but the smell of barbecue was amazing and I couldn't help but think, "How magical is this?" It doesn't get any better than that!
YS: Did you ever have any past SOBE crises that you're able to laugh about today?
LS: Yes. We ran out of glasses. The second year we grew so quickly. The first year we had 200-300 people and the second year we had 6,000. We weren't prepared for that many people. We were totally understaffed — oh my god what a mess. At one point, I didn't think we were going to make it to year three. But we somehow got through it and knew we needed help to map it out and grow the festival.
YS: Are there any chefs who have not participated who you would love to have come down?
LS: No. Anyone I've wanted we've got. Over the past 10 years, we've had all the big names at least once. We've been very fortunate.
YS: What's your most important entertaining tip to the everyday hostess?
LS: You need a pound of ice per person. That's my most important caterer's rule of thumb. Also, get a cookbook. Don't be afraid to experiment with food. It's not doing surgery, if it doesn't turn out, throw it in the garbage and go out to dinner! Put a twist on recipes, own it!