SoBe, or not SoBe?

By Marialisa Calta Published: January 22, 2011
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Haven't been to the South Beach Wine & Food Festival? Me neither. It appears that we are, um, losers.

Chef Anthony Bourdain calls the festival "the combination Woodstock, Sundance, Cannes and Altamont of the food world." Emeril Lagasse calls it "spring break for chefs." It's a gathering of 50,000 people on Miami's legendary South Beach (SoBe), where chefs are rock stars and the champagne flows. Nice to know it benefits culinary education ($10 million raised for Florida International University's School of Hospitality and the Southern Wine and Spirits Beverage Center). And it's nice to know that stay-at-homes like us can get a taste of the fabulousness through the new "Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook" by Lee Brian Schrager (Clarkson Potter, 2010).

Bourdain, author of the acclaimed (and amazing) "Kitchen Confidential," employs his macho, tell-all style in the forward to the book, writing about past festival exploits: spotting British chef Nigella Lawson at 4 a.m. at a "divey" club, "offering me cheese and charcuterie -- and cigarettes," and watching superchef Eric Ripert breast-stroking across the hotel pool "careful not to get his hair wet." He remembers a carload of "badly behaved chefs" -- Mario Batali, Jamie Oliver, Mark Ladner, Adam Perry Lang and himself (of course) -- "on our way to ... a rooftop cocktail party? The Club Deuce? The Versace mansion? To play capture the flag on the beach? ... It could have been any or all of them."

For all of its "spring break" vibe, this book actually manages to give the home cook many useful recipes, plus a jolt of adrenaline that you may find refreshing if the "party" has gone out of your cooking. All hail to Schrager, the founder of the festival, for corralling these divas into anteing up workable recipes. It wasn't easy, he writes. One chef submitted a "simple" recipe calling for lobster stock, Dungeness crab, sea-urchin roe and gelatin sheets. Another called for 35 ingredients. These did NOT make it into the book.

Former "Top Chef" host Katie Lee (Billy Joel's wife) cooked up a burger recipe as part of the SoBe festival's Burger Bash, started by Schrager and food personality Rachael Ray. Lee's concoction won a prize at the New York iteration of the Wine & Food Festival but won NOTHING at the South Beach venue. "Still, I had tons of fun," she writes. Which seems to be the point of this wild foodie extravaganza (Feb. 24 to Feb. 27 this year).

To go with Lee's unctuous burger, here's a recipe for a toasted-marshmallow milkshake from chef Spike Mendelsohn of Washington, D.C.'s Good Stuff Eatery. Party on.

KATIE LEE'S LOGAN COUNTY HAMBURGERS

1 pound 85 percent lean ground beef

1 medium yellow onion, peeled, half grated and half sliced thin

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

12 slices white bread

12 slices American cheese (optional)

ketchup, mustard and pickles, for serving

In a medium bowl, combine the beef, grated onion, egg, salt, pepper and garlic powder.

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