By Dixie Ann Black
If you love food and wine, here is a treat you won’t want to miss. In a matter of weeks some of the area’s best chefs will have an opportunity to cater to your tastebuds. For 21 years the South Beach Wine & Food Festival (SOBEWFF) has been held in South Florida. It has been named by BizBash as the number one food and restaurant industry event in the United States and Canada for eight years in a row. Over the years, this event has featured celebrity chefs with a star-studded line up of personalities and dishes. It has also raised $31.8 million for the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at FIU which graduates more undergraduate Black, Hispanic and international students than any other hospitality school in the country.
The added attraction in this year’s lineup of celebrity chefs, and exquisite dining experiences is a healthy inclusion of local talent. Thanks to the local chapter of the Florida Black Journalist’s Association, this year’s festival will more closely resemble the community in which it has grown.
South Florida’s rich diversity makes it a Mecca for culinary diversity. To make sure this diversity is reflected in this year’s festival, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Alliance has partnered with Lisa Davis, PhD. Dr. Davis’ job will be to help ensure that previously underrepresented segments of our culinary culture are featured in this year’s festival.
Dr. Davis comes highly prepared. As a former councilwoman and Vice Mayor of the city of Miami Gardens, she brings over 25 years of experience to the table. Dr. Davis founded the highly successful Miami Gardens Wine & Food Experience, Sweet Freak Bakers Competition and continues to serve in various leadership roles in the community.
When asked why it has taken so long for the festival to ramp up the degree of diversity, Andrea Moreno, SOBEWFF’s Public Relations Manager points out that, the intention has always been there to include a greater diversity. However, the lag in diversity is an industry-wide issue in the culinary arts, especially as it relates to securing A list talent. She adds,
“It is our hope, in taking this initiative [to strengthen the diversity of the festival], that we will push this issue forward nationally.”
SOBEWFF has also secured a number of judges from diverse backgrounds. Diversity will also be evident in the great number of volunteers. The festival runs on volunteers and these volunteers will be getting real world experience alongside seasoned chefs and event planners. Among the volunteers will be students from Florida Memorial University, Miami High and Norland Senior High. Many will be able to interview and learn tips and techniques while gaining class credits.
In response to the question of how SOBEWFF will gain the interest of the local Black and Hispanic community north of South Beach, Ms. Moreno made it clear that the festival is not just being held in South Beach. She pointed to a large variety of events that will be taking place at Gulf Stream, in Hallandale and in Fort Lauderdale.
The festival’s exquisite events can get pricey. But Ms. Moreno points out a wide range of choices to fit a variety of interests. There are many kid-friendly events with affordable events for the whole family.
In addressing the issue of COVID’s effect on the festival, Ms. Moreno and Dr. Davis acknowledge that many chefs and restaurants are onboard with the event but are suffering from a shortage of staff due to the pandemic. As for the actual festival, there will be a QR Code
App to screen participants in advance. The festival capacity has been reduced to 75%, and most events will be outdoors.
The festival starts on February 24, 2022. Dr. Davis has a daunting task in trying to round up so much South Florida culinary talent in such a short time. But she and Ms. Moreno point out that they have been working on this expansion since November of 2021.
In attracting people of color, Dr. Davis has taken the challenge further by pursuing not just local chefs but local entertainment. She is tight lipped about who these entertainers will be, but if her success with the Miami Gardens Wine and Food festival is any indication, she will add what it takes to draw the crowds at this major event.
Meanwhile, we can salivate at the mention of some of our local chefs who have committed to the events. Chef Irie, Chef Teach, and Deborah Williams are just a few of the names that conjure up the taste and smell of amazing food.
The South Beach Wine and Food Festival will be held from February 24 through the 27, 2022. Information and tickets are available at https://sobewff.org/events/.