Lee Schrager, the man behind the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, as well as its recent New York incarnation is prepping for his big event in South Florida from February 25th to February 28th. For the upscale foodie celebration, the vice president of corporate communications and national events for Southern Wine & Spirits has recruited kitchen all-stars such as Paula Deen, Daniel Boulud, Emeril Lagasse, Rachael Ray and Bobby Flay to cook, attend events and lead demonstrations for guests. The former Miami club owner gives us the inside view on the festivals, celebrity chefs and his love/hate relationship with food bloggers after the jump.
On the New York vs South Beach event: The biggest difference is that we have so much more space available in Florida to do something. We have three city blocks to do our big grand tasting that the city of Miami Beach gives us complimentary. In New York, we have a pier which is probably 15% of our Miami space. It’s just the limitations of doing work in New York City, and wanting to be outdoors in a great location in a great time of year. I never wanted to be in a ballroom, I didn’t want to be in a convention center. I really wanted to be in a neighborhood. And that’s what Chelsea offered us this past year.
On feedback from attendees: When I started this nine years ago, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but I’m never insulted by feedback. A lot of times it’s bullshit, but 50% of the time you get something out of it. I think when you listen to people and you listen to the comments and what bothers them, whether it’s that the restrooms are too far away, or the welcome center isn’t running as smoothly as it should, you can make a positive impact. On planning for the unexpected: In South Beach, you can’t control the rain. I never used to look at weather reports. But about four years ago, at a major event called the Bubble Q. which is big champagne and BBQ event on South Beach with Bobby Flay hosting we had a disaster. It was gorgeous weather all day, and I was getting dressed in the hotel and watching the weather on the six o’ clock news. There was a chance of light showers later in the night. This party started around 7 or 7:30, and when I was heading over to the sight, there were clouds coming, but I wasn’t overly concerned. Around 8:30 p.m., the skies opened up and it was absolute rain. In my 30 years of living in Miami I’d never seen a typhoon like this. Guests had been at the party for about an hour to two hours. It’s an outdoor party under the sky, so was the party a wash out? Absolutely. I can tell you we’ve had tents ever since. You learn your lesson. On dealing with rock star/celebrity chefs: Listen, these are the talent. You’re dealing with talent that’s pulled in every direction. These are people that make big dollars to attend events, or be at events or headline events, and they all donate their time to support the hunger cause. There are very few things that we find as cons. It’s like anything; we’re dealing with people who have people and it’s normally the people’s people who, if there are issues it’s them, not the people. Anyone who does the festival or hosts one of our headline events are people who I’ve had relationships with over the years, who’ve been very loyal and supportive of anything I’ve asked. The few times I’ve had issues it’s never with my people, it’s their people. What he misses about nightlife: Not a thing. The cash. Definitely not the lifestyle. On being known as the “attention to detail” man: I live by the rule of thumb: a pound of ice per person and good lighting. On food bloggers: They’ve helped us get our message out quicker and to a larger base in a more timely fashion. I read some of them, whether their writing is good or bad and some days you like them and some days you don’t like them. But in the end, we wouldn’t have the success that we’ve had at our festivals, certainly in New York, nowadays without the attention of the bloggers. I think almost any press is good press. Almost.
On getting shit done: Listen, we’re raising money to fight hunger. We’re not doing brain surgery; we’re not planning your daughter’s wedding. We want to produce a good event at good value, fairly priced and we want it to be fun and that’s always been our goal. We didn’t want to be the biggest, we hopefully wanted to be one of the best, but that’s what we really strive for. We really want to put on a great event. Go-to spots in Miami: I obviously don’t have a favorite, I have many favorites. I mean I love Michael Psilakis’ restaurant at the Viceroy called Eos. I love Michelle Bernstein’s themed restaurant Michy’s, I love an Italian restaurant on Miami beach called Macaluso. I happen to love Hakkasan at the Fontainebleau and Scarpetta.