By Chef Michelle Bernstein

This past whirlwind of a weekend was South Beach Wine and Food Festival in Miami. The festival was born 13 years ago as a one-day event known as the Florida Extravaganza. It has now grown into a four-day destination event that showcases the talents of everyone from wine and spirits producers to culinary personalities, world-renowned chefs and local chefs just starting out.  In 2013, the festival attracted an astounding 65, 000 food and wine lovers to our beautiful city of Miami.

Michelle_with_canape_at_SPICE_dinner[1]The Festival benefits Florida International University (FIU) School of Hospitality & Tourism Management and the Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center and has helped raise over $18 million dollars to date. I couldn’t be more proud of what we have accomplished; it’s helped bring such awareness and attention to the culinary scene in Miami.

This year FIU opened their brand new-state-of-the art Teaching Restaurant Management Lab as a result of the funds raised by the festival. I had the opportunity to cook at the beautiful facility during the inaugural dinner.  It was such a  pleasure to cook with some of the talented chefs who have not only supported the festival since its birth but are also responsible for shaping the food industry in Miami and making it was it is today. Among the chefs were Mark Militello, Norman Van Aken, Allen Susser, Hedy Goldsmith and Cindy Hutson. We served an appetizer of Melting Cheese and Jamon Serrano Croquetas with fig jam and a main course of Flor de Calabaza(squash blossoms) filled with Prawn mousse, shrimp nage, Creamy grits; both are favorites that I created at Michy’s.

Friday night I cooked with Aaron Brooks (Edge Steak & Bar, Miami, FL), Michael Solomonov (Zahav, Philadelphia, PA) and my favorite spice blend master Lior Lev Sercarz of  La Boîte à Epice; I absolutely loved this Event.  The food was borderline Mediterranean and Middle Eastern focused on the use of La Boîte spices which are in my opinion the best spice mixtures on Earth.  The dinner celebrated those spices and everyone loved it! My dish was a slow cooked then seared lamb loin, creamy polenta, all the citrus I could find including Cara Cara oranges, blood oranges and more, crispy Jerusalem artichokes and Ana Spice (a combo I could never recreate so I buy it!!!)

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On Sunday I cooked at Swine & Wine, an all-day Cuban pig roast hosted by the Biltmore. This event is all Miami! I love how Organic and truly home grown it is. The event is so Latin: amazing music, incredible food and fun-loving Miamians. You never know who you’re going to run into from chef celebrities to Latin celebrities to famous rappers. On top of it all, the Biltmore is a beautiful hotel that holds so much history and has been visited by the most important people in the world. It has always been my favorite hotel and is always maintained and kept in the most perfect conditions.

For this event I served a pulled pork shoulder and Brussels sprouts salad with confit grapes. I am so proud of this dish, even more proud than I was at the previous Swine & Wines. The dish took 5 days to make, I know that sounds ridiculous but when you watch people bit into something, and that something makes them squeal with delight…it’s all worth it. The pork shoulder was cured in sugar, salt, orange rind and spices for about 48 hours; then I brought it all home and smoked it in my smoker for 8 hours with local wood. Next it was braised in the oven for over 8 hours and the meat was pulled and set tightly into a pan. The next day we cut it into little perfect squares and sautéed it at the event michiin front of everyone and topped it with a fresh salad of raw shaved Brussels sprouts. The dish was very special; I think it will be with me for a long time.

I’m often asked what the most challenging part of the festival is for me. The most difficult part is definitely the logistics of how to prepare and organize so many events in just 3 days.  That is a lot for anyone to handle, even the most organized chefs. I have small kitchens at the restaurants and they get very crowded but at least there is organized chaos!  We get so excited every year that the festival is around the corner and we begin getting ready at least 2 weeks in advance; our lists are made, products are ordered and our kitchens are organized. Even after 13 years, I still get butterflies when trying to arrange logistics for so many hundreds of people in one very crowded weekend, but every year it all seems to come together beautifully and my team has the satisfaction of watching people leave with wonderful tastes in their mouths.  What could be a better pat on back for a Chef!