The Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival Presented by Capital One is back for its 20th installment on Thursday, May 20, and lasting until Sunday, May 23. But like just about everything in 2021, it will look very different than it has in years past. The four-day festival, which has become a key event in the culinary world in South Florida and beyond over the past two decades, will be one of the first large-scale celebrations since COVID-19, and it’s welcoming guests back with a slew of new safety precautions in place.
But ultimately the show must go on. And over the past two decades, the festival has raised millions for the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Florida International University and gives its students real-life culinary and event experience throughout the weekend.
Here’s everything you need to know about what to bring, what to wear, and all the events available for every appetite and budget.
The festival won’t be as large as it’s been in years past, at least in terms of attendance, but it’s hardly a small-scale production. Events span more than three counties, from as far south as Coral Gables all the way up to Delray Beach. But staying true to its name, many of the big events still happen on South Beach and its general vicinity.
While being on time is something most people have never heard of in South Florida, note that the events begin and end precisely when they say they will. If an event is over at 10 p.m., don't think that at 10:01 p.m. you’ll be able to grab that one last drink. Oh, and speaking of drinks, taking them out the door after an event is severely frowned upon and could even get someone in trouble.
Getting There, the Elements, and What to Bring
First and foremost, everyone attending the festival must complete the SymCheck app before arriving, attesting that they’ve either had a negative COVID-19 test within the previous 72 hours or are fully vaccinated. You’ll be asked to show a SymCheck QR Code at each event. If you’re going to events on multiple days, be aware that the code is valid for only 24 hours and will need to be redone each day.
While the CDC recently loosened its mask guidelines for people who are fully vaccinated, the festival is keeping its mask policy in place. Masks must be worn at all times when guests aren’t eating or drinking. For those who forget a mask, the festival will provide disposable masks.
Ladies, do everyone a favor and leave the high heels at home for any event on the beach. (Most marquee events are held there.) Inevitably, your shoes will be ruined because you'll spend the whole night sinking into the sand — not a good look. Sandals are your best option.
Almost all the events are outdoors this year due to the new safety policies put in place by the festival. And with temperatures expected to be in the mid-80s for most of the week, be sure to dress accordingly — it’s going to get hot. And don’t forget: The events are rain or shine. In other words, no event will be canceled due to weather, and no refunds will be given.
Now this is important: Do not leave home without an ID to show that you are of age, because someone will ask you for it at some point. And don’t forget to bring your ticket! No ticket, no entry. Period. And finally — and maybe most important — bring a stockpile of wet wipes and antacids to the festival, because you will be eating a lot. Thank us later.
And since there will be copious amounts of booze at just every event, your best bet is to either find a designated driver or use a rideshare app, like Lyft or Uber. Available parking at events is limited at best.
Grand Tasting Village 101
This is the event that started it all. The two-day, wine-filled Grand Tasting Village runs Saturday, May 22 through Sunday, May 23. Each day it features more than 30 restaurants handing out food, while an array of different wine and spirits suppliers pour unlimited samplings. If that isn’t enough to make someone’s head spin, there are also a variety of culinary demos featuring everyone from Giada De Laurentiis to Marcus Samuelsson, along with plenty of interactive activities and book signings. Crowds will be smaller than in previous years, but you still might encounter some lines. But don’t worry, they move quickly, and there will be more than enough food and drink to go around.
Can’t make it to the festival? Good news: All the culinary demos will be streamed online this year for free over Zoom. All that is required is online registration.
The festival adds some new blood into the rotation each year. This year, guests can Explore Delray Beach Market, the state’s largest food hall, during its brand new event, or fill up with sushi picked by the Succulent Bite at Rockin Sushi. And to honor the festival’s 20th anniversary, a SOBEWFF 20th Anniversary Celebration will be hosted by Martha Stewart and David Grutman, with a surprise musical performance.
Each evening showcases at least one large-scale tasting event. Kicking off the weekend is the Italian Bites on the Beach on Thursday, May 20, hosted by Giada De Laurentiis, followed by the Heineken Burger Bash, with host Bobby Flay, on Friday, May 21. The always swanky Best of the Best is divided into two nights this year with a session on Friday, May 21, and Saturday, May 22, while BubbleQ makes its triumphant return to the beach on Saturday, May 21 with the Mayor of Flavortown, Guy Fieri. Rounding out the weekend is Best of the Fest hosted by Andrew Zimmern on Sunday, May 23.
Events Under $100
You don’t have to break the bank to enjoy the festivities. Plenty of booze-centric events offer tickets for under $100, including the tiki cocktail extravaganza known as Art of the Tiki, newcomer Croquetas and Craft Cocktails, and the kid-friendly Fun and Fit as a Family. There’s even an option to work out during the weekend at the annual Buddhas and Bellinis yoga event, and a Bootcamp and Bites class hosted Robert Irvine.