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Cooking in Paradise: Reflections From the 2015 South Beach Wine & Food Festival

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The 2015 Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival presented by Food & Wine was bigger than ever this year, featuring A-list culinary superstars, delicious dishes, and tons of fun in the heart of palm tree-laden Miami as usual. Amidst the warm weather, sand and surf, and dazzling superstardom, who could have possibly left the four-day event NOT on Cloud 9?

For me, being a part of the Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival is always an honor. For the last four years, I've had the chance to work alongside other chefs including celebs like Rachael Ray, Giada De Laurentiis, Guy Fieri, and Ingrid Hoffmann (shout-out to my amazing friend Ingrid!) at the weekend portion of the festival welcoming youth and their parents, Fun and Fit as a Family sponsored by Carnival featured Goya Kidz Kitchen, to the otherwise 21-and-over event. From cooking for 1,000+ people in the amphitheater to teaching a class in a more intimate setting for 100 kids who have the chance to roll up their sleeves and make special dishes in menus designed by each of the stars who leads them, the events could not be more exciting and diverse across both days on Jungle Island, where the festivities all unfold.

This year, I had the opportunity to expand my role at the festival and to host my culinary demos on both this past Saturday and Sunday, but also to introduce the thousands of fans who came out from all across Miami and South Florida (and indeed who flew in from across the country!) to the fellow celeb chefs who appeared at the Fun and Fit as a Family series at #SoBeWFF. Hosting events is always a huge highlight, as is being able to welcome inspirational chefs and culinary icons like Ingrid, Robert Irvine, Andrew Zimmern, Todd English, Duff Goldman, and more to the #SoBeWFF stage.

Saturday night, I experienced the pulse of Miami to the max, cruising over to the Biltmore Hotel for the Barilla Interactive Dinner with Chef Lorenzo Boni, where the hundreds of guests took turns cooking table-side and joining together to prepare a dinner consisting of three delicious courses. After that, the following morning I was back at it once again, part of the four days of food-centric splendor that bring thousands together year after year.

The most significant takeaway for me every year is how the nationwide culinary community drops everything, whether in New York or LA, to descend on South Beach for what has truly become the Academy Awards of the food scene. Being a part of that excitement and seeing the thrill and expanse of the festival grow over the last several years since I first signed on in 2012 has been extraordinary, and I can't wait to see what's ahead for the highest-profile celebration of food in America.

Huge thanks to Lee Schrager, Ashley Shapiro, Alex Saludes, and the entire senior team at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival for having me once again this year!