Lee Schrager Dishes on South Beach Wine & Food Festival 2014

South Beach Wine & Food Festival officially kicked off last night with Moët Hennessy’s The Q, a see-and-be-seen party where chefs threw down their best barbecue for a finger lickin’ BBQ battle. The event brought in foodies, chefs and food personalities from all over the world, as well as celebrities and the 2014 Sports Illustrated swimsuit models. And that is just one event of many.

The annual Festival, which takes place this year from Feb. 20th-23rd, is a place where chefs eat, drink, cook and play for charity. The public is also invited, where guests can purchase tickets to selected events that range from interactive dinners to a Whole Foods Pavilion that houses culinary demos and sponsor booths. Proceeds from SOBEWFF go to Florida International University’s (FIU) Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, which, thanks to the event, owns a $7.5 million, state-of-the-art test lab & kitchen. According to the Miami Herald, Martha Stewart indulged in the inaugural dinner held at the University's Wine Spectator Restaurant Management Lab on Wednesday night, right before SOBEWFF celebrations kicked off on Thursday.

Some of our favorite dishes around Miami |  PB Steak

Some of our favorite dishes around Miami | PB Steak

Some of our favorite dishes around Miami |  Swine

Some of our favorite dishes around Miami | Swine

Some of our favorite dishes around Miami |  The Federal

Some of our favorite dishes around Miami | The Federal

Some of our favorite dishes around Miami |  Yardbird

Some of our favorite dishes around Miami | Yardbird

Started From the Bottom, Now We're Here.

Now in its 12th year, one can only wonder how an event like this came to be. Enter Lee Brian Schrager, Director of Special Events and Media Relations at Southern Wine & Spirits of America, who grabbed the reigns in 2002 and rebranded the original one-day event that took place at FIU’s campus. After relocating and renaming the Festival, throwing in some great chefs and a handful of interactive events, the buzz started swarming and it hasn’t slowed down since.

Foodable sat down with Schrager before the SOBEWFF craziness ensued to talk about what guests can expect at this year’s event, which chefs he’s excited to see thrive, and what culinary trend he’s excited to see flourish within the next year.

What exciting wine & culinary trends can we expect to see at this year's South Beach Wine & Food Festival?

Lee Brian Schrager: Innovative cocktails are still a strong trend – Moët Hennessy is doing some interesting things, like a Grand Marnier South American Margarita at FLAUNT, and we’re working with Botran® Rums on special cocktails at our new Medianoches & Mixology event hosted by Anne Burrell & Emilio Estefan.

Can you identify some of the up-and-coming chefs that you see becoming rising stars that will either be at this year's event or that you have your eye on?

LBS: I’m honored to serve alongside Danny Meyer and Alice Waters on the panel that helps determine the Forbes 30 Under 30 in Food & Drink – I’d keep my eye on anyone on the recently released list.

There are a lot of consumers becoming more aware (and comfortable with) the wine scene because of social & digital media. How do you see social & digital media playing a role in elevating the awareness of SBWFF?

LBS: It allows a greater audience to see and enjoy what we do – it’s really a lot of fun to see everyone’s photos and comments over the weekend. It allows us to be more in tune to what our sponsors, talent and consumers are actually experiencing first-hand!

From cooking style to menu options to wine & spirits, is there one particular hot culinary trend you're excited to see flourish in 2014?

LBS: Vegetables featured as main entrée dishes.

Do you see simple, back-to-basics food coming back and leading the forefront for American consumers (i.e. fried chicken), or is this just a step in the culinary ladder of going toward something more complex?

LBS:  I think consumers are really responding to the whole idea of comfort food taken up a few notches, and incredibly prepared fresh, simple ingredients.