50@50: When BBC was as cool as South Beach

To celebrate the university’s 50th anniversary, FIU News will share 50 moments in FIU’s history as part of our “50@50″ series.

As the world-famous Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival presented by FOOD & WINE gets under way today and runs through Sunday, we continue this weekly series with wine professor (and 1975 alumnus) Chip Cassidy. Back in the late 1990s, he had an idea for a Sunday afternoon gathering called the Florida Extravaganza. Held on FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus, the fundraiser took off as a collaboration between the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and one of its biggest donors, beverage distributor Southern Wine & Spirits. The successful affair offered patrons a taste of some of the world’s top vintages and the finest local cuisine—and eventually morphed into today’s wildly popular SoBe Fest.

Among those who attended the first Florida Extravaganza was Spanish singing sensation Julio Iglesias, pictured above. Cassidy extended an invitation to the international superstar, a loyal customer of Cassidy, who at the time was a noted wine buyer for a chain of fine liquor stores.

Organized and staffed by students and hosted by celebrity chefs, the SoBe Fest in 2015 features more than 80 wine seminars, brunches, dinners and late-night parties in addition to signature and themed tastings and has become an annual mecca for tens of thousands of visiting and local connoisseurs. Proceeds of more than $20 million have benefited the school.