Wine, food festival benefiting FIU takes over South Florida

Student volunteers from FIU make the Festival possible.

Tens of thousands of foodies from across the nation flocked to the white sands and sun of South Beach this past weekend for the 17th annual Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

From food and wine tastings to an ice cream social to sit-down dinners at museums, and even a dog-friendly “Yappie Hour,” more than 90 events were hosted throughout Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The five-day, star-studded event, which took place Feb. 21-25, featured some of the world’s most renowned wine and spirits producers, chefs and culinary personalities, including Guy Fieri, Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay.

Many celebrities, including artist Romero Britto, supported FIU by attending this year’s Festival.

Guests sipped colorful cocktails and sampled tapas from more than 50 of the most popular restaurants and brands at the Festival’s hallmark event, the Goya Foods’ Grand Tasting Village Saturday and Sunday afternoon on South Beach. FIU alumnus and Board of Trustees member Gerald Grant Jr. ’78, MBA ’89 enjoyed his Saturday afternoon there, toes in the sand, eating Misha’s Cupcakes and lobster from the Rusty Pelican.

“It’s a great experience. My favorite part is seeing the people, but it’s also always the food,” said Grant, who’s attended the Festival for 10 years now. “I remember when this started at the North Campus, and it has grown and it has become a South Florida tradition.”

Eat. Drink. Educate.

Hosted by Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits and FIU, the Festival benefits education at the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. As of 2017, more than $26 million had been raised for student scholarships, construction of state-of-the-art facilities, faculty advancement and education innovation in the fields of hospitality and tourism management.

Guests at the Goya Foods’ Grand Tasting Village snacked on tapas and cocktails from more than 50 of the nation’s most popular restaurants and brands.

Andrew Zimmern, star of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern on the Travel Channel and host of the Festival’s Lucky Chopsticks event in Fort Lauderdale, said the best part of the Festival is being able to raise money to educate the next generation of hospitality professionals and “food people.”

“I think food people have always known what the rest of the world is late to catch up on, which is it’s better to define ourselves by the things we have in common, like our love of food… rather than define ourselves by the things that separate us,” Zimmern said. “And one thing I believe in the bottom of my heart is that if we have more people in the hospitality industry, I think the world is going to be a better place.”

Student opportunities abound

The Festival can’t go on without the help of FIU students. Each year, more than 1,000 student volunteers work more than 3,000 shifts throughout the five-day event, assisting in areas like marketing, ticket sales, food preparation, logistics and event management.

More than 1,000 FIU students volunteer at the annual Festival.

Celebrity chef Bobby Flay, who has been a regular part of the Festival since it began in 2002, said the most exciting thing about the Festival is being able to work with FIU students.

“They’re so enthusiastic,” Flay said. “I’ve done so many different events here… Our name may be on the marquis, but we need a lot of help to feed hundreds, if not thousands of people. We need really good hands, and the students at FIU, they’re lifesavers for us.”

Working the Festival, students gain valuable insight into the field of hospitality; they apply what they learn in the classroom in a real-world setting; and they network with industry leaders.

Junior hospitality management major Monica Duys is entering the second year of a promotions job she got by working the Festival. Last year, she met Coca-Cola brand ambassadors at the Festival and asked how they got involved in what they do. From there, they referred her to The Promotions Company of Miami, where she was hired.

Chaplin students Monica Duys and Alexandre Magalhães, who volunteered at this year’s Goya Foods’ Grand Tasting Village

“[The Festival has] opened up so many doors, not only in the jobs that I’ve received, but the contacts I’ve been talking to throughout the year – everyone from different restaurants and chefs, to promotion companies, to bartending companies.”

Hospitality management alumnus Brett Schindler ’17 started as a volunteer and worked his way up over the years to recruitment coordinator for the Goya Foods’ Grand Tasting Village, a role in which he now manages student volunteers.

“As a hospitality student, we get so many opportunities to work in this industry. But this is the one event where you can really put what you’re learning in the classroom to use and really get that actual hands-on experience,” Schindler said.

Read more: Student Angelic Cox presented her award-winning, original burger recipe to Guy Fieri at the Festival’s Heineken Light Burger Bash presented by Schweid and Sons

Both he and fellow student Feyi Yusuf were so inspired by working SOBEWFF® over the last few years that they switched their career focuses from food and beverage management to event management.

Yusuf, a senior and peer mentor in the Chaplin school, always makes sure to recommend the Festival to her mentees.

“You never know who’s watching you [at the Festival]. What you may think is just a regular behavior for you might be you going above and beyond in someone else’s eyes, and that could land you a job in their company. There’s so many great opportunities and great connections out here,” she said.