Spotlight On: Alex Durant

As most of you know, the Festival is less than a month away! In honor of our 10 year anniversary, we would like to introduce you to the team that makes it all happen.

Name: Alex Durant                 Role/Title with SOBE: Sponsor Manager                             

Years with SOBE: 5

How did you become involved with the Festival? The Festival was looking for an Auction Consultant for the first time in 2007. I was on the committee for Taste of the Nation with one of Lee’s colleagues, and she referred me for the position. As President of Durant Consulting, specializing in auction management, I was hired to produce the silent, live and online auctions for the Festival.

Top Lee Brian Schrager story: In a conversation with Lee about my pregnancy, he discovered I was due only one month before the Festival. Without a beat he replied, “You can get still work the Festival 3 weeks after giving birth.” Needless to say, I will have someone covering for me, but I love Lee’s perception and expectation!

The day the Festival made you laugh so hard you cried: When a colleague did a dance around her desk and ended up with a broken toe from kicking the chair.

Top 3 most memorable SOBE moments: 1. Exceeding the auction goal my first year with the Festival. 2. Walking the Grand Tasting with my parents when we had a few hours to spare between events and enjoying every second of being a guest. 3. It is a treat to gather with the Festival on Sunday evening once the Festival events have concluded. We share stories from the weekend and often act out our favorite moments.

February 2nd, 2011

Spotlight On: Mohammad Qureshi



Name: Mohammad A. Qureshi

Role/Title with SOBE: I have had many different titles with SOBE. I used to assist the Associate Dean Lee Dickson with logistics and inventory related to Grand Tasting Village and School’s booth. From 2005-2008, I was the Inventory Manager and since 2009, I represent the Dean’s office on the committee.

Years with SOBE: 10

How did you become involved with the Festival? I used to assist the Associate Dean, Mr. Dickson with purchasing, operation and coordination of Wine Extravaganza when it was held at the campus starting in 1997. This lead me to do similar things at SOBE starting 2001 and finally into Inventory Manager and into my current position.

Top Lee Brian Schrager story: I really do not have a Top Lee Brian Schrager story except the fact that I have been around from the very beginning and have witnessed Lee’s tremendous leadership and vision in developing the festival to where it is today. His energy and enthusiasm is contagious and I have enjoyed working with him and have learned a lot.

The day the Festival made you laugh so hard you cried: Typically, I am not a emotional person. I do not know about laughing but during the 2007, my inventory team lost a small package that was for FED EX booth. There was tremendous pressure on finding it and after searching for hours we finally found it. I was overcome with joy and emotions that almost made me cry.

Top 3 most memorable SOBE moments: I have a lot of memorable moments but for now I will share the following.

1. Rain and thunder storm that destroyed Bubble Q.

2. During the 2006 festival, we had an event celebrating the 5th anniversary with cake and dessert outside of Loews hotel. One of the chefs had a fried item and the fryer would not work. At the last minute, I was able to help start that fryer and received tremendous accolades from the Chef.

3. Barilla offers one of our students a scholarship as the “Student Chef of the Year” and part of the presentation is a chef jacket with Barilla  logo on it. In the past, they brought the jacket but in 2010, they forgot to get the jacket and I was given 2 days to produce a jacket with their logo. It took a lot of string-pulling but we were able to get the jacket in on time and it made all involved very thankful and happy.

January 28th, 2011

Spotlight On: Lourdes Balepogi


Lourdes Balepogi

As most of you know, the Festival is less than two months away! In honor of our 10 year anniversary, we would like to introduce you to the team that makes it all happen. Every few days, we’ll be featuring an interview with one of the amazing Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival staff members. Take a look…

Name: Lourdes Balepogi

Role/Title with SOBE: I’ve used my two years of experience on the event production side of the festival to contribute to the success of the student associate program. It’s allowed me to be a champion for FIU School of Hospitality students by ensuring that they receive a practical and rewarding experience by working at the festival. In addition, I ensure that each event manager receives quality assistance and fully trained students that contribute to the guest experience, and the overall success of each event.

Years with SOBE: Four

How did you become involved with the Festival? My time with the festival began with Susan Kleinberg, who needed an assistant to help produce three of her events. I worked with her for two years, then the Festival asked me to work with the Student Associate Program, where I couple my Festival event management experience with my experience as an FIU student, alumna and former employee.

Top Lee Brian Schrager story: There was an elderly couple that Patrick Jong nicknamed the ‘festival crashers,’ and year after year, this same couple managed to sneak into some of the Festival’s premiere events. But last year they were busted by Lee himself – we finally caught them! And Patrick got a picture, too.

The day the Festival made you laugh so hard you cried: It has to be standing in the rain during the 2010 Festival where we had created a tunnel of umbrellas for the chefs to come in and out of Tap Tap on South Beach. We were holding a fundraiser at the restaurant that the festival created for Haiti earthquake victims, and in order to get the chefs back and forth from the prep area to the restaurant, we stood in the rain with our umbrellas for two hours to keep them dry. What a night!

Top 3 most memorable SOBE moments:

1. I had the privilege of helping to coordinate Emeril’s Tribute Dinner in 2009. I was able to line up the 100-person Miami Central High School marching band for the event, so that when Emeril’s award was presented, the band came in playing ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’ At the end, he was moved to tears, and I had the opportunity to meet him shortly after the event. He thanked me for such a moving tribute and wonderful surprise with the marching band. It was a memorable night, to say the least.

2. The Guy Fieri closing party in 2010 – Closing the festival with a lot of the people I’d worked with throughout the year was a nice finishing touch. Celebrating the success of the Festival with each of these people who had worked so hard to make it all come together was one of those mountain-top moments for me.

3. I was able to do a lot of behind the scenes work for Best of the Best in 2008 at the American Airlines Arena, coordinating all of the loading in and loading out. It was great to turn a venue that is usually used for sporting events and concerts into the site for a major Festival event.

January 18th, 2011

Spotlight On: Devonie Nicholas

Devonie Nicholas

As most of you know, the Festival is less than two months away! In honor of our 10 year anniversary, we would like to introduce you to the team that makes it all happen. Every few days, we’ll be featuring an interview with one of the amazing Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival staff members. Take a look…

Name: Devonie Nicholas                            Role/Title with SOBE: Media Manager

Years with SOBE: 2007 was my first Festival – have been full-time in the SOBE office since 2008

How did you become involved with the Festival? I worked for an outside agency as a consultant on the Festival before being hired full-time.

Top Lee Brian Schrager story: There are several, including every time Lee starts a sentence with “And I love you, but . . .”, but my favorite is from the 2009 Fest. As you may recall, the King and Queen of Spain came to SOBE in 2009 and we hosted this huge tribute to the wines and food of Spain (a dinner) on the Thursday of the Festival. It is the day before they arrive and we are at The Biltmore to do a walk-thru with the security team to go over, among many things, press protocol. As we begin to run thru things it becomes apparent fairly quickly that the farther away the press are located, the more comfortable they are (quite naturally). Lee sizes up the situation in half of a second and basically tells them – alright, you have a job to do and as you can imagine this is a pretty big deal for us and is going to attract a huge amount of attention from the press that we don’t want to lose out on, so . . . – and proceeds to outline an alternate plan. I remember standing there laughing to myself, thinking “wow, this is hilarious – my boss just told these agents exactly how this is all going to work.” And what do you know, that’s exactly how it happened the next evening.

The day the Festival made you laugh so hard you cried: We are lucky – that happens nearly every day. But I have to say that every time Patrick reenacts a phone conversation he had with someone a few years ago claiming we never sent their tickets, and the hand delivery situation that followed, it puts me in stitches.

Top 3 most memorable SOBE moments:

• The very first year of Fun and Fit as a Family (2008) – working with my now right-hand woman, Robin Insley, on taping a Good Morning America segment with Rachael Ray and working with Ashley Shapiro – seeing the “healthy living” message come to life and the way parents and children responded to the talent is something I will never forget.

• The night I took home the galley copy of #sobecookbook and read it cover to cover – followed closely by the official launch of the book in NYC at the Barneys “Have a Foodie Holiday” window unveiling

• A few years ago when I started full-time we began this process of gathering “Fun Facts” from the event managers (Randy & Kelly) about the major events – Burger Bash® and BubbleQ® – and making one-sheets for media purposes (i.e. how many bottles of Champagne, how many lbs. of beef, etc.). Emeril hosted the BubbleQ® that year and was doing his radio show live from Emeril’s, his restaurant at the Loews. He was scheduled to interview Lee to open his show. I was standing there with just Emeril, who was reviewing some materials, and someone from his amazing team. Emeril suddenly looks directly at me and says “have you seen these?” – I look to see what he’s holding and am beyond ecstatic to see our fun facts for the BubbleQ®! He goes on to say “this is amazing – 931 lbs. of pork butt!” I was so thrilled that he seemed genuinely excited to have that information! That was a moment I will never forget.

January 15th, 2011

Spotlight On: Bruce Augello

As most of you know, the Festival is less than two months away! In honor of our 10 year anniversary, we would like to introduce you to the team that makes it all happen. Every few days, we’ll be featuring an interview with one of the amazing Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival staff members. Take a look…

Name: Bruce Augello

Role/Title with SOBE: Southern Wine & Spirits Director of Security, Security of Grand Tasting Tents, Burger Bash, Best of the Best, Bubble Q as well as other celebrities.

Years with SOBE: 10 years

How did you become involved with the Festival? I started when the Festival was still at FIU north campus, when it was a black tie affair called the FIU Extravaganza. So I really started in 1997.

Top Lee Brian Schrager story: The top Lee Schrager story to me is when Lee moved the event to Sobe, which was the beginning of turning this into what the Festival is now.

The day the Festival made you laugh so hard you cried: I laugh now but didn’t then, however everyone else did. I backed up my golf cart into the T Fal booth. The backup siren was not working on the golf cart, I got so flustered I actually hit it again.

Top 3 most memorable SOBE moments (other than those above): Our First Group picture. The first Festival on the beach. Receiving the picture for our 5th year.

January 13th, 2011

Spotlight On: Ashley Shapiro


The fabulous Ashley Shapiro

As most of you know, the Festival is less than two months away! In honor of our 10 year anniversary, we would like to introduce you to the team that makes it all happen. Every few days, we’ll be featuring an interview with one of the amazing Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival staff members. Take a look…

Name: Ashley Shapiro

          Role/Title with SOBE: Ticketing and Event Manager

Years with SOBE: 6 years

How did you become involved with the Festival? I moved back home to Miami after college to get my Masters at FIU and attempt to get involved in the Festival. With some help from inside sources, I was able to score an internship with the Festival in 2005 working on the auction. After two years of interning, Lee hired my full time to manage Fun and Fit as a Family and ticketing.

Top Lee Brian Schrager story: In my first year as an intern, I had successfully pulled off my first auction ever at the Best of the Best at the Fontainebleau. As we were closing up the auction, a very drunk guest approached me and asked for his auction items. When I looked into his items, it turned out he was so drunk that he was writing his information illegibly on the bid forms. Because we couldn’t identify his information, we went to the next highest bidder as the winner. When I explained this to the drunk man, he proceeded to go into a fit of rage, screaming and cursing at me for “stealing his wine.” He told me that he was going to get me fired from my job and when I wouldn’t give him my bosses phone number, he called the police! He told the police that he was at the Fontainebleau and somebody stole from him. I was so nervous and upset that I started to cry and huddled in the corner. The hotel security (and Patrick Jong) came to my rescue and removed the drunk man, as he continued to scream and threaten me. When I got back to the Hospitality Suite (where the team meets up each night) at 2:30am, I told Lee the story of the drunk man. Lee asked me to look through my paperwork and find the drunk man’s auction registration form with his cell phone number. At 2:30am, Lee called the drunk man on his cell phone and proceeded to berate him for picking on a hard-working intern. Lee then told him to rip up and throw away the rest of his tickets for the weekend, as we wouldn’t be allowing him into any Festival events. I was just a lowly intern, but Lee stood up for me in a way I never expected… and what could have been a terrible first event experience turned into my fondest memory of Lee.

The day the Festival made you laugh so hard you cried: I spend most of my days in the office laughing so hard that cry… but one night in particular, I did something so stupid, I laughed and cried at the same time. It was just a month before the 2008 Festival and I was on my 10th straight night in the office past midnight. I’d become so delirious from staring at my computer and drinking gallons of Diet Coke, that I decided to turn on some music and dance around the office. My awesome spin move threw me off balance and I accidently kicked the leg of a chair in the office, falling to the ground in pain. The ridiculousness of the situation made me break into laughter, while trying to ignore the throbbing in my foot. How was I going to explain this one? My laughter turned into tears as I realized I had broken my foot just a month before the Festival.

Top 3 most memorable SOBE moments (other than those above):

1) Meeting Rachael Ray in the lobby of the Loews in my first year as an intern. I was a huge fan, and when I saw her I turned bright red and stuttered my way through an introduction to her. She was so gracious and kind… I was as happy as a pig in shit.

2) Watching my co-workers tear-up when they come to Fun and Fit as a Family and see what a cool event we produce. The Sobe Team are some of my best friends, and getting to see them experience and become so emotional about the event I work so hard on is the greatest reward.

3) I’ll never forget the 2010 Burger Bash where I got to watch my favorite chef Gabe Fenton (Bourbon Steak) slay the competition with his incredible burger, duck fat fries and bourbon snow cones!

January 11th, 2011

Randazzo’s Little Italy

Orecchiette with broccoli rabe and sausage

A few nights ago, I temporarily bid my diet a fond farewell and treated myself to a fabulous dinner at Randazzo’s Little Italy in the Gables. If you’ve ever been to this little gem of a restaurant, you know what I’m talking about. No matter how many times I come here, I always forget I’m in Miami—the casual, earthy ambience feels quintessentially New York. My friends and I ordered their terrific Chicken Parmesan and Orecchiette with broccoli rabe and sausage, prepared by my friend, Chef Marc Randazzo. And what Italian dinner would be complete without a little cannoli or tiramisu? Forget counting calories—Randazzo’s makes the best! If you’re in the mood for lighter fare, try the seafood salad with lemon dressing or their excellent shrimp scampi. Whatever you choose, one thing’s for sure—you’ll never leave Randazzo’s hungry.

Chicken Parmesan

January 10th, 2011

Here’s to the Burgers and Brunch

Danny Meyer

Even though SOBE is best known for events like Burger Bash and BubbleQ, I have to admit, some of my favorite events are in our more intimate settings at the Bank of America Lifestyle Seminars. This year, I am so excited about Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack Seminar and Grape Nuts! Crazy-good brunch Wines hosted by Joshua Wesson and Blue Ribbon.

As so many of you know, I love Shake Shack. There’s no question—they simply make the best burgers. This seminar, however, is more about what you don’t know. Shake Shack’s proprietor Danny Meyer will spend the afternoon sharing how his company’s use of local ingredients to create the great American classics goes perfect with some of the finest wines in the world. And of course, there will be plenty of burgers to go around.

If you’re more in a brunch-kind-of mood join Joshua Wesson and Bruce Bromberg (Blue Ribbon’s co-Founder and Executive Chef) for a pairing serving where the menu includes Shrimp and Cheesy Grits, and Breakfast Salad (with fried quail egg, grilled shitake mushroom, and fennel sausage). I know I’ll be trying the divine Challah French Toast.

Josh Wesson

January 7th, 2011

Bewitched by Marrakech

At last, La Mamounia and all Marrakech awaits and welcomes us! WOW!

It’s only been a few hours since I landed in Marrakech, but I’ve already fallen in love with this magical city. It’s everything you’d expect it to be—charming, historical, and so unbelievably alive. Here are a few photos from my trip so far:


Kings Herb Garden at La Mamounia

The grounds at La Mamounia

Snake, waiting to be charmed in the Plaza el Finn

Spice market

December 27th, 2010

A Very Merry Menu

Holiday menus can be so predictable—roast chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, and a store-bought pie. And believe me, I’m all for easy dishes, especially during such a hectic time of year—which is why I wanted to share some of my favorite holiday menu items with you. Here are a few simple and delicious crowd-pleasers from the Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival Cookbook, complete with Southern Wine & Spirits Master Sommelier Eric Hemer’s wine pairings. Enjoy!

Cocktail: Mixed Berry Caipirinha (page 35)

Appetizer: Salad of Roasted Beets, Asparagus, and Quail’s Eggs (page 50)

Wine suggestions: Whitehall Lane Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley; Simmonet-Febvre Cremant de Bourgogne Brut Rosé (sparkling wine from Pinot Noir-just like Champagne but from Burgundy)

Entrée: Rack of Lamb with Green Chile, Mint, and Sweet Pea Puree (page 183)

Wine suggestions: Los Vascos “Le Dix” Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua, Chile; Betz Family Winery “Besoleil” Columbia Valley, Washington (Grenache-based Rhone-style blend)

Dessert: Milk Chocolate Cremoso with Espresso Parfait (page 214)

Wine suggestions: Chapoutier Banyuls, France; Allegrini Recioto delle Valpolicella, Giovanni Allegrini, Veneto, Italy (Banyuls is a sweet fortified wine like Port, but w/lower alcohol, made from Grenache.) (The Allegrini is basically the sweet dessert version of Amarone.)

December 20th, 2010