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Max Santiago
Photograph: Chat Chow TV

Five Miami chefs tell us what they have planned for SOBEWFF 2017

Virginia Gil
Written by
Virginia Gil

This month the South Beach Wine & Food Festival returns for its 16th installment, which promises more celebrity chefs, larger food events and a wider Fort Lauderdale presence. From its humble beginnings as Florida International University’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management’s “Florida Extravaganza,” SoBeWFF has evolved into a 90-plus–events behemoth. What are this year’s participants planning? We checked in to find out. 

Cindy Hutson

Chef and owner at Zest Miami and Ortanique on the Mile

Festival stats: Cindy Hutson is a true festival pioneer, participating for the first time in 1998 when it still took place on the FIU North campus. “I was just starting out and was excited to meet all the important chefs around town,” says Hutson, who’s worked the festival every year since. “Who wouldn’t want to come to South Beach in the dead of winter?”

SoBeWFF 2017: Hutson and her partner Delius Shirley are hosting the original “mango gang” (the quartet of chefs responsible for putting SoFlo cuisine on the map) for a dinner at her restaurant Zest. “Those guys haven’t cooked together since 2000; it will be one hell of a night. I have the fish course in a green banana Caribbean nage.” On Sunday, she’s hosting Swine and Wine, where she’ll make jerked pig. 

Mango Gang Reunited: Dinner hosted by Cindy Hutson, Allen Susser, Norman Van Aken, Robbin Haas, Mark Militello and Douglas Rodriguez: Zest, 200 S Biscayne Boulevard. Feb 24 7–10pm; $250 • Goya Foods’ Swine & Wine presented by the National Pork Board: Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave, Coral Gables. Feb 25 6:30–9:30pm; $150. 

Timon Balloo

Chef and owner at SUGARCANE Raw Bar Grill

Festival stats: The past eight years cooking at SoBeWFF have been a whirlwind of excitement for chef Timon Balloo, though it hasn’t always gone smoothly. “I can’t remember my first event—I think it was Burger Bash. I just remember being in the weeds with burger-assembly mayhem!” 

SoBeWFF 2017: This year, he’s cooking his favorite Spanish dish, fideos with rock shrimp and sepia, alongside Spanish chef José Andrés. “The festival is about pleasing the masses and giving them one bite that defines your brand,” says Balloo. “Nothing like cooking your butt off for three straight days and putting out your best food.” 

Paellas y Tapas by the pool: SLS South Beach, 1701 Collins Ave, Miami Beach. Feb 23 at 7pm; $175. 

Roberto Dubois

Chef at Vagabond Kitchen & Bar

Festival stats: The festival comes full circle for the 28-year-old executive chef, who will go from attending a barbecue event in 2013 to participating in one with veteran Cindy Hutson (Goya Foods’ People’s Choice Award–winner for Best Whole Roasted Pig). “I remember the chefs cooking everything over an open fire,” says Roberto Dubois of his first time at the festival. 

SoBeWFF 2017: Chef Dubois’s contribution to the festival marks the largest meal he’s cooked to date. “I’m cooking for about 800 people. It’s going to be a big challenge!” He’s using a Caja China to roast pork but is keeping tight-lipped on what festivalgoers can expect beyond that. 

Goya Foods’ Swine & Wine presented by the National Pork Board: Feb 25 6:30–9:30pm; $150.

Max Santiago

Chef and partner at the Salty Donut

Festival stats: Max Santiago has participated in one-off events at the festival but never as a headliner. “You could say my entire career has been leading up to an opportunity like this! Finally, I get to do it with the company that my partners [the Salty Donut co-owners Amanda Pizarro and Andy Rodriguez] and I have built,” says Santiago. “We’ve worked very hard, so it feels rewarding to be asked to headline.” 

SoBeWFF 2017: The Salty Donut is synonymous with long lines and inventive desserts, which it’s serving by the dozens at SoBeWFF. Fans can expect to taste three signature doughnuts—buttermilk glazed, brown butter and salt, and maple bacon—plus a special flavor exclusive to the event. “I don’t want to give it away, but I’m calling it the flaming chocolate, salted caramel and passion-fruit fried donut.” (We think he just gave it away!)

Salty, Sweet & Savory Treats: A Late-Night Party. Shelborne Miami Beach, 1801 Collins Ave, Miami Beach. Feb 24 10pm–midnight; $95.

Anderson Osorio

Chef at 320 Gastrolounge

Festival stats: Just one month after Anderson Osorio took over the kitchen at 320, the chef is eager to make his festival debut. “I’m looking forward to collaborating with other chefs and restaurants—and meeting new foodies,” he says. “I can’t wait to introduce 320’s unique flavors and Peruvian-Asian menu to the food lovers at SoBeWFF.” 

SoBeWFF 2017: Chef Osorio isn’t straying far from what works at the restaurant, featuring his signature croquetas de jamón serrano with tobanjan aioli—which he describes as top notch. “I’m cooking dishes that my loyal customers love, and I hope that others will enjoy as well.” 

Croquetas & Champagne. Palm Court, 140 NE 39th St. Feb 25 10pm–midnight; $125. 

South Beach Wine & Food Festival takes place Feb 22–26.

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