South Beach Wine and Food Festival kicks off in Fort Lauderdale

Celebrity-chef star power shined bright Wednesday night at the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens, which kicked off the South Beach Wine and Food Festival’s big Fort Lauderdale push with a dinner by blue-chip chef Robert Irvine.

The seafood-inspired dinner, dubbed Seaside Eats, wrapped around the tony Bonnet House, a picturesque backdrop framed in dozens of klieg lights that cast the grounds in rows of radiant reds, blues and violets.

Some 500 guests attended the sold-out dinner, arriving via car and water taxi to take part in the festival’s new Taste Fort Lauderdale series — seven gatherings (including one at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino near Hollywood) designed to goose Fort Lauderdale’s dining scene.

Festival organizer Lee Brian Schrager, who says he brought his megapopular event to Broward County this year after a “test-run” dinner at Fort Lauderdale’s S3 restaurant in 2015, predicted heavy demand for Taste Fort Lauderdale. He’s mostly right: As of Wednesday night, all but three events have sold out.

“I don’t need to be sold on Fort Lauderdale. I used to live here. If we’re fractionally as successful in Fort Lauderdale as we are in Miami, that’s enough for me,” an out-of-breath Schrager said minutes before delivering a speech onstage to introduce Irvine. “This is a sleepy little culinary scene that people should wake up to.”

Guests grabbed small plates at 19 food stations, which wrapped around an orchid greenhouse, wound through a cobblestoned central garden and branched down a tented walkway with a live-music stage.

View complete article and photo gallery by  Phillip Valys at