A Musical Safari at Ultra

“Ultra is like going on safari.”

An interesting and accurate observation from will.i.am, who I got to chat with after his Friday night performance at the two day music festival in downtown Miami.

As will.i.am explained to me, on a safari you’re not sure where you’re going or what kind of animals you’re going to see.  It’s similar to Ultra Music Festival, where you’re not exactly sure what you’re going to hear or where the music is going to take you.  The DJs are in charge, controlling and channeling the emotions and energy of the crowd.

It’s something unique to electronic music.  As will.i.am put it, this doesn’t happen in pop music or in rap music because people go to those concerts to hear songs they know.  But with electronic music people come with an open mind and let the DJs be their tour guides.

will.i.am’s thoughtful analogy got me thinking.  While the DJs may be the tour guides on the safari, it’s the crowds of people that can be fun to watch.  Electronic music brings together people from all over the world, with different cultures, incomes, ages and styles of dress.  At Ultra I saw clothes ranging from polo shirts and baseball hats to goth garb and rave gear.  It’s an eclectic group that’s welcoming to everyone.  No one is there to judge — they’re just there to listen to DJs, dance and have a great time.

Certainly it’s this electricity of the crowds that made will.i.am want to return to Ultra after last year’s performance with the Black Eyed Peas.  And this year’s crowd was bigger than ever.  For the first time ever both Friday and Saturday were sold out, with about 100,000 people attending over the two days.

From the pumping bass that leaves your ears ringing, to the bright lights that flash and change colors, Ultra is sensory overload.  This year there were more than 200 DJs performing on 16 stages, which made for some tough decisions.  Too often I wanted to see two or more different artists who happened to be scheduled at the same time on different stages.

I knew I couldn’t miss Kaskade, whose song “I Remember” I love for its light and bouncy, almost ethereal sound (he included it in his high energy set).  From there I ran to the Main Stage to catch David Guetta, then The Crystal Method at the Bayfront Live Stage, then Carl Cox at the Carl Cox & Friends Arena, finally capping off the aural smorgasbord back at the Main Stage with Tiësto, who demonstrated why he’s one of the top DJs in the world.

On Saturday I really enjoyed longtime favorites Sasha & John Digweed, as well as Armin van Buuren who seemed to have a big smile on his face the entire set.  I also spent a lot of time in the UMF Brazil Arena which took over the space of last year’s Drum and Bass tent.  Their Saturday night lineup was hard to beat: Above & Beyond, then ATB, then Paul Oakenfold.

Because I was dancing all day and night I didn’t feel so bad about indulging on several not so healthy foods at the international food pavilion.  From fish and chips to burgers, pizza to arepas, gyros to shish kabobs, there was an impressive selection.  I went for the turkey legs, which were the biggest ones I’ve ever seen (and quite tasty too).

Of course I was most excited for Saturday night’s headliner, deadmau5.  It’s been neat to watch the Canadian DJ and producer’s popularity grow over the last few years.  I remember watching him at Ultra 2008 and wondering how his name was pronounced (it’s dead mouse).  Back then he performed on a small side stage, with a much more simple mouse head.  Last year his set was one of my favorite performances from Ultra 2009.  Since then it seems like all the songs he’s produced have been huge hits.  They’ve certainly been in heavy rotation on my iPod, especially “Ghosts n Stuff.”

deadmau5 got the audience revved up right away, with many fans waving their own mouse heads.  He premiered a few new songs during his set.  For one as of yet unnamed song he was joined by Tommy Lee.  I had suspected the Mötley Crüe drummer might make a surprise appearance when I saw the two hanging out a day earlier at the Belvedere Vodka Music Lounge.

The crowd went crazy when deadmau5 played the first few notes of “Ghosts N Stuff.”  It was a definite fan favorite, and I joined the tens of thousands in cheering.  deadmau5 worked the energy of the crowd all the way until the end of his set, when he (appropriately enough) played the death sound effect from “Super Mario Brothers.”

Game on for Ultra 2011.

Click here to see more photos from Ultra Music Festival 2010

Inside WMC: Belvedere Music Lounge

During the 2010 Winter Music Conference I hopped between parties on South Beach, danced in the sand at Nikki Beach and listened to some of the best DJs in the electronic music scene at Ultra.  Out of all these my favorite experience was hanging out at the Belvedere Vodka Music Lounge.

Belvedere Music LoungeHosted by SIRIUS XM Radio and held outside at the posh W Hotel, the music lounge featured an impressive array of DJs whose performances and interviews were broadcast live on Area (SIRIUS channel 38 and XM channel 80).

It wasn’t just hanging out at a swanky spot near the Belvedere Music Loungeocean and sipping Belvedere cocktails that made the experience.  It was getting to be just steps away from some of the biggest DJs in the world.

I couldn’t help but feel starstruck — there I was, watching DJs whom I’ve listened to for years perform right in front of me.  Even with the music blasting from the speakers the lounge felt so intimate.  It was like a secret club for VIPs that I had been allowed to enter.

When I walked into the Belvedere Music Lounge I saw on stage a man with dirty blond hair and a red shirt.  I got a little bit closer and realized it was Ferry Corsten!  The Dutch DJ is currently ranked number 7 in DJ Magazine‘s list of the Top 100 DJs.

Ferry CorstenAs I walked even closer to the stage Ferry looked up at me.  I smiled and gave him a small wave; he flashed a smile right back at me.  I looked around at the dozen or so other guests in amazement, feeling absolutely thrilled that I was part of this special experience.  Here was a guy who plays for tens of thousands of people on a regular basis — and right then it felt like he was playing just for me.

As Ferry was winding down, a man with black hair and sunglasses got on stage to start setting up for his own set.  He was soon joined by another guy wearing a white t-shirt that said “Fix News” in a style similar to Fox News’ logo.

The Crystal MethodWere my eyes playing tricks on me?  I looked again.  Yes, I was seeing things correctly.  There, less than 10 feet in front of me were Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland of The Crystal Method.

On the tiny stage without any flashing lights or smoke machines, the two looked like normal guys rocking out to the music and having lots of fun.  It was so neat to see them in this small and casual setting; and such a different feeling than their performance later that evening for thousands of fans at Ultra.  Click here for a photo of The Crystal Method at Ultra

deadmau5 & Tommy LeeAll of a sudden I saw a flash of tattoos breeze by me, headed for the stage.  I recognized Tommy Lee (of Mötley Crüe and Pamela Anderson fame) right away, and then checked out who he came in with.  It turned out to be none other than Joel Zimmerman aka deadmau5, my current favorite DJ.  Surrounded by a small entourage they said hi to the guys from The Crystal Method, posed for some pictures, then headed off to an interview for SIRIUS XM Radio.

Had I been able to spend more time at the Belvedere Music Lounge I would have seen deadmau5 perform, as well as numerous other DJs who played for massive crowds at Ultra and other events throughout the WMC.  As I was leaving the lounge I felt like kicking myself for committing to too many other events.

Note to self for WMC 2011: make sure to clear plenty of time to hang out at the Belvedere Music Lounge.  The experience of listening to world famous DJs up close is not to be missed.

Snapshots from Ultra Music Festival 2010

More than 200 DJs and a sold out crowd of about 100,000 people helped make the 2010 Ultra Music Festival the biggest and best yet.

The 12th edition of the festival rocked Bicentennial Park in downtown Miami with Tiësto headlining on Friday night and Deadmau5 on Saturday night.  Performing on 16 stages over the two days were internationally renowned DJs and artists including David Guetta, The Crystal Method, Kaskade, Paul Oakenfold and Armin van Buuren.

Here are some snapshots from Ultra 2010.  Click on photos to enlarge. 

Click here to see why will.i.am compares Ultra to going on a safari



Root Society Dome

Boyz Noise vs. Erol Alkan

crowds at Ultra

Ultra main stage

Carl Cox & Friends Arena

Carl Cox




Armin van Buuren

The Crystal Method

The Crystal Method




behind the stage during Deadmau5

Snapshots from the Winter Music Conference

The Winter Music Conference is the ultimate destination for DJs and fans of electronic music.

Established in 1985, WMC is the largest music industry gathering of its kind in the world.  This year clubs throughout downtown Miami and Miami Beach will host nearly two thousand DJs and artists.  The lineup is a veritable who’s who in the electronic music scene, with superstar DJs like Paul van Dyk, David Guetta, Tiësto and Deadmau5 set to perform.

Nikki BeachThe action kicked off Wednesday night at Nikki Beach with the annual Welcome to Miami party.  It featured more than 50 DJs and performers on two stages, including Timo Maas, Audiofly, DJ Rap, Tom Novy and a special DJ set by Lil Jon.  The first DJ took the stage at noon and the music didn’t end until 5 in the morning.  Both the Nikki Beachdownstairs and upstairs of Nikki Beach were packed with people dancing and cheering on the DJs.

One of the biggest events during WMC is Ultra Music Festival, taking place Friday and Saturday at Bicentennial Park in downtown Miami.  Over the two days more than 200 DJs will perform on 16 stages for more than 100,000 people.  You can be sure the Amateur Gastronomer will be there!  Click here to read about last year’s Ultra Music Festival.

For updates from the Winter Music Conference and Ultra Music Festival follow @amgastronomer on Twitter.

Nikki Beach

Photos from the Welcome to Miami party at Nikki Beach.  Click to enlarge.

Nikki Beach

Nikki Beach

Kosher Wines for Passover

If you plan to drink Manischewitz for Passover you must be meshugana! There is a wide variety of great tasting Kosher wines that are made from Vitis vinifera grapes (think winemaking grapes like Cabernet or Chardonnay, not Vitis labrusca grapes like Concord that are used to make grape juice and Manischewitz).

Though Israel is the leading producer of Kosher wines in the world, many other countries are now producing Kosher and Mevushal* wines. Best of all, these wines are becoming easier to find. You’ll be able to buy most of them in many wine shops, as well as grocery stores like Whole Foods and Publix. If your local shop has a Kosher or Israel section you’re likely to find these wines there.

Here are some of the wineries that produce Kosher wines:


Yarden Cabernet SauvignonYarden is one of the labels produced by Golan Heights Winery in Israel. This winery was founded in 1983 and is located high up on the Golan Heights in the northeastern part of the country. Yarden is Hebrew for the Jordan River, which bisects the Golan Heights. These wines can be easily spotted by their label which features an oil lamp decorated with mosaic tile, a symbol of ancient Israel.

Yarden has a wide variety of reds, whites, sparkling and sweet wines that range from $12 to $30. I like the Mount Hermon Red ($12), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc that is fermented in stainless steel and has notes of raspberries, cherries and a hint of herbs, as well as the Cabernet Sauvignon ($27) which is aged for 18 months in French oak barrels and has flavors of blackberries, cassis and spicy vanilla.


Gamla is another label produced by Golan Heights Winery. The name comes from an ancient Israeli town in the Golan Heights that withstood the conquering Romans for a number of years.

Gamla offers a selection of single varietal whites and reds including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and a sparkling white wine. These wines range from $12 to $30.


Golan MoscatoGolan is a budget-friendly label produced by Golan Heights Winery. There are single varietal wines (Chardonnay, Gamay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon), as well as blends. Most of the wines cost between $10 and $12.

The Golan Moscato ($12) makes a great aperitif or dessert wine. This sparkling wine is made in the style of Moscato d’Asti and has floral and honeysuckle notes.

Galil Mountain Winery

This winery is located in the Upper Galilee in northern Israel and is a joint venture between Kibbutz Yiron and the Golan Heights Winery. Galil has a diverse assortment of whites and reds made from Bordeaux, Rhône and Italian varietals. The wines range from $12 to $30, with most between $15 and $20. I am a fan of their Cabernet Sauvignon ($14) which has juicy flavors of ripe plum and blackberry with a hint of pepper and spice.

Recanati Winery

This winery is the sixth largest in Israel, established in 2000 and located in the Hefer Valley in the Upper Galilee. The winery sources its grapes from high-altitude vineyards which have a climate similar to the Napa Valley.

Recanati has three series of wines: the Diamond Series ($10 – $14), Reserve Wine Series ($20 – $25) and the Yasmin Series ($10) which are Mevushal. White wines include Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Red wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Zinfandel and Syrah.

Hagafen Cellars

Hagafen Prix RieslingTaking its name from the blessing of the wine, Hagafen Cellars produces whites and reds in California’s Napa Valley. The winery was founded in 1979 and their first commercially released vintage was harvested in 1980.

Hagafen’s whites start around $18 and go up to $25. They include Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. The reds start around $30 and go up to $45. These include Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Zinfandel.

Click here for a review of the Hagafen Cellars “Prix” Riesling.

Herzog Wine Cellars

This California winery has been producing Kosher wines since the mid 1980s, though the family traces its winemaking roots back to Philip Herzog who made wine in Slovakia for the Austro-Hungarian court more than a century ago. The winery itself is located in Oxnard, on the Central Coast, but Herzog makes wine with grapes from all over California.

Herzog’s variety of whites, reds, rosés and dessert wines generally range from $13 to $40. White wines include Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling. Reds include Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel.


If you’re a fan of Italian wines you can drink one from Bartenura on Passover. Bartenura sources its grapes from several regions in Italy including Piedmont, Veneto and Tuscany. Some but not all are Mevushal.

Bartenura produces such Italian staples as Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Malvasia, Chianti and Barbera D’Asti. They also make a Kosher Amaretto and Lemon Liqueur. Bartenura’s wines range from $10 to $16.


Tekiah Mevushal wines are produced by Bodegas Barberis in Argentina’s Mendoza region. Each year the Barberis family turns over about 20% of its vineyards and winery to a team of Hasidic Jews from Buenos Aires who supervise every aspect of wine production to make the Tekiah wines. There are a handful of whites and reds available including Chardonnay, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah which range from $12 to $20.


A great online store for Kosher wines is www.kosherwine.com.  You’ll find all of the above wines, plus a huge selection of other Kosher and Mevushal wines from around the world.

As with any wine, you should drink what tastes good to you.  So if you’re a fan of Manischewitz then keep drinking it!

Have a Kosher wine to recommend that wasn’t mentioned?  Be sure to share it in the comments section.

Click here for more articles on Kosher wine

*Mevushal wines differ from Kosher wines in that they are Kosher wines that have been flash-pasteurized so that they remain Kosher regardless of who serves them.

AG Pick: Merryvale Antigua Dessert Wine

One of the best things is discovering a wine that you forgot was in your collection.  It’s like finding a hidden treasure that you never knew you buried.

I had that experience this weekend with Merryvale Antigua dessert wine.  I purchased a few bottles several years ago and somehow my last remaining bottle had migrated to the back of my liquor cabinet, hiding behind bottles of rum, scotch and tequila that I haven’t looked at in months, if not longer.

Merryvale AntiguaI became a fan of Merryvale wines after drinking a bottle of their Starmont Merlot on my 22nd birthday.  A couple of years later, it was the first winery I visited during my first trip to Napa.

I remember that first visit because it’s when I tasted the Antigua dessert wine.  Relatively new to fortified wines, I was intrigued by the Antigua’s flavors and complexity.  I asked for a second taste before I finished my first one.

The Antigua is made from Muscat de Frontignan and fortified with the addition of California brandy.  The wine is aged an average of 11 years in French oak, which enhances the flavor and helps to give the wine its beautiful amber-gold color.

Your first sniff of the Antigua welcomes you in with enticing aromas of orange peel and almond that continue to develop in your mouth.  These flavors are rounded out with hazelnut, caramel and a slight hint of milk chocolate-covered espresso beans on the warm and lingering finish.  The rich and thick mouthfeel will leave you satisfied, yet craving another sip.

The Antigua is delicious on its own or it can be served with cheese or desserts ranging from crème brûlée to chocolate cake.

A 500ml bottle of the Merryvale Antigua Muscat de Frontignan dessert wine costs $29.  It can be purchased online at merryvale.com.

Cup-Free Inhalable Coffee

There’s a new way to get your coffee fix any time of day without burning your mouth or staining your teeth.

Le WhifIntroducing Le Whif, a coffee that you drink by breathing.  With Le Whif you inhale the coffee into your mouth (in the form of hundreds of milligrams of tiny particles), and taste it without swallowing or chewing.  Perhaps best of all, you get a kick of caffeine without any calories.

Le Whif was developed by Harvard Professor David Edwards in collaboration with students, designers, engineers and entrepreneurs.  It uses particle engineering to form particles of natural food substances that are small enough to become airborne though too large to enter the lungs.

Each Le Whif has about 100 mg of caffeine, similar to drinking a light espresso.

If chocolate is more your thing, Le Whif makes inhalable chocolate as well.  Since each Le Whif has less than 1 calorie, you’ll get all the taste without any guilt.  In addition to chocolate Le Whif comes in raspberry chocolate and mint chocolate flavors.

A three-pack of Le Whif costs around $7.  To learn more about Le Whif and to purchase it visit www.lewhif.com.

Image from Le Whif’s website

AG Pick Under $15: 2006 Palo Alto Reserve

Looking for a good value red wine with lots of smoke and earth?  Try a bottle of the 2006 Palo Alto Reserve, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère and Syrah from Chile.

Palo Alto ReserveThe three grapes work in perfect harmony, with their dark fruit and spice notes mingling in your mouth for an intense and satisfying sip.

The wine looks like a Syrah with its deep purple-red color.  A sniff reveals aromas of spicy blackberries and black pepper.  The taste is big and bold with flavors of blackberries, blackcurrant, plum, crushed black pepper, leather, tobacco and cloves that come together in a lush, smoky finish.  Good acidity gives the wine lift so it doesn’t feel too heavy in your mouth.

All the smoke and spice in the Palo Alto Reserve makes you crave a juicy piece of grilled red meat to enjoy along with a glass.  Serve this wine with steak, lamb chops, venison or wild boar.

The 2006 Palo Alto Reserve is a great value at $12 a bottle.

Cochon 555 Coming to Atlanta

Take 5 chefs, 5 pigs and 5 winemakers and you’ve got COCHON 555, a pork lover’s perfect pig out.

The 10 city coast-to-coast pork party, to be held in Atlanta on April 18th, will feature a smorgasbord of dishes with pig as the main ingredient.  Each chef will prepare an entire heritage breed pig from head to toe, with their variety of offerings paired with wine.

COCHON 555Guests will get to enjoy all of the chefs’ creations while a panel of judges decides which chef is the “Prince or Princess of Porc.”  The winner in each city will have the opportunity to compete at Grand Cochon during the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen in June, with the winner crowned the “King or Queen of Porc.”

The event will include over 750 pounds of heritage pork, a whole pig breakdown demonstration, a “swine & spirits” mixologist showcase, and a “meat” & greet VIP Lounge that will feature artisan cheese, oysters and reserve wine.

COCHON 555 (meaning pig in French) was created in 2009 to help preserve heritage breed pigs by promoting breed diversity in the national community.  The chefs are selected based on their support of local agriculture and heritage species.  The pigs are sourced from local ranches devoted to sustaining heritage breeds.  Participating wineries are all family owned.

The participating chefs in Atlanta’s Southeast Regional competition are 2009’s Prince of Porc Kevin Rathbun of Rathbun’s Restaurants in Atlanta, Mike Lata of Fig Restaurant in Charleston, Sean Brock of McCrady’s Restaurant in Charleston, Kelly English of Restaurant Iris in Memphis and Todd Mussman of Muss & Turner’s in Atlanta.

Their dishes will be paired with wines from Gamble Family Vineyards and Hirsch Vineyards from California, Buty Winery from Washington State and Anne Amie Vineyards and Domaine Serene from Oregon.

The 2010 tour has already visited Napa and New York.  This year’s other host cities are Boston, Stillwater, Oklahoma, Des Moines, Washington, D.C., Portland, Seattle and San Francisco.

COCHON 555 in Atlanta will be held April 18th at the W Hotel Downtown at 55 Allen Plaza.  The event starts at 5:00pm, with VIP entrance at 3:30pm.  Tickets cost $125 for general admission and $175 for VIP.  For more information and to buy tickets visit www.cochon555.com.

Highlights from the Grand Tasting Village

My favorite part of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival is the Grand Tasting Village.  It’s an entire day (or weekend) of sipping wines, spirits and beer, sampling small bites from local restaurants, hotels and specialty food stores and interacting with famous chefs and Food Network personalities, all with a gorgeous ocean backdrop.

This year’s Grand Tasting featured an impressive array of spirits — vodka, rum, tequila, absinthe, whisky, brandy and more.  With the popularity of caipirinhas exploding in Miami, it was great to sample a variety of cachaça (I found out I liked Sagatiba the best).

Inside the white tents I had a great time revisiting old favorites and discovering new wines.  It was great to sip the reds from Cosentino Winery in Napa, Dry Creek Vineyards in Sonoma and Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington’s Columbia Valley (I also liked a couple of their Rieslings).  And boy did Conundrum taste good when I was sipping it in the sun!

Another wine that fit in perfectly with the setting was a Rosé from KracherI’m a huge fan of the Austrian winery’s sweet wines so I was excited to try something new from them (though I still enjoyed tasting their three sweet offerings — a 2007 Auslese, 2007 Beerenauslese and a 2005 Trockenbeerenauslese).

The 2008 Illmitz is 100% Zweigelt, the most widely-grown red wine grape of Austria.  The wine is a lovely light pink color.  It has aromas of strawberries and raspberries, with light and refreshing flavors of red berries and cherries on the palate.  It’s elegant and lively with soft acidity and a clean finish.  It’s a nice wine to take to the beach or enjoy as an aperitif on a warm afternoon.

I also enjoyed tasting a variety of California Pinot Noir from Pali Wine Company, Roessler Cellars and A.P. Vin.  I have yet to taste a wine I don’t like from Pali, though with an average price of $50 a bottle I don’t get to drink them too often.  My favorite from the Grand Tasting was the 2007 Santa Barbara County Cargasacchi Jalama Vineyard ($55) which has big plum and cherry flavors with earthy and herbal notes.

New to me were the wines from Roessler Cellars, made with Pinot Noir from the Central Coast and Sonoma.  It was neat to taste all four wines to see how the terroir can make the same grape taste so different.  I especially liked the 2007 La Brisa ($33) from the Sonoma Coast with its complex dark cherry and spice notes, as well as the 2007 Peregrine ($38) from Santa Rita Hills which has ripe flavors of black cherry and plum with earth and pepper.

A.P. Vin offered four delicious Pinot Noirs as well.  Though it was hard to choose one favorite, I couldn’t get enough of the 2008 Kanzler Vineyard ($50), with its rich and full red berry flavors, elegant oak and long finish.

Returning after a year absence was an entire tent dedicated to France, complete with “Le Tasting Bar,” a selection of cheeses, Champagne and a variety of reds, whites and rosés.  One exciting discovery I made inside was a liquor called Chartreuse.  It’s a potent herbal elixir, created in the 18th century by monks.  If you like your spirits with a healthy dose of sinus stimulating menthol, licorice and spice, you’ll want to try Chartreuse.

Yellow Chartreuse is almost unnatural neon yellow in color.  It’s made from 130 herbs, plants and flowers gathered in the French Alps.  The mixture is macerated with a neutral alcohol spirit and distilled, then aged in oak for about 5 years.  It has floral aromas with hints of sweet lemon and intense spices.  On the palate are thick honey and blood orange flavors with an array of exotic spices including saffron, anise and cloves, with bitter leaf and licorice on the finish.  The combination of flavors and the high alcohol (40%) make you say ‘whoah’ after your sip.  I was intrigued; it made me a fan.

The stronger tasting Green Chartreuse (55% alcohol) is vibrant green in color.  It’s made with the same secret formula as Yellow Chartreuse but aged longer in oak.  A wide variety of flavors including herbs, mint, orange rind, leather, licorice, basil and flowers make it quite the unique digestif.  Both spirits can be enjoyed on their own or mixed in cocktails.

Throughout the Sunday Grand Tasting I popped in and out of demonstrations by Michael Chiarello, Marcus Samuelsson, Sandra Lee, Michael Symon and Tony Abou-Ganim.  One of my favorites was Paula Deen, who shared stories and chatted with audience members instead of cooking (after all, people see her cook on TV all the time).

As a butter and fat-conscious home cook I feel like I gain 5 pounds just thinking about Paula’s cooking style.  But in person I found Paula to be a hoot!  Joined by her husband Michael and her assistant Brandon, Paula shared a slew of raunchy stories.  One involved Brandon putting on her clothes and a wig and getting into bed with Michael — let’s just say that Michael was none too pleased.  Paula loved telling the audience about her husband’s male fan base.  Apparently he has quite a following, including his own Facebook page.

The highlight of the Grand Tasting was a friendly cook-off between Chefs Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain.  Click here to read my interview with Eric Ripert. The challenge: prepare a tuna dish and a mussel dish in 20 minutes, in the style of each other’s restaurants (Les Halles for Eric and Le Bernardin for Tony).  Tony, perhaps rusty in the kitchen because of his gastronomic adventures around the world, called the cook-off one of the dumbest things he’d ever agreed to (add in a couple of curse words for his phrasing).  However he did get more excited when he discovered the refrigerator was stocked with beer.

The chefs had access to a beautiful piece of yellowfin tuna that had been prepared by Chef Masaharu Morimoto.

Click the video below to watch the chefs discuss their dishes

As the clock ticked down Eric looked at ease preparing his dishes, pouring white wine into a pot and then taking a swig from the bottle as the audience cheered.  “Nothing people like more than an alcoholism joke,” remarked Tony, who traded jokes and jabs with his competitor.

When it was time to judge the dishes the chefs invited Guy Fieri and Dinner Impossible’s Robert Irvine on stage to taste the food — maybe an unfair disadvantage for Tony, who has been vocal about his dislike of Guy’s cooking style.  But the food spoke for itself.  The winner hands down was Eric, whose seared tuna in a creamy pepper sauce made me salivate.  He served it alongside mussels in a white wine sauce and what he called Caesar salad gratin (pieces of lettuce brushed with Caesar dressing and placed in the oven on high heat for several minutes).  As Guy told Tony, “he kicked your ass big time.” 

Click the video below to watch the judges announce the winner

After the cook-off the chefs took questions from the audience.  The two talked about sipping tequila together and shared their favorite beers (Dos Equis for Eric, Guinness for Tony but only in Dublin).  One piece of information Tony refused to divulge was his favorite restaurant in the world, for fear it would become overrun with tourists.  He only disclosed its location: San Sebastian, Spain.  Don’t worry about not being in on the secret; Eric says Tony won’t even tell him!

More articles from the 2010 South Beach Wine & Food Festival:
Beach, Bubbly and Barbecue at BubbleQ
Something Sweet: Dessert and Fortified Wines