5 L.A. Superchefs Hit Miami for South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s 21st Anniversary Blowout

The Los Angeles food stars to serve up Cali-inspired cuisine at SOBEWFF’s celeb-studded weekend fest, headlining beachfront cooking demos and big-ticket dinners
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Five Los Angeles superchefs will be headed to the balmy beaches of Miami this week for the 21st annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival, or SOBEWFF® (officially, the Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival Presented by Capital One) — Miami’s premier food and spirits festival, taking place Thursday, February 24 through Sunday, February 27.

Headlining events that range from big-ticket dinners to beachfront cooking demos before a live audience of engaged, and invariably tipsy, superfans, Angeleno chefs Jet Atila, Brooke Williamson, Antonia Lofaso, Michael Voltaggio, and Nyesha Arrington will be among 400 U.S. chefs participating in the hugely popular SOBEWFF®, whose ticket sales benefit the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Florida International University in Miami.

“LA is one of the best food cities in America, and we always look to its culinary community when we are seeking new talent, and have since the very early years of SOBEWFF,” said Festival founder Lee Brian Schrager, who cites MÍRAME, République, Park’s BBQ, and Osteria Mozza among his favorite LA restaurants.

Hollywood will be in the house, naturally, with famous faces touting their personal libation brands: actress Kate Hudson, promoting her seven-times-distilled King St. Vodka on Friday at a trade presentation, as well as hosting a yoga event at Nikki Beach on Sunday; actress and activist Eva Longoria, with brand collaborator and LA-based celebrity photographer Brian Bowen Smith, debuting her ultra-premium Tequila Casa Del Sol at Perez Art Museum Miami; and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine with model wife Behati Prinsloo, toasting their new Calirosa Tequila brand with revelers at a happy hour on Thursday at 1 Hotel South Beach.

Here’s a sneak peek of what to expect when LA is in the 305 this weekend…


JET TILA
Chef Jet Tila. (Photo by SOBEWFF)

Food Network’s resident Asian-Fusion king Jet Tila will preside over an open-air Asian Night Market at the oceanfront Loews Miami Beach Hotel on Thursday, February 24. Co-hosting with Tila will be Indian American cook and television personality Aarti Sequeira, winner of the sixth season of Food Network’s The Next Food Network Star. The walk-around event will feature Asian cuisine from Onigiri to pad Thai from 15 of the country’s best Asian restaurants, including Japanese street food goliath KUMI, a national brand with six locations in Los Angeles.  Tila will kick off the Chef Demos at the South Stage on Sunday afternoon at Goya Foods’ Grand Tasting Village directly on the beach, just steps away from famed Ocean Drive.

A son of Thai immigrants who opened Bangkok Market – one of the country’s first Thai groceries and importers, in Los Angeles in 1972 – Tila worked in the family business when he was in grade school, and later in his family’s Thai restaurant. Fun Fact: Tila holds three world records – for creating the world’s largest stir-fry (4,010 pounds), the largest seafood stew (6,500 pounds), and the longest California roll (440 feet).

BROOKE WILLIAMSON

Chef Brooke Williamson. (Photo by SOBEWFF)

Top Chef winner Brooke Williamson will team up with fellow LA powerhouse chef pal Antonia Lofaso on Thursday night at the sleek Area 31 at Kimpton EPIC Hotel for a dinner collab inspired by LA’s diverse flavor profile, with Rioja wine pairing by esteemed vintner Bodegas Montecillo.

A native of Los Angeles, Williamson is chef/owner, together with chef husband Nick Roberts, of Playa Provisions in Playa Del Rey, a 7,000-square-foot beachside complex that houses four different culinary concepts – King Beach, a casual breakfast/lunch spot with al fresco dining; Dockside, an intimate seafood restaurant specializing in California coastal cuisine; Small Batch, an artisanal ice cream shop (White Chocolate Thai Tea Pops, anyone?), and Grain Whiskey Bar. When not running the front and back of the house, Williams participates in local and national food events and festivals, as well as in philanthropic efforts with No Kid Hungry.

The youngest female chef to cook at the venerable James Beard House in NYC when she was 22, Williamson began her culinary career at 15 as a teacher’s assistant at the Epicurean Institute of Los Angeles, followed by a kitchen position three years later as a pastry assistant at Fenix at the Argyle Hotel under the tutelage of Michelin-starred Chef Ken Frank. A rave review in The Los Angeles Times when she 21 and the youngest sous chef at acclaimed restaurant Michael’s of Santa Monica proved to be the catalyst in what has become a very successful and multi-layered career. In spring 2020, Williamson was crowned the first winner of Food Network’s Tournament of Champions.

ANTONIA LOFASO

Chef Antonia Lofaso. (Photo by SOBEWFF)

American chef and TV personality Antonia Lofaso will be making her SOBEWFF® debut with fellow Festival rookie Brooke Williamson at Thursday’s rioja-paired Cali dinner at the stylish Area 31. In addition, Lofaso will partner with Top Chef alum Michael Voltaggio on Saturday night for the annual Tribute Dinner. Known for her clever twists on old-school Italian cooking, Lofaso is co-owner of Black Market Liquor Bar in Studio City, Scopa Italian Roots in Venice, and the Latin-inspired restaurant and bar DAMA in Los Angeles.

Lofaso is also co-founder of Chefletics, a fashion-forward line of chef apparel that fuses classic chef attire with modern styles, high-quality fabrics, and new technology. She has appeared on shows including Top Chef, Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen and Restaurant Startup, and is the author of The Busy Mom’s Cookbook: 100 Recipes for Quick, Delicious, Home-cooked Meals (2012, Penguin), which details the chef’s challenges of attending the French Culinary Institute while raising her daughter Xea.

MICHAEL VOLTAGGIO 

Chef Michael Voltaggio. (Photo by SOBEWFF)

A Top Chef winner and regular on Food Network shows including Beat Bobby Flay and Guy’s Grocery Games, Michael Voltaggio got a fast-pass to the epicenter of Los Angeles’ culinary scene in 2009 when he opened The Bazaar for charismatic Spaniard Jose Andres, receiving a rare four-star review from The Los Angeles Times in the process. On Saturday night at the Loews Hotel on Miami Beach, Voltaggio, along with fellow Angeleno chef Antonia Lofaso, will be preparing 600 meals for the Festival’s most prominent event, the Tribute Dinner, which this year will honor chef and television personality Guy Fieri for his philanthropy – the Mayor of Flavortown raised $21 million for restaurant workers affected by COVID-19; who knew? – along with Bill and Peter Deutsch of Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits.

Voltaggio, who has been friends with Fieri for almost five years and appears in the current season of the chef’s Food Network chef competition show Tournament of Champions, called Fieri as soon as he learned he was cooking for him and discussed menu options, said Voltaggio in a phone call. Inspired by Guy’s epic family vacation in Hawaii last summer, Voltaggio decided to create a Hawaiian “lunch plate” of Sea Urchin Macaroni Salad with Fried Octopus in Lime Leaf Oil – made with mini pasta shells that turn a vivid orange when mixed with the uni. The dish “looks just like macaroni and cheese,” says the heavily inked chef, one of whose many tattoos is actually a grilled cheese wearing sunglasses, the result of a lost bet one drunken night in Portland, Oregon.

On Sunday afternoon, the gregarious chef will take center stage for a Chef Demo at the Grand Tasting Village on the beach, joined by his brother Bryan Voltaggio, who is executive chef/partner of three restaurants in Maryland, including a restaurant the brothers co-own, Voltaggio Brothers Steakhouse.

When pressed for details of their highly anticipated brother act, Voltaggio would only offer, “The title of the demo is ‘Cooking is a Drag’” – which, judging from our previous conversation about Sunday’s Drag Brunch that his friend Neil Patrick Harris is attending, that is being emceed by Ru Paul’s Drag Race superstar Kim Chi (Best Name for a Korean Drag Queen Ever) – tells us everything we need to know.

The classically trained chef, who earned a Michelin Star in 2006 for his work at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, CA, can add “create beer brand” to his list of accomplishments: Recreational Use, a brand of gluten-free light beer Voltaggio developed with brewmaster Nic Bortolin has become a favorite of beer nerds. Voltaggio’s “pandemic product,” which comes in a lovely magenta-colored can, is sold at Erewhon Market locations throughout California. Somewhat related fun fact: Voltaggio once set a Guinness World record with Snoop Dogg and Warren G, making the World’s Largest Gin and Juice.

NYESHA ARRINGTON

Chef Nyesha Arrington. (Photo by SOBEWFF)

This Top Chef alum, who owns and operates a full-service chef consulting and catering business, lives her best life traveling the globe doing speaking engagements and dinner collabs, such as Saturday night’s SOBEWFF® dinner at the elegant 1920s-era Bath Club, Miami Beach’s oldest private social club where guests included Herbert Hoover, William Boeing, Pierre Cartier, and William Vanderbilt II. 

Arrington will be cooking along with two respected female chef collaborators, both James Beard semifinalists — Valerie Chang (of Itamae) and Luciana Giangrandi (of Boia De), whom Arrington called “two of the most prolific female chefs in Miami” in an emailed quote. Bath Club Executive Chef Jeff Masanz will provide skilled support for an ambitious multi-course reception and dinner menu that includes Arrington’s Whipped Duck Pâté with Port Wine Gelée and Challah Crostini and Black Kingfish with Lentils and Piri Piri Sauce, all paired with wines from the Robert Mondavi Winery portfolio.

Born in SoCal to artistic parents whose adventurous family dinners included bulgogi, octopus, and homemade kimchi, Arrington favors globally-minded flavors and “food that hugs the soul.” A 2001 graduate of the prestigious Culinary School at the Art Institute of California in Los Angeles, her cred includes working under French culinary great Joël Robuchon. Fun fact: In 2011, Nyesha appeared simultaneously as a “cheftestant” on both Top Chef and Food Network’s series, Chef Hunter, where she won the competition.


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