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It’s Guy Fieri’s big year at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. The splashy fest will celebrate America’s splashiest celebrity chef at its big-ticket tribute dinner Saturday night.
Fieri, who last year featured three Palm Beach County restaurants in his popular Food Network series, also will headline two other events, a tribute-dinner afterparty and a Thursday night beachside celebration of his popular Food Network “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” series.
“We’re turning 21 this year. What could be more appropriate than turning 21 with Guy Fieri, king of Flavortown?” festival founder and director Lee Brian Schrager told The Post.
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The annual tribute dinner, with ticket prices listed at $550 per person, is sold out, says Schrager. Perhaps that’s a sign that the sprawling festival is regaining its pre-pandemic shape after last year’s delayed start at dramatically reduced capacity. Returning to full capacity this year, the star-studded festival boasts 400-plus chefs and culinary personalities and more than 90 events.
One of those events is the Fieri-hosted “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives Live,” which brings together 25 “Triple D” alums, indie restaurant owners from across the country. It’s an event tailor-made for fans of the road-food series or anyone who wants to taste the nation in one Miami Beach night.
Fans may recognize some of the participating eateries, which include Baltimore’s Chaps Pit Beef (on DDD in 2008), New Orleans’ Turkey and the Wolf sandwich shop (2018), the Florida Keys’ Islamorada Shrimp Shack (2015), Boston’s Mike’s City Diner (2008), Panini Pete’s in Fairhope, Alabama (2008) and the North Pole, Alaska, Chinese restaurant Pagoda, which sits on North Santa Claus Lane.
Bringing even just a fraction of the restaurants featured since the series’ launch in 2006 was no easy task, said Schrager.
“It is very, very difficult to do a Triple D event,” he said, referring to the logistics involved. “Some people couldn’t imagine that we were flying them in to cook for just one night.”
But to many of the featured restaurants, Fieri’s TV visit was a game-changer.
“He has a cult-like following. People listen to what Guy says,” Schrager said. “Rachael Ray was the girl next door. Guy is the guy next door.”
But that’s not the only reason the festival chose to toast him at this year’s tribute dinner, an event that has honored culinary greats like pioneering Spanish chef Ferran Adrià (in 2006, emceed by Anthony Bourdain), French star chef Daniel Boulud and landmark Japanese fusion chef Nobu Matsuhisa.
Fieri, who in addition to being a food TV celebrity chef is a successful restaurateur and best-selling cookbook author, is an acclaimed supporter of restaurants large and small. That’s what earned him a place in the tribute dinner pantheon, said Schrager.
“He’s huge. He’s a major star. But it’s the work Guy did during the pandemic that made me say, ‘This guy’s not just the TV personality or author or restaurateur. He stepped up to raise money for the industry,’” Schrager said.
Fieri’s Restaurant Employee Relief Fund, which partnered with the National Restaurant Association, raised some $25 million to help lift struggling restaurants.
Schrager was particularly moved when Fieri agreed to take part in a Miami effort to raise funds for restaurants.
“I called Guy to get involved and he was there,” said Schrager of the livestream auction event.
Fieri has made quiet gestures of support as well. While at last year’s wine and food festival in South Beach, the food TV star stopped in at a Collins Avenue Latin restaurant and left a jaw-dropping tip.
“A shout-out to celebrity chef Guy Fieri from the Food Network. He left a $5,000 tip @ 9beach Latin Restaurant ‘to be divided by all the staff and kitchen personnel.’ Outstanding and greatly appreciated by all. Thanks!” went the message posted on the 9beach Latin Restaurant’s Facebook page.
Fieri has been a fixture at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival for about as long as he’s been a TV star. His first festival appearance came after he won the “Food Network Star” competition in 2006.
“We all saw that spiky guy on the show. No one knew the name but he was a star,” said Schrager.
Guy Fieri visited West Palm Beach — and bought a house
Since then, Fieri sightings in South Florida and the Keys have abounded. In February 2021, he spent several days in Palm Beach County, filming “DDD” episodes. Fieri and his crew visited West Palm Beach, where they featured Cholo Soy Cocina and The Butcher Shop Beer Garden and Grill, and Palm Beach Gardens, where they featured the Coolinary Café.
In the spring of that year, after signing a new three-year Food Network deal estimated at $80 million, Fieri purchased a home in West Palm Beach, according to People magazine.
“We’ve been trying for a long time to get a place in Florida,” he told the magazine in May 2021. “It’s been an ongoing joke that whenever I would go to the South Beach Food and Wine Festival, someone would say to me, ‘So when are you going to move to Florida?’ I would always say, ‘We’re looking. We’re looking for a house.’ Because I love Florida. I love the people. I love the culture.”
South Beach Wine and Food Festival
Celebrating its 21st year, the festival runs from Feb. 24 through Feb. 27. For information and tickets, visit SoBeWFF.org.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Guy Fieri, Food Network star, headlines South Beach Food Fest