People get so easily upset about the smallest of affronts these days, it’s hard to believe we can find any kind of common ground. The one thing that manages to bond us together, though, across all cultures and societies, is our shared appreciation of food. From the traditional Sunday Italian dinner and winter blues comfort food, to the latest trends in kale, sushi and sriracha, we all love to gather around a table and enjoy.

Our shared loved of gastrointestinal delights brings us together as a family, community, and society. We may not be able to speak one word of our family’s native language, but we can still cook the traditional foods. Food connects us to our history and each other. Many cities use food to build community and increase local pride with their “Taste of ….” festivals. These gatherings bring natives out into the streets to meet each other and taste samples of their local prized foods.

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Ralph Scamardella, Chef/Partner of TAO Group and lifelong foodie, loves to visit foreign countries and shops their markets to find the freshest in local foods. He attributes our mutual food fixation to many factors. “First, the TV food networks have opened up the eyes, ears and stomachs of the world to the cooking and chefs that are hard at work making people happy. Second, the internet has made everything global and people become curious to try new taste sensations from the up-and-coming chef rock stars. Third is the fact that food, and the process of making it, is a total sensory thing and a true artisan experience; you taste smell, feel, see and hear when you’re eating, and it’s great conversation.”

But how can a feeling of community be created in newer localities where there is no shared history, or in places where the population is somewhat transient? This can be particularly difficult in a venue like Florida, which is seen as more of a vacation destination spot rather than a true community like we might expect to find in other regions such as the Midwest. Once again, the answer can be found in our communal love of food. A great example of the ability to bring locals and visitors together, if only for a long weekend, is the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, which has achieved this goal on a scale unrivaled by arguably any food event. From the sun-seeking tourist to the die-hard foodie, SOBEWFF is an opportunity for celebs to mingle with fans, locals to get to know Florida visitors, and for everyone to just plain have a good time together sharing a mutual fondness for food.

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Originally just a one-day festival known as the “Florida Extravaganza” at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay Campus, the Festival has become so hugely popular and successful that it is now a four-day all-South Beach event known as the Annual Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine and Food Festival presented by FOOD & WINE and Southern Wine & Spirits of America, Inc. Billed as America’s most prestigious gourmet gathering, BizBash has named the Festival the #1 Food & Restaurant Industry event in the U.S. for the second year in a row.

Produced by Florida International University and Southern Wine & Spirits of Florida, the 2015 Festival, which was held at the end of February, hosted an astonishing 75 events during the four-day, star-studded gathering. From the kickoff “Italian Al Fresco Feast on the Beach” to “Meatopia: The Q Revolution” and the Grand Tasting Village, guests were able to indulge in all manner of food, spirits and fun. Chef Scamardella attributed the Festival’s popularity to its fun and exciting atmosphere. “It’s like our restaurants,” he noted. “The Festival is one fabulous party that’s held in a great setting with awesome people and great food.”

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Guests could also indulge in Wine Spectator’s Trade Day or Best of the Best, enjoy a Burger Bash, or cast their vote for the “Best of the Munchies.” Kids were even given a chance to hone their fledgling culinary skills in the Goya Kidz Kitchen. On a more intimate level, numerous private dinners were staged at popular South Florida restaurants, featuring fine foods prepared by nationally and internationally acclaimed chefs. Late night soirees kept the party going well into the morning hours for some.

Another signature event was the 2015 Tribute Dinner, part of The New York Times Dinner Series, which was held at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel. Industry insiders got together to honor Chef Juan Mari Arzak, the acclaimed pioneer of Basque cuisine, and Ted Baseler, president and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

Celebrity Chef Dale Talde says that his passion for cooking began at a young age in his native Chicago. He grew up immersed in his family’s cultural heritage and learned to prepare meals alongside his mother in the kitchen. “What makes the Festival so successful is the combination of awesome event-goers, Founder and Director Lee Brian Schrager, his team’s great vision and execution, the amazing chefs and restaurateurs who donate their time for such a worthy event, and the PARTIES!”

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The yearly Festival raises money for the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Florida International University. So far the Festival has raised more than $20 million for the School, most recently being used to fund the construction of a state-of-the-art, 140-seat Restaurant Management Lab and brew science laboratory. Additional funds are awarded as scholarships to students, while other revenue from the Festival is invested to support beverage management programs and maintenance of the Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center.

So the question really shouldn’t be, “What’s eating you?” A far better question is, “What are you eating?” If you’re looking for the sense of fun and community that only fabulous food can provide, mark your calendar now for next year’s Festival. Scheduled for February 25-28, 2016, it’s sure to be bigger and better than ever.

Check Out Some of This Year’s Festival Highlights:

About the Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival presented by FOOD & WINE

All proceeds from the Festival benefit the students of the Florida International University Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management who also assist Festival organizers with sponsorship fulfillment, restaurant and exhibitor recruitment, logistics, and inventory as well as working alongside some of the world’s greatest celebrity chefs and winemakers. To date, the Festival has raised more than $20 million for the School. In October 2013, BizBash named the Festival the #1 Food & Restaurant Industry event in the United States.

The Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival presented by FOOD & WINE is produced by Florida International University and Southern Wine & Spirits of Florida with the support of the Miami Beach Visitors & Convention Authority and the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs. For more information about the Festival, visit www.sobefest.com or call 877-762-3933. For more information about Florida International University visit www.fiu.edu, for the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management visit www.hospitality.fiu.edu and for more information about Southern Wine & Spirits visit www.southernwine.com.