contributor Rebecca Flint Marx is in Miami, chronicling preparations for the massive annual Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival, February 23-26. She’s filing dispatches from the celebrity-packed festival’s less glamorous side.

They came, they ate, they went home. At 6 last night, the gates to The Q opened to VIP ticket holders, who wasted no time in shoveling as much food as possible down their throats, moving from vendor to vendor like heat-seeking missiles. Deeply tanned cleavage heaved and air was kissed, as what seemed like half of Miami converged to eat a few metric tons of assorted animal parts. They stopped only intermittently to take iPhone photos of Guy Fieri and Emeril in adjacent booths. They were next to the Guy & Emeril Lounge, which consisted of a couple of couches guarded by rope lines and bouncers.

Though the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck was parked outside the fray, it got more than its share of comers. One of the first was Andrew Zimmern (pictured, right, with Big Gay’s Doug Quint). Quint served his first Salty Pimp—a vanilla cone spiked with dulce de leche and dipped in chocolate—around 6:30 and his last at 11, an hour after the event was supposed to end. The only way he and partner Bryan Petroff could shut down was by telling people the ice cream was all gone. That strategy may not work as well at tonight’s Burger Bash, regarded as the SOBE festival’s reason for existence. It promises levels of excess that’ll make The Q look like a meeting of the Caloric Restriction Society.

Anyone who’s been to a tasting event of any scale knows them as one of the few arenas where it’s socially acceptable—even mandated—to indulge in competitive gluttony. Still, watching well-dressed people clamor for small plates of meat as if they’re the last flights out of Saigon is jarring. Combine it with the spectacle of food TV celebrities flashing their teeth for the cameras, and you get a concise, if splattery, illustration of the frenzy of the self-identified foodie. Is it magnificent obsession or a malignant regression to more primal times, when food was scarce and appetites went constantly unsatisfied?

That’s open to interpretation. What’s more certain is that the guys are now ensconced in the kitchen, assembling Choinkwiches for tonight, bracing for the crush.

Photo by Rebecca Flint Marx

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