Behind the Scenes of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival With Mashama Bailey, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and More

Four culinary power players who were at SOBEWFF tell Observer what they have in the works.

Chefs Tristen Epps, Tiffany Derry, Mashama Bailey and Vallery Lomas at South Beach Wine & Food Festival. World Red Eye

“I’m not a huge fan of these events,” chef Mashama Bailey told the crowd during her South Beach Wine & Food Festival dinner at the Eden Roc Miami Beach’s Ocean Social on Friday, Feb. 23. “I’m a huge fan when we do it like this.”

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Bailey was referring to the sense of community in the kitchen as she prepared oxtail hand pies and smoked pork shoulder while cooking alongside Tiffany Derry, Vallery Lomas and Tristen Epps at a dinner that showcased the work of talented Black chefs.

Like many of the other prominent chefs at SOBEWFF, Bailey was in the middle of an intense, packed schedule. The dinner ended around 10 p.m., and then she had to wake up at 4 a.m. and fly to Savannah, Georgia, for chef Kyle Jacovino’s wedding.

“A lot of me is like, ‘I’m so tired,’” Bailey, who’s in her 10th year of running The Grey in Savannah, told Observer on Friday afternoon. “And then the other part of me is like, ‘Live it up. Take advantage. Be happy with what you have and what you’ve accomplished.’”

This was a sentiment echoed throughout the festival by other free-spirited, empire-building chefs who have busy years ahead. Here’s a look at what four culinary power players who were at SOBEWFF have in the works.

Mashama Bailey. Nydia Blas

Mashama Bailey

Bailey is in the process of revamping Austin restaurant Diner Bar.

“We have that beautiful oyster bar in the middle of the room, and we’re just going to start focusing on seafood,” she says. “And we’re going to tie that into our Paris concept. “

Bailey and partner John O. Morisano hope to open that forthcoming Paris restaurant, in the 7th arrondissement, by the end of this year.

“It’ll be super swanky, super cool, ’70s vibe, really great interior,” Bailey says. “It’s going to be French-based, but it’s going to be a Black woman [who] cooks French food. It really ties into The Grey and what we do there.“

Bailey, who studied in France, has been developing this idea in her head for a long time.

“When I was living in Bordeaux, I was like, ‘wow, I really think that Southern food reminds me of French food,’” she says. “I think of coq au vin and I think of chicken and dumplings. I think of French food and I think of braised green beans and a lot of slow-cooked vegetables. I think of butter and cream and peach cobbler. I think the Paris restaurant is going to be Southern, but I’m a Black woman who’s second-generation-removed Southern. I grew up in New York City, so I feel like my take on Southern food is a little bit brighter and lighter, but it’s still very comforting and nuanced.”

Alon Shaya. World Red Eye

Alon Shaya

Shaya, who cooked for a Friday SOBEWFF dinner with Michael White and Michael Costa at Zaytinya, is getting ready to start a residency at Wynn Las Vegas.

In April, Shaya will debut the Mediterranean-inspired Safta 1964, which will serve as a prequel to Safta, his beloved Israeli restaurant in Denver. Safta is a tribute to his grandmother, and Safta 1964 will be a creative reimagining of her life.

“It’s that energy of my grandmother when she was 25 years old, and this kind of daydream of her jumping in a ’64 convertible Thunderbird and heading west from Denver to Las Vegas to go show the world what she can do, and take risks and throw a party,” Shaya tells Observer. “The whole energy of Safta 1964 is going to be this kind of retro ’60s version of Safta, and that’s going to come through in the uniforms, the playlist, all the table touches and color palettes and also the way we’re presenting the food. It’s going to be like Safta just balling out, having a great time and making everything a little bit extra.”

Safta 1964 will serve over-the-top dishes like a king crab tagine. Shaya will dollop caviar over kibbeh nayeh in Las Vegas. There will be tableside jello service.

“I think people in Vegas want to be transported, and it doesn’t need to be to a real place,” Shaya says. “We’re doing hummus with shaved black truffles, and it tastes really great. I don’t think my grandmother ever saw a black truffle or would have known what to do with one, but she would make hummus for me all the time. So I’m bringing all these worlds together—some real, some fictional. Everything I’ve ever done in my career before this has looked very real and genuine. Here, it gets to be a lot more whimsical.”

Tyson Cole. World Red Eye

Tyson Cole

Tyson Cole made a big gamble opening Uchi LA in West Hollywood, and was rewarded for it.

“It’s probably one of the most expensive restaurants we’ve ever built,” Cole tells Observer. “What an incredible payback. The space is gorgeous, and the staff’s amazing. We brought in a bunch of staff from other locations. I love being part of the sushi community in Los Angeles.”

Uchi LA, with a top-tier combination of food, service and vibe that can simultaneously remind guests of both Nobu and Hillstone, became an instant sensation when it opened in December. In a city that isn’t always kind to out-of-town operators, Cole and Austin-based Hai Hospitality have a restaurant that’s doing 200 to 300 covers on weekdays and seeing a surge of business on weekends.

On Saturday, Cole and guest chef Tim Cushman hosted a SOBEWFF lunch at Uchi Miami. Cole is in the process of opening Uchi spinoff Uchiko in Denver and Miami in the coming year.

“Uchiko is a much larger kitchen, with more room to be creative,” says Cole, who serves dishes that showcase smoke and fire, like hearth-roasted lobster and dry-aged wagyu that’s seared four times, at Uchiko in Austin.

Cole, who recently opened the more bar-focused Uchiba in Austin, also wants Miami’s Uchiko to be a drinking destination. So, he’s planning a big bar for that South Beach restaurant.

Jean-Georges Vongerichten. World Red Eye

Jean-Georges Vongerichten

‘I’m going to be 67 next month, but I’m not done yet,” hall-of-famer Vongerichten tells Observer. “Stopping? I’m just warming up.”

Vongerichten, who hosted a SOBEWFF Saturday brunch at his Matador Room at the Miami Beach Edition, is as busy as ever. In New York, he and chef Jonathan Benno are running glitzy new hot spot Four Twenty Five, where Vornado’s Steve Roth and Citadel’s Ken Griffin came in on the same night last week.

Four Twenty Five, which opened in December, has gotten significant media attention. A review from New York Magazine’s Grub Street was headlined, “Will Four Twenty Five Kill the Grill?” Vongerichten, however, would like to make it clear that he respects Grill operator Major Food Group and doesn’t see this as a zero-sum game. He says he just spoke to Major Food Group’s Mario Carbone a week before SOBEWFF, and also had a great meal at the hospitality company’s Chateau ZZ’s in Miami.

“Instead of killing anybody, I feel like we are part of the renaissance of Park Avenue,” Vongerichten tells Observer. “I’m happy that people are coming back to the office a little bit. Our bar is packed. We open the bar at 4 p.m. As soon as the stock market is finished, red or green, everybody needs a drink.”

Vongerichten is working to add lunch, with a burger and salads on the menu, at Four Twenty Five. He also wants to bring back the idea of the Park Avenue power breakfast, like what used to happen at the Loews Regency.

Beyond New York, he’ll open the rooftop Jean-Georges at The Leinster in Dublin next month. Then he’ll debut an ABC restaurant at The Emory in London soon after.

“It’s going to be a trilogy,” he says of the London restaurant, which will merge elements of ABC Kitchen, ABC Cocina (yes, including the famous pea guacamole) and ABCV. “I call it ABC Kitchens.”

He’s planning to open an ABC trilogy in Brooklyn, at a Dumbo location near Cecconi’s later this year. 

Also slated for this year is the opening of private supper club Chef Margaux in a Meatpacking District basement space directly below where Vongerichten used to operate Spice Market. He envisions hours from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. at Chez Margaux, because he wants New York to have the kind of late-night scene that existed before the pandemic. He likens the food he will serve at the private club to a “room service menu” with nods to what he did at Mercer Kitchen.

“You can have a club sandwich and maybe a little sushi, and maybe a pizza,” he says.

It’s clear that there’s no shortage of opportunities for Vongerichten in 2024 and beyond. “A lot of people approach me,” he says. “They want to do residences with your name on it. They want you to design all the kitchens in a 250-condo building. They want you to put a restaurant on the bottom. I turn down two things a week.”

But he’s always ready to make new deals when the situation feels optimal.

“I still have a lot of dreams,” he says.

Behind the Scenes of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival With Mashama Bailey, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and More