Lee Schrager Lying About Origin of South Beach Wine & Food Festival, Claims Ex-Boss

Categories: News
Christopher Perks.jpg
Michael E. Miller
Chris Perks shows off wine bottles signed by some of the nation's top chefs and vintners back in 1990.
​Starting this Thursday, 50,000 foodies will sniff, gargle, and chomp their way from one giant white tent to another for the 10th anniversary of the Food Network's South Beach Wine & Food Festival. The crowd will include celebrity chefs like Emeril, Giada De Laurentiis, and Anthony Bourdain, in town to toast festival founder Lee Brian Schrager.

But not everyone will be celebrating Schrager's milestone. In fact, some veterans of the South Beach hospitality industry think Schrager's "recipe for success" is more full of shit than a deep-fried Twinkie.

Schrager is the undisputed king of Miami cuisine. Every year his festival explodes all over South Beach like some gigantic fondue gone horribly deliciously awry.

Just how, exactly, Schrager ascended his culinary throne is in dispute, however. In a new cookbook for the festival, Schrager says he took a one-day event called Florida Extravaganza and -- inspired by a visit to Aspen Food & Wine Classic -- decided to create something similar in South Beach.

But other heavy-hitters in the hospitality industry say Schrager is taking credit for something that began more than a decade before his jaunt to Colorado.

"The story about this being the tenth anniversary of the festival is laughable," says Christopher Perks, president of Miami-based event planning organization The Opus Group. "He changed one word in the title, and that was only because I already owned the rights to it."

Schrager.jpg
Image via Facebook
South Florida Wine & Food Festival founder Lee Brian Schrager
According to Perks, South Beach Wine & Food Festival really began as South Florida International Wine & Food Festival back in 1990. That was when Perks, as managing director of the swanky Doral Beach Ocean Resort, decided Miami Beach needed a signature event to boost tourism.

"Chris said he had an idea for a wine and food festival," recalls Eric Jacobs, former chairman of the Miami Beach Visitor Convention Authority, whom Perks approached for funding. "Chris was definitely the originator of it -- no question about it."

The three-day event -- replete with wine tastings, world-class chefs, and a champagne-drenched brunch -- drew several hundred people its first year and continued to grow for six more. When Perks left Miami in 1996, however, he says the event moved to Florida International University and took the title Florida Extravaganza.

"All the elements were already there: the same sponsors, the same players, everything," he says looking at an ad for this year's Food Network festival. "If that's not the South Florida Wine & Food Festival, it sure as hell looks like its twin sister to me."

In fact, many of this year's sponsors are listed on the old South Florida International programs that Perks still keeps inside a plastic binder: American-Airlines, Wine Spectator and Ocean Drive magazines, FIU's School of Hospitality Management, and even Schrager's current company, Southern Wine & Spirits.

Like Perks, Jacobs is less interested in taking credit than setting the record straight. "It's disconcerting that Lee would have such an inflated ego to go around telling people that he invented something when it isn't true," he says. "It's a damnable lie."

Schrager, meanwhile, who was once hired by Perks as a catering director in the '80s, claims to have never even heard of the South Florida International Wine & Food Festival.

"I don't know what he's talking about," Schrager says. "My festival didn't start until 2002, so where the fuck was this festival those six years? Tell Chris that I think he's getting old and losing his mind."

Perks, who hasn't been invited to the event since Schrager took over, counters: "If I'm upset, it's because Lee hasn't been honest about where the festival came from... I was quite happy to let sleeping dogs lie until I read Lee's book."

He believes Schrager decided to simplify the festival's history in order to sell it to investors in New York -- and to play-up his own importance -- several years ago.

"Lee is an extraordinarily talented person," Perks adds. "But he got stuck telling a lie."

Follow Miami New Times on Facebook and Twitter @MiamiNewTimes.

My Voice Nation Help
11 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest
San Diego - Miami
San Diego - Miami

I first heard the term "Asian Fusion" in 1983 when I worked in the Hospitality industry in San Diego.

MiddleJohnEmdjrd66
MiddleJohnEmdjrd66

Not the first (or last?) boo-boo from Schrager, they go way back to his "Insurance Fraud" episode many years ago!!!

LJ.
LJ.

*********NEWS FLASH********Lee Brian Schrager and Al Gore are fighting over who really invented the World Wide Internet, Schrager the Collosal Egomonger offers that it was he who invented the internet and shares, by example, it would have taken someone with his superior dreaming ability, while on a vacation to Yellowstone Park, that he dreamed of the idea because he also invented GOOGLE and FACEBOOK and needed someplace to distribute them through. No word from the Al Gore camp at the time of this press report.- 30-

Foodfest Fan
Foodfest Fan

Lee Brian Schrager has been at the forefront of some of South Florida's tastiest culinary history and should be rightly toasted for that which rightfully bears his signature. However, in this instance, Schrager deserves to be publicly grilled for disingenuously anointing himself sole originator of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, then shish-kabobbed for disrespecting Chris Perks, who hired, then mentored The Man Who Would Be Foodie King before he was even a subject.

Indeed, Chris Perks' South Florida International Wine & Food Festival was the pilot light that Schrager ignited into a global sensation. Perks deserves due credit, respect and homage for having pioneered the food and wine fest that Schrager later evolved into a nextgen sensation. But when the apprentice assumes sole authorship, without so much as footnoting the event's founding creator, Schrager's arrogance circumvents documented truth and clumsily attempts to revise history. A simple "Ooops," a little humility and a proper nod to his mentor, Chris Perks, might have quieted Schrager's critics and help restore his credibility. There's plenty of glory to go around. Instead, his pissy response herein is a bad vintage and takes an even bigger bite out of Schrager's integrity and his brand.

History can be savored, but it can't be cooked.

Humble Beginnings...
Humble Beginnings...

Your piece reminded me of Norman VanAken's bio on his website which quotes, "Norman was the inventor of New World Cuisine and the term, "fusion cooking." Back in the late 1980's, there were other South Florida chefs who were also instrumental in creating what was later called, "New World Cuisine." These chefs were, Mark Militello, Allen Susser, and to a lesser extent Doug Rodriguez. They were called the Mango Gang at first, then splintered off into their own variations on this "South Florida cuisine." Give credit where it is due, humility is one of the marks of a great chef...

Foodfest Fan
Foodfest Fan

@No Shame > Although your essential point hits the moral mark dead-on, I beg to correct your historical recollection by adding Chef Michael Chiarello (Toby's Bar & Grill, Food Network) to your otherwise spot-on shortlist of South Florida's pioneering New American/New World chefs, each of whom emerged in 1985.

* Some might also reserve a place at the chef's table for restaurateur Dennis Max, as well.

No Shame...
No Shame...

BTW, I hate to break this to Norman VanAken, who says in his bio that, "he brought the word "fusion cooking" to the planet in a speech he made in Santa Fe in 1988."No, I not kidding...! When Wolfgang Puck opened his "Chinois on Main" in Santa Monica, he was cooking Asian fusion cuisine. The year was 1983...!Care to revise that claim, Norman...?

Westonles
Westonles

What a Liar, many hundreds of people contributed to the festival many years before Lee Schraeger "claims" to have magically "Invented" this long standing successful 3 day festival, why do people like Lee have to lie and steal just to make themself feel more important? while diminishing all of the good and hard work from so many, just to act like a KING ?? what an ego! Get real, why crap all over people, you're not such a big shot, more like a big shit.

JustDrinkAndShadUp
JustDrinkAndShadUp

Ha, Chris Perks is dumb, sure, you invented and patented the idea of a festival where wine and food are served...

No Shame...
No Shame...

It seems like people these days want to hype themselves as the "next whatever," and steal the glory for something that they didn't really create in the first place. The internet age has changed that, you can catch somebody lying much easier now because it's on video and there's no denying it, unless you have no shame...

Rich
Rich

This is a funny story..but in reality - Who really cares who started it? This isn't elementary school. Great ideas have been improved upon and rebranded throughout history.

Now Trending

Miami Concert Tickets

From the Vault

 

Loading...