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South Beach Wine & Food Festival founder Lee Schrager credits the talent for its success

South Beach Wine & Food Festival founder Lee Schrager credits the talent for its success
South Beach Wine & Food Festival founder Lee Schrager credits the talent for its success 04:32

MIAMI - We're just days away from Food Network's South Beach Wine and Food Festival, now celebrating its 23rd year. This year's festival spans four days, with over 110 events featuring more than 500 chefs and personalities attending tastings and parties day and night.

CBS News Miami's Lisa Petrillo met with festival founder Lee Schrager at SGWS Wynwood, a training and hospitality space spanning more than 20 thousand square feet. It was his idea to take the festival out of its original space at the Florida International University campus to the sands of South Beach all those years ago.

South Beach Wine & Food Festival benefits FIU's Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management 02:26

"The dead of winter in South Beach, partnering with the Food Network as our title sponsor, you know, it kind of was a home run riding the wave of the Food Network," Schrager said.

This was during the onset of 'TV celebrity chefs'.

"You know, at that point, chefs were becoming rock stars and rock stars were becoming chefs," said Schrager.

Rock star chefs like Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri, Giada De Laurentiis, and Martha Stewart to name a few.

"To this day, Martha Stewart comes to the South Beach Wine and Food Festival,"said Petrillo.

"Absolutely, she is probably that one constant," said Scrager. "But Martha is still, you know, one of the most focused people that we know and that I have the pleasure of having here at the festival every year."

Schrager said it was Rachael Ray who came up with the idea for what's arguably the festival's most popular event - Burger Bash.

"Rachael loves burgers as do I, and Rachael said we need to do it like a burger, that's a big burger bash. I said okay and that was it, it was her idea and we kind of ran with it," he explained.

Aside from the food and fun, the festival is truly about giving back. To date, it's raised more than $37 million in support of its mission to eat, drink, and educate for the FIU Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. Schrager credits the chefs and personalities who donate their time and talent.

"It's the only way that the festival has survived for 23 years and continued to raise funds for the Chaplin School of Hospitality by, you know, surviving off the goodness of others like the Bobby and Rachael's and Tyler and Guy and people like that. We have never, ever paid talent," he said.

"How does it benefit the students?" asked Petrillo.

"First and foremost, it benefits them by the opportunity to work alongside these chefs, the winemakers, the distillers coming in. So to work alongside them, I can't begin to tell you how many people get jobs from the best of the best, literally from the best of the best, I see it firsthand," said Schrager.

Ticket prices are high. Parties like Burger Bash average around $275 per person. This year they've added more events under $100 a person.

"The festival is not inexpensive, it's incredibly expensive," said Schrager. "It's just an expensive event to bring in over 600 people. We have ground transfers, we have insurance, we have marketing, we have building, we build an Olympic village on the beach and that's incredibly expensive. So yes, it's expensive. I never ever make light of that. And you know, I wish it could be more affordable."

"What do you think it does for this community as a whole, this yearly festival that is now on the map globally?" Petrillo asked.

"I would say that's probably the most rewarding part of the festival, what it's done for the communities", he said. "And of course, for me, it's given me an opportunity to do what I love best. You know, eating, drinking, and seeing my friends."

The Food Network's South Beach Wine and Food Festival runs February 22nd to 25th. 

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