Beach Eats Meet Comfort Food at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival

When you imagine classic shoreline snacks and sips, you likely picture buttery lobster rolls, crispy golden-brown fried shrimp and umbrella-adorned frosty cocktails. But at last night's Life's a Beach, Then You Eat! Dinner at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, the hosts and chefs, including Chopped judges Aarón Sánchez and Marcus Samuelsson, FN Dish contributor Hedy Goldsmith and New York City-based Chef Jonathan Waxman, proved there's more to snacking in the sand than these tried-and-true picks when they rolled out their menus of comfort food favorites.

Gathering underneath the palm trees and hanging lights on the beach of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Miami, this group of fan-favorite chefs and stars served hearty, satisfying dishes that not only wowed the sold-out crowd, but also held special significance for those who made them.

Hedy, a pastry chef in Miami, offered a duo of treats; as a growing line waited to sample her freshly fried Zeppoles filled with ricotta and rosemary-studded lemon marmalade (pictured above), she dished out Junk in da Trunk Cookies. "It's what I grew up with. It just feeds the mind and the soul," Hedy said of the warm, moist chocolate chunks, overflowing with savory and sweet ingredients alike, including potato chips, almonds, bacon and cocoa nibs, plus espresso powder and a sprinkle of Maldon salt. "It's all wrong, and it's all right at the same time."

Offering globally influenced fare reminiscent of his personal tastes, Marcus, too, looked to his childhood for inspiration when cooking last night. "We have a little bit of Swedish inspiration, a little bit of African inspiration, something that I grew up with that I like to eat," he said of his tostadas topped with smoked salmon and Bunny Chow, which featured a light bun topped with fall-apart-tender lamb.

At Aarón's stand, where the chef was posing with partygoers for photos, Mexican must-haves reigned supreme. He offered corn-focused tamales topped with both tender kernels and a saffron-laced corn sauce, plus another plate of shrimp-topped jicama slaw. "It's sort of a little bit of a hodgepodge of what I do in the books and what I do at the restaurants," he said of his bold menu.

A famed New York City comfort food made an unexpected appearance when Jonathan manned the grill to prepare his beloved crispy-skinned chicken, finished with a bright salsa verde, then served alongside cheesy roasted potatoes and a refreshing salad with citrus.

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