Monday, February 28, 2011

South Beach Wine and Food Festival, Part 3

South Beach Wine and Food Festival
The Italian pavilion at the Grand Tasting, which was actually a pretty straightforward assembly line of wine pours with delicious Grana Padano cheese for nibbles.

My second experience of the Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival started on Friday morning when it took me one and half hours to drive 15 miles from South Miami to South Beach at 9:30 AM. After securing what was probably the last parking spot at the Anchor Shops garage across from the Loews Hotel, and being nearly rear-ended by an antsy valet driver asshole who thought he was a Nascar champion, I walked unscathed over to the Media Welcome Brunch at the Betsy Hotel.

(By the way, this is a great municipal parking garage. $16 is the most you'll pay for a 24 hour period. A true South Beach bargain.)

Quiche, mimosas and hobnobbing were on the menu at brunch. It was here I overheard journalists discuss important matters like "are you a true food writer or simply someone who writes who happens to be passionate about food?"

Well, if we're going to ask questions, I also want to ponder: "How can you be a food writer and wear a size zero? You see, food is this stuff you put in your mouth, chew and swallow. You don't eat, girlfriend."

South Beach Wine and Food Festival
Holding up a sign at the Grand Tasting line. Somebody please put this man out of his misery.

South Beach Wine and Food Festival
No cattle call ever looked so sunny and bright.

But I digress. From brunch, I traipsed over to the Grand Tasting at Lummus Park, which was open only to trade on Friday. After waiting 40 minutes in line to get our wristbands, friend and fellow writer from South Florida Food and Wine Blog and I proceeded to the gate. Once inside, we would spend three hours on our feet in what I can only call the most glorious "People Watching Festival" I have ever attended -- mobs of people were there and this wasn't even open to the general public! I think every restaurant owner with relatives in Hialeah had entire clans infiltrate the inner sanctum of this gourmet fair.

Bitches were walking around in their mini-skirts and high heels (seriously, on the beach, ladies?), Eurotrash was well represented and the requisite ass models in boy shorts were giving out booze samples. Ah yes, it was South Beach all right ... all the sex and none of the sophistication.

South Beach Wine and Food Festival
The mob of wine and food enthusiasts. At closing time, a voice over a loud speaker repeated: "stop pouring now." I kept hearing: "stop whoring now."

South Beach Wine and Food Festival
No South Beach event would be complete without the selling power of pussy.

And behold: there wasn't much food at the Grand Tasting at all, and what little there was, required a ten to fifteen minute wait in line for a small sample.

No, no. This wasn't about food. This was about wine and booze. By closing time at 4 PM, most folks were rip-roarin' tipsy, because those thimble-full alcohol samples really do add up. This reminded me of the Gasparilla pirate festival, where frat boys were wasted by 11 am, but minus the bead flinging and police arrests.

South Beach Wine and Food Festival
This vodka was actually pretty good. It's made in Central Florida from 4 different varieties of Florida oranges. I tried some neat. It was not as sickeningly sweet as other citrus flavored vodkas.

South Beach Wine and Food Festival
Refreshing prosecco. Probably my favorite pour of the day, besides cold Amstel (yes, beer!) which is about all I could tolerate under the hot tent.

The Grand Tasting is a true tribute to Bacchus for the masses, where sampling a bazillion different wines isn't really going to teach you anything about being an enophile. Come on, folks! You cannot appreciate anything in large doses. Discreet tastings of food and drink, spread out over time, is the only way to educate your palate.

The grapevine of seasoned journalists who were festival veterans informed me that the event would be doubly insane over the weekend. Scalpers abound, people try to bum wristbands from strangers at the gate and security is on hand to pick up the lightweights puking and passing out. Geez, I'm so sorry I went on the more "civilized" trade day and missed all that.

South Beach Wine and Food Festival
Even the dogs were getting drunk.

South Beach Wine and Food Festival
Two ladies getting their tan on at the South Beach Wine, Food, People Watching and Tanning Festival.

South Beach Wine and Food Festival
Arugula and duck salad was one of the few samples of food I saw at the event. Mind you, that doesn't mean food wasn't there, but it was so crowded, it was hard to spot.

So what to expect if you are a layperson: lots of wine, lots of waiting, lots of bumping into strangers, not so much food and fantastic people watching.

There is, of course, much more to the festival than the Grand Tasting bacchanalia and geeze, if the PR companies had been open to including more local writers, I might have been able to pen some stories about those worthy events, too. But word from the grapevine was that press passes were as tight as Madonna's ass.

As my friend put it: "If you really want to learn, go to the seminars and tastings and know that your contributions are helping Florida International University's hospitality and tourism program."

And this I did, right after, with my sand-coated feet dog tired after walking around for three hours. A small, cozy wine and cheese event at the roof deck of the Betsy Hotel was just what the doctor ordered and that kind of investment of money and time is what I would recommend to anyone interested in attending next year. If you want to gormandize, don't do fast food -- do so wisely and elegantly. Avoid this cattle call.



I don't know what it was about this weekend that turned everyone into an animal on the streets of South Beach. By the time I left around 7:30 PM, it was bumper to bumper everywhere and people were driving as if they were jonesing for crack. I have never seen South Beach like this, not even during Boat Show or Memorial Day weekend! Other South Beach residents corroborated my observations. Foodies are crazy!


Thursday, February 24, 2011

South Beach Food and Wine Festival, Part 2

Botran Rum Dinner South Beach Food and Wine Festival
I had problems with my camera so only a grainy photo from my iPhone today of my favorite dish.

Oh rum, why do you tease me so? Is it not enough that I have shared the finest grog with pirates, that I dream about a creamy guava rum punch I had in St. Lucia, staring out at the Caribbean sea, and that I loyally follow the rum gang at Miami's Rum Renaissance Festival?

Well, earlier today you teased me again, at a press luncheon showcasing the Guatemalan born spirit Botran paired with the food at D. Rodriguez Cuba, featuring two guest chefs.


I am by no means a rum expert and I'm not going to use hoity-toity terms like "it tastes oaky" or "it reminds me of my abuelita's arthritis ointment." But I do know this -- some rums are so good, you drink them neat or on the rocks like a fine scotch. They are made with painstaking craftsmanship supported by the science of distillery. Combine craft and science and you have art. The path from sugar cane to fine rum is a long one and I'll save that for another post, but it's all involved with the rich colonial history of Spain and the New World.

For pete's sake, please don't even consider rums like Bacardi Dragonberry a real rum. Even a shipwrecked pirate on his last breath wouldn't drink that crap. That is rum gone ghetto, appealing to the audience of Real Housewives of Miami -- indiscriminately tasteless. Real rum should be enjoyed alone or with combinations made from ingredients like fresh fruit, herbs, spices and bitters. Flavored rums are blech.

Does this make me a purist rum snob? I don't know. Actually, I don't care. But I do know that Botran's Reserva was good enough to mix and very palatable in a Manhattan made with sherry, sweet vermouth and bitters. It's not a light, white rum, though. Save that for your basic, traditional mojitos. And the Solera (aged longer) was tasty but lighter than other rums I would prefer to savor neat or on the rocks.


I'm not crazy about drinking sweet rum drinks with food. Wine or some dry cocktail just makes more sense because too many intense flavors confuse the palate. So today was an interesting exploration in pairing.

The first cocktail we enjoyed was created by Thomas Merolla, Botran's Director of Mixology. The Yellow Tail, curiously named after a snapper, consisted of Reserva blended with Aperol, ripe passion fruit, ginger, mint garnish, a bit of citrus and topped with champagne. It reminded me of an Old Cuban without the old in it -- very refreshing, like a South Beach model with personality.

The Yellow Tail was served with passed hors d'oeuvres that were prepared by Chef Carmen Trigueros of La Bottega in Coconut Grove. Her little bites were absolutely delectable, including the passion fruit ceviche, baby lamb chops with mole crust as well as Spanish tortilla with chorizo and pimentos, all of which were worthy of trying in full serving size.

We also sipped on this this cocktail with Chef Rodriguez's first course: a ceviche that made my mouth so happy, I really do hope they keep their word when they say it will be a regular menu item. Imagine this: loads of tender lobster meat and shredded stone crab in a cilantro based soupy mix with local heirloom tomatoes and avocado. The "gourmet" part was topping it with stone crab mustard and Botran rum ice cream, which had melted but certainly didn't hurt the dish, adding a light creaminess to your otherwise typically watery ceviche. You couldn't really taste the rum or the mustard, but somehow it worked.

Chef Mario Pagan from Puerto Rico was in town to help with second courses. I particularly liked a yuca hash he made to side with coconut crusted shrimp, which he said was "bringing back the '80s." (Well, if you bring back the '80s, make sure Crockett and Tubbs show up, too.) The humble tuber root was cut into bite-sized little squares, lightly fried and not at all greasy. Coated in cilantro and garlic, the hash offered a unique adaptation of the Cuban and Caribbean staple -- I would love the recipe.

Dessert came in the form of Blackberry and Goat Cheese Tart from D. Rodriguez Cuba's Executive Pastry Chef Christian Cobos. Since I don't like overly sweet stuff (have you noticed that yet?) I enjoyed the balance between the savory cheese and rich berries. Our drink pair for dessert was Botran Solera on the rocks, but I think the rum could have stood well on its own.


See, I don't want to talk about some famous food network chefs whose asses everyone is kissing. I want to talk about good grub and drink that we can all enjoy right here in our own backyards once all the hoopla is over.

  • D. Rodriguez Cuba on Washington Avenue at the Hotel Astor has closed and re-opened on Ocean Drive inside the Hilton Bentley Hotel. Sit down and hold on, for you shall be shocked: they offer free valet for all restaurant customers! Yes, you heard that right, free valet in the heart of South Beach. Happy hour features $5 mojitos from lunch to 6 PM.
  • Carmen Triguero's La Bottega is a newish place in the Grove. Sadly, her website is under construction but she does have a Facebook page. I haven't tried the restaurant, but based on what I ate today, I'm raring to go. She seemed very dedicated and wanted to make sure we gave her honest feedback. I'm not complaining.
  • Rum lovers, don't forget Rum Renaissance is happening again this year at the end of April.

South Beach Food and Wine Festival, Part 1

Ah, the South Beach Food and Wine Festival ... the buzz, the booze, the stars, the food! It's enough to make folks spend three days of total debauchery of the palate, like spring breakers on a gastronomic orgy. And event passes are worth about the same as college tuition, too.

Those much coveted tickets are swooped up so quickly by the affluent that mere mortals such as journalists and (gasp!) bloggers are left standing outside the pearly gates of foodie heaven. I had no intention of going, but it pays to have friends in low places who can bat some eyelash and pull some serious pork. As a result, I have gained entry to the inner sanctum of exclusivity, and all this without having to suck on Anthony Bourdain's coq au vin.

Gosh, I feel almost human.

So in the next couple of days, I'll probably be the only rogue blogger reporting from the lofty heights of Ocean Drive, eating and drinking more calories than any human should legally consume in a span of 24 hours.

But in the meantime, here's some breaking news: thousands of vegetarians are running for their lives from South Beach, as beef fumes from the Burger Bash choke their delicate lungs!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Silicone Bitch: Yoga and Social Media

News and notes about the South Florida social media and blogging scene, with a little tech thrown in for good measure. And maybe some other random events, too.

Earlier this week some friends and I met up for drinks after a networker in Coral Gables and somehow the conversation segued to something that has been on my mind for a long time -- the similarities between the philosophy of yoga and what us social media types are doing today.

But before I get into that, let me just plead, absolutely and utterly beg you to stop doing something that has annoyed me since day one...
Dear social media world, please cease from using the word guru immediately!

Yes, yes I know that language is a malleable and flexible creature and that English adopts words from other cultures for its own use, but pay attention to the original Sanskrit meaning:

Gu denotes darkness and ignorance
Ru denotes enlightment

In other words, a guru a bringer of light, a dispeler of darkness, a spiritual guide who leads you not on someone else's path but into your own heart and the God self within you, to discover the light within yourself.

So tell me, what the hell does a social media preacher have to do with that?


Stop it.

Nobody "owns" or is an "expert" in a field that is fledgling. Whenever I teach a workshop or give a lecture, I am up front and completely transparent with my students: I am simply sharing my best practices with you, what has and hasn't worked for me, but we are all students in this. I just may be a little ahead of the ball game, that's all. And you know what? Sometimes I learn from you. Teaching and learning are really the same thing. The true teacher knows this. The true guru is the humblest person on the planet. The true guru knows that the student is his or her own guru.

Bottom line: no one in social media is a guru. Please respect the original meaning of the term or I'm going to think you're an idiot.


Nonetheless, there is an interesting way of looking at social media through a yogic lens.

In a nutshell: the over 5,000 year-old philosophy of yoga originating in India seeks to unify mind, body and soul within the individual and on a broader scale, to bring together all living things with a sense of interconnectedness.

The word yoga itself denotes "yoking" of all the physical and spiritual elements that make our human journeys a worthwhile experience. When you practice yoga, you seek to bring every fiber of your physical and spiritual being into perspective and balance. And once you get comfortable with that, you give the love and peace within yourself as a gift to the world. It becomes an expression in your personal and business relationships. This is the real meaning of tantra, by the way. Ultimately, it has nothing do with sex.

You do not have to change your name to Sanskrit, shave your head, wear birkenstocks, eat organic vegetables and devote yourself to charity to be a yogi. You do not have to be a Ghandi or Mother Teresa. Each and everyone of us, no matter what we do, can tap into this with each and every little gesture in our mundane lives.

What does this have to do with social media? Well, quite simply, the ancient yogis had it all figured out that we were connected on some level, even before there was modern technology. What we are doing today is part of a great evolution. Our current technology simply facilitates the process.

Social media and technology are wrapped up in what yogis call energy. We are all energy. Even the machines we use to explore that energy are part of the process.

I encourage you to think of this on an atomic level. Even your computer, as well as the cables and wires that make up the interwebz, are organic objects; after all, they too consist of atomic particles, the building blocks of life. They don't call it "silicon" for nothing: it's an actual metalloid with its own atomic number and a conductor of energy.

The internet is a conveyor of our spiritual intentions, for better or worse. Social media has enabled connectivity in ways that the yogis of yore would never have dreamed of ... or perhaps they did and foresaw it. How is it possible that I can connect with someone through wires and microchips? Well, it's not about the wires and microchips. It's about the wires and microchips conveying my energy to you.

When you close a yoga class with your hands in prayer position at your chest on front of your heart chakra, you say namaste. This Sanskrit word means "the light in me honors the light in you." In some ways, those of us using social media for establishing positive, organic connections are doing the same. We make things happen. We bring people together. We use the tools at hand as an extension of our spiritual goal to manifest the inter-relatedness of all things.

Remember: yoga is not about standing on your head or sitting like a pretzel. Hatha yoga -- the art and science of physical poses -- is simply a means to an end. The real yoga comes when you practice compassion with a sense of complete connection to all beings around you. It is a joyful expression of your soul and wonders never cease. You may not be perfect in the process, but your intention is golden. If you are doing social media this way, you are doing it akin to the yogic path.

I'm not saying yoga is social media, not at all: yoga is an art and science that requires its own specific discipline and training. But what I do see is a beautiful analogy between an ancient philosophy and a very advanced technology that most of us take for granted. Every time you use Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and all the other networking properties, you are part of a larger evolution.

Think about it: the endless flurry of messages on Twitter is evidence of everyone's yogic path: I am here. I am alive. I have something to say. I am doing something. Let me share that with you. Let me do something with you. Let me listen to you. Let me play with you. Let me laugh with you. Thank YOU for letting me into your world and for connecting.

Yoga is not about ego. Yoga is about there no longer being a "me" or a "you" but an "us" on a global scale. That's where the love comes in and the social networks absolutely, one-hundred percent facilitate this way of life, this way of seeing the world. Yet another reason why no one should ever call themselves a social media guru -- it is not about your ego. If you're doing social media like a yogi, it is never ultimately about ME but about the connection between US.

Stop and smell the roses. See the bigger picture in what you are doing and have accomplished through social media. Be mindful about it; look at it as a yogi would.

As a former yoga instructor who stopped doing poses a few years ago, I recently realized that I have been practicing in my own way all this time. Social media changed my life for the better and continues to keep me on my path.


I hope my example can bring a fresh perspective to others. If you ever sign up for a workshop that promises to teach you social media, remember that you already know it because you are already a social human being with potential to expand your soul in a yogic way. The only thing those "gurus" out there should really teach you are rote skills, like driving a car. If you really want to know social media, then be a student of human relationships. Putting together a fabulous Facebook Fan Page means nothing if you don't have the right energy and sense of connectivity.

IMAGE CREDIT: Adria.Richards via Flickr

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mofongo Madness at Jimmy'z in Wynwood

JimmyZ Wynwood Restaurant
Jimmy'z is well-known for its mofongo but it's not the only kind of food they serve.

Last Sunday afternoon I attended a foodie blogger dinner at the seven-week old Jimmy'z Kitchen in Wynwood. Now, you know Sex and the Beach is not technically a food blog, so when a restaurant really excites me enough to compose a few paragraphs, it's because they had me at first bite.

Ten years ago, you wouldn't even think to go to Wynwood unless you had a death wish. It was the dregs of Overtown. It was so deserted, you'd think you had come across a set for a post-apocalyptic movie. Not so today -- intrepid businessmen like chef owner Jimmy Carey are helping to revive the once blighted neighborhood.

Carey also owns a small but successful restaurant in South Beach that has been open 4 years come May. The new mainland restaurant on North Miami Avenue features bright, crayon-colored seats under a portico and a loft-style interior that's also colorful but cozy. At Jimmy'z Kitchen, you order your food at a counter, pay up front and the food is brought to you. There's no traditional wait staff. The system is informal but the food is far from that -- high quality without high-falutin' prices.

JimmyZ Wynwood Restaurant
The interior at Jimmy'z. Architect turned restaurateur Rebecca Blanco whipped up the design.


Mofongo is a traditional dish of Puerto Rico, but it has many variations in the Caribbean, such as mangu in the Domincan Republic and fufu de platano in Cuba.

It makes sense: mofongo, which is basically fried green plantain mashed with garlic, olive oil and pork rinds with some kind of protein served on the side -- uses the plantain, a Caribbean staple brought over from Africa. Plantain was cultivated and consumed by slaves and white colonizers alike during the colonial era. Slaves, who had little access to protein in most islands, survived on plantain and starchy root vegetables such as yuca and dasheen, also known as ground provisions.

So, next time you eat plantain, think of all the history behind this relative of the banana. Today, no Caribbean pantry goes without it.

To look and listen to Carey, you'd never assume he was raised in Puerto Rico. He looks as gringo as they get and speaks flawless English. But his food is pure island joy, even though it's not really a Puerto Rican restaurant -- other dishes are served too -- sandwiches, salads, steak, mahi and more are on the menu.

Even so, I'm obsessing about how well and creatively Jimmy'z Kitchen treats the humble plantain. It's refreshing to get my plantain on without having to do it Cuban style. At most Cuban restaurants in Miami, you'll find it the form of a tostón (twice-fried, crispy green plantain) or maduros (fried ripe sweet plantain). Tostones, if done right, are crispy on the outside and mushy on the inside, but never greasy. They don't hold up well as leftovers. They should be eaten immediately.

At Jimmy'z, we had arañitas (little spiders), so called because shredded plantain is fried into a little basket that resembles the leggy insect. Again, a variation on a popular Caribbean-wide way to prepare the fruit. Here, they were crispy, light and filled with a creamy roasted bell pepper sauce. They sat at the table for a while and they held up to the time test.

JimmyZ Wynwood Restaurant
Arañitas reminded me of the Caribbean anansi spider folktales that came from Africa.

The other version of plantain we sampled was a tostón topped with a delicious, citrusy ceviche. These tostones were just right -- crispy enough to not get soggy with the liquid from the ceviche. It was a perfect tropical hors d'oeuvre.

JimmyZ Wynwood Restaurant
Ceviche and tostones make good bedfellows.

Last but not least was the legendary mofongo. A little tower of plantain goodness was served above tender roasted pork in a light, garlicky mojo. Jimmy'z serves mofongo with other meats and seafood -- I've heard from several friends that their favorite is the shrimp.

JimmyZ Wynwood Restaurant mofongo
Our individual tasting portions were small compared to the regular serving, which could easily be shared by two. Come hungry ... it's quite filling.

Other dishes in our tasting including an homage to Jamaica with sliced jerked chicken over greens and a house vinaigrette. Fortunately the chef didn't go Mickey Mouse on the spice, so it had a hearty kick.

I also enjoyed a day boat scallop over a potato corn hash. My particular scallop had been harvested in Massachusetts and processed immediately with no preservative chemicals, so it was only 3 days old. It was succulent and coated perfectly on the outside with a home made blackening seasoning.

And finally, although I'm not into sugar, I took more than a couple of bites of a guava cheesecake, that being one of my favorite tropical fruits. The cheesecake was not overly sweet so that gets a thumbs up from me.

Casual, friendly and unpretentious, Jimmy'z would easily become a go-to favorite if only I lived closer. But it's definitely worth the drive from South Miami and what with the Wynwood, Midtown and Design District neighborhoods enjoy a renaissance, I often find myself venturing north.


Jimmy'z Kitchen is located at 2700 North Miami Avenue and is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. A decent wine and craft beer collection is available to wash down all the flavorful food. Delivery also includes beer and wine.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Valentine's Day in Miami for Single Schmucks

Cartoons Drawn on Crappy Legal Pads at Bars
Cartoon by yours truly drawn at The Abbey, South Beach in '07.

I hate Valentine's Day. No, no, not because I'm single, but because every freakin' establishment has some kind of Valentine's Day special that makes it impossible for single people to have a normal dinner or drink anywhere. Everything is for two: dinner for two, drinks for two, hotel room for two, massage for two ... bla bla bla. What's next? Colonoscopies? Yeah, whatever. On this holiday, try making a reservation for yourself or a group of friends and you'll be treated like a leper.

Surely, there must be something for single people to do on Valentine's Day here in the Magic City. How about these exciting options?
  • Dinghy out to the "Piano Bar" on Biscayne Bay and have a picnic for one.
  • Go to an AA meeting. You're bound to meet someone perfectly codependent there.
  • Hang out with the pervs under the Julia Tuttle causeway. They get it; they aren't welcome anywhere either.
  • Make a dinner reservation at The Forge for two then pretend you were stood up and make a scene. See feathers ruffle. OMG!
Ok, seriously. I'm kidding! Here are some actual legit options for those of us who aren't in relationships.

Nothing says "screw you, love" like slamming a heavy ball against hapless pins. Splitsville at Sunset Place in South Miami isn't catering to couples but to all lovers of bowling. Expect the following on Monday, February 14: $3 per person per game, $2 shoe rental, $5 well liquors, starting at 4 PM until close. Plus additional happy hour specials 4 to 7 PM. And if you're in the mood to celebrate singlehood with bubbly, consider 50% off premium champagne on this special day.

Thank goodness for Coral Gables Art Cinema, a Sex and the Beach favorite, because after years of no cinematheques, we now we have independent, alternative movies in the City Beautiful once again, with easy, inexpensive parking next door. It's cool, civilized, smart and an utterly refreshing escape from the every day. Imagine going to a movie in Miami-Dade with no chongas from Hialeah making out with their papis while smacking gum in the seat behind you. All this without having to pay the $15 ass-rape parking fees of South Beach.

On Valentine's Day, you won't want to miss the 9 PM showing of My Dog Tulip, an animated film about a confirmed British bachelor who gives up on love and finds a great companion in an adopted dog. The film, based on the novel by J.R. Ackerley, features the voices of Isabella Rossellini, Christopher Plummer and the late Lynn Redgrave.

It's business as usual at Tobacco Road on Monday, February 14, as they'll be most likely recovering from their big Valentine's Day bash on Saturday. So if you're feelin' blue, go lend an ear to Big Papa E at Miami's oldest bar. It's free ... yes, you heard that right. No cover!

When Jane Austen wrote about truths universally acknowledged, she obviously forgot to mention that you would never be bored by the characters who show up at Club Deuce in South Beach. I don't care what day of the year it is, Club Deuce is an alkaline cleanser for your acidic soul. And just like the Catholic Church, the Deuce takes in all us lonely, wayward idiots without judgment. You needn't wear your Sunday best, but leave the plastic at home. It's cash only and no fake people, either.

I'm pretty sure that "music under the stars" was an inalienable right under the U.S. constitution for all people -- not just couples. I almost hesitate to recommend this, but I love the Deering Estate and at $20 a pop for a groovy harpist, it just seems like a really cool thing to do, regardless. Grab your friends and fill up the picnic basket, but leave the coolers at home. They're not allowed.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Silicone Bitch: South Florida Social Media in the New Year

News and notes about the South Florida social media and blogging scene, with a little tech thrown in for good measure. And maybe some other random events, too.

old lady frying pan

I know I haven't posted since Blogalicious, but as most of my followers know, I've been busy chasing pirates. Now that we're into February, here are some thoughts on the state of social media in South Florida. I'm probably going to piss off a lot of people by being honest, but hey, everybody knows I have a big mouth, not just a big ass.


I've been around the scene since the first pilot meeting of Social Media Club South Florida back in 2008. I have witnessed the community evolve and grow. I even wrote a column for Miami New Times about local media called Silicon Beach (just a reminder, in case you are new to Silicone Bitch). I personally know many of the folks who make it happen and I'm proud to be part of this community. Although I am not on the board of Social Media Club South Florida (I can't be if I'm going to write about it impartially), I support that group one hundred percent.

But here's the thing -- I think we've gone a bit astray from that original meeting in 2008. Some newcomers have piggybacked on those original efforts, which is fine -- new and fresh blood is good. The problem is that I've been noticing a trend away from the original message of Social Media Club: "if you get it, share it." And let me emphasize share while I bring up the corny phrase, sharing is caring.

You know what? It's true. Any one person or company who comes to me acting like they care when they don't, using social media to further their own agenda, will be labeled as a poser in my book.

Why? Because I'm not interested in the snake oil you're selling. I'm interested in the relationship you have with me and the relationships you can facilitate for me with other people. And if you can do that -- if you care about me -- I'm most likely to buy your snake oil or at least shake hands with you in mutual, professional respect.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not being naive here -- we all have an agenda of some kind. Just by being alive and breathing, we each are a "brand" ... but the big difference is in intention and the transparency of that intention.

I'm tired of events that are called tweetups when really they are just traditional networkers, office warming parties, fundraisers, commercial sponsorships, travel writer fam trips or whatever. Just call a spade a spade, and then use social media to promote it. Nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is posing as a social media event.

I'm tired of people who shake my hand and tell me how many Twitter followers they have. Honestly, I don't give a shit, and that puts you automatically in the category of Social Media Douchebag.

I could go on and on, but I'm going to leave it at that.


Not so, not so, grasshopper. I've shied away from many events recently. Why? Because they don't seem genuine to me.

Now, some of you are going to raise your hand and ask: "But what about Pizza Tweetups? What about Chevy Crawls?"

Folks, it is a fine line, I'll admit. But not so fine that you can't tell the difference between a charlatan and an honest enterprise.

Events like Pizza Tweetups and Chevy Crawls are great examples of how you can bring people together who are already connected in social media to discuss a common, shared social object. What makes these events successful is that they are never about pizza and never about Chevy. They are about sharing and connecting. This is VERY different than your traditional networker or party.

As more companies reach out to bloggers and social media types for exposure, they should really keep this in mind. It is never about your agenda or your product. It is about the person you are essentially "engaging" to communicate for you and more importantly, the individuals connecting with each other because of you.


Do I remember each slice of pizza I had at any of @lapp's pizza tweetup? Hell no. Would I eat at some of those restaurants again? Maybe. But what defines loyalty for me is that I remember the interactions I had with other people at those pizza tweetups -- the community that was formed and solidified; memorable moments that had nothing to do with pie.

Here's another example of good social media strategy courtesy of Toby Srebnik, who designed events for Tilson PR and has now moved on to a new firm. Do I eat at Dunkin Donuts everyday? No. But thanks to Toby, I was able to bring my readers some interesting content that had nothing to do with donuts and so I have consumer goodwill toward that company.

For the Truly Nolen campaign, I had a blast hanging out with Twitter friends at Butterfly World. Where was pest control in all that? Just a faint glimmer in the horizon. And yet it was, by all accounts, a great corporate social media campaign.

What made my participation in the Ford Fiesta Movement so fun? Because it was never really about the car when I blogged about it. Brad and I wrestled alligators. We geocached through Dade County. We spoofed Scarface. We shared what we learned about Miami graffiti with our readers and got messy spray painting a wall with a hundred people. This and so much more ... the car was always an afterthought.

Remember Stormhoek Wine's highly successful blogger dinner campaign, led by genius cartoonist Gaping Void? Hell, it was never really about the god damn the wine. They didn't give a shit if you blogged, tweeted or facebooked about it or not. They just wanted you to enjoy some wine with your friends, no obligation.


It doesn't hurt that Toby treats me like a person and not just another blogger he can pitch to. Ditto for Stephanie Camargo, aka blogger Midtown Chica, who is transparent about her work with Chevy. They have both taken the time to develop a real relationship with me. And as for @Lapp, I have broken bread with him and his family. Again, it's never about the pizza!

I also have to mention Steve Roitstein from the band PALO! -- a true expert at his own social media who humbly never claims to be. But why is he an expert? Because he gets it. He shares it. He cares. I met him on Twitter and the man made me chicken soup before I even became a fan of his band. Talk about organic. I would have loved his music anyway, but he had me at bouillon.


I have even been on the flip side, getting hired to do social media outreach directed at other bloggers. Weird huh? But why not hire a blogger to talk to other bloggers, right? Who best knows what a blogger wants than a blogger herself?

In those campaigns, you know what makes me profoundly uncomfortable? When I can't pick up the phone and chat with that blogger like a friend I'm inviting to my birthday party. I can't stand to be a poser.

This is the bottom line: you cannot become a social media "pro" overnight; you can learn tools but that won't make you an expert. It requires practice, patience, commitment, loyalty, diplomacy, finesse as well as social and rhetorical skills -- all wrapped up in organic relationships with your audience. But most importantly, you need to be the real you.

As more people plan events and conferences, well, I encourage everyone to follow suit. Be totally transparent. Transparency, honesty of intention and centering around the social rather than the commercial agenda is what's going to last after the gold rush is over and the snake oil sellers have moved on.

If you preach, teach or do social media as a living, keep it real. Is that too much to ask?


What am I not tired of? The savvy people I've mentioned above (there are more, but sorry I can't get to everyone) as well as the wonderful group of people I've met who are genuine, many of whom are part of the Miami Rat Pack, for example, which has the potential to do some good in this city and already has.

And I love that someone like Liza Walton can have a casual conversation about croquetas and create a whole, socially driven event around a simple fritter.

There's a lot of good stuff out there around us ... but we need to remember how this all got started. Again, keep it real.


And so without further ado, here are some events to keep on your radar for the coming weeks:

  • Miami's own Startup Forum is hosting Are You Serious? on February 10. This inaugural Miami event is based on Hatchery events elsewhere, described as "a fast-paced, live pitch-event for startups and entre­pre­neurs that pro­vides pub­lic, live feed­back from experts." Only 5 startups can present to 4 judges. This should be hot. Even Paris Hilton would think so, trust me.

  • That sexy Russian geek from Long Island, Craig Agranoff, and his business partner Herb Tabin, are broadcasting on the boob tube in West Palm Beach with a TV segment called the ProTECHtors on CBS 12. Visit Agustina Prigoshin to see a video interview.

  • No woman in South Florida should miss the 2nd Annual Health, Wealth and Entrepreneurship Conference at Ana G. Mendez University System in Miramar on March 10. I went last year and can't wait to go again. Expect a day of inspiration listening to the stories of entrepreneurial women from all walks of life. This is not a hokey, stroke-your-ego kind of conference. It's real women talking about real issues. No BravoTV housewives here!

  • Oh, just for fun, yours truly is hosting an Old Skool Tweetup at Lady Marmalade on February 19 in South Miami.

  • Some of you have been inquiring, so here you go: plans for SxSe 2011 are in the works for sometime in the summer ... stay tuned. We are deciding on a location in Florida possibly away from Dade or Broward, but we will definitely do some kind of tweetup in Miami at some point.

And finally, though not an event, I thought you might like to know about ALike Places which was revealed at Refresh Miami last month. It's a beta web and mobile application, designed by a group of Miami geeks, that finds restaurants, bars, lounges and other places based on things you already like. Though not curated by human editors yet, it's definitely an interesting application. Check it out.