Jacqui Gal

NYC Wine & Food Festival

The 411 on the city’s biggest food bonanza ever—and how to navigate it

Daisy May's Adam Perry Lang at the South Beach Burger Bash

Dedicated foodies already revere Chelsea Market as a mecca of great produce and crusty loaves. Now, that site is the major hub in a series of venues handpicked for the inaugural New York City Wine & Food Festival. The festival, which takes place from Oct. 9-12, is a four-day gourmet extravaganza, designed to bring the spirit of its South Beach cousin to New York City.

But as festival creator Lee Schrager is keen to emphasize, it’s certainly not going to be a carbon copy. “South Beach is an amazing weekend, but it’s South Beach. Things that work on the ocean would not work at Dumbo or in the Meatpacking District. We were really careful to take advantage of an area’s uniqueness and charm.”

From panels to parties and tastings and tours, most of the action will take place around the MPD. But there are also special dinner events at restaurants like Craftsteak and Adour, foodie TimesTalks in the New York Times building, and one of Schrager’s favorite events—the Burger Bash—will be held in Dumbo.

A $200 ticket to the Bash (Oct. 10 at 7 p.m.) gets you samplings from almost 20 restaurants, whose big-name chefs—think Tom Colicchio, David Burke, Laurent Tourondel—will present their signature burgers. And there are some classic sides, too. “Shake Shack will do fries, Junior’s is doing cheesecake, and Jacques Torres is doing his chocolate-chip cookies,” says Schrager.

For Harriet Becker—a New York City native who’s been carefully scheduling visits to her Miami grandkids to coincide with the South Beach festival for about six years now—one thing is a must: the Grand Tasting, a gathering of A-list chefs prepping all sorts of bites. In Miami, the Grand Tasting is held on the beach, but in New York it’ll be held will be at Pier 54, at 15th Street, on Oct. 11 and 12.

“The atmosphere is electric,” says Becker. “Everyone’s having a good time. A lot of young people go. The food is fabulous. All the best restaurants are represented, and they give very generous samples, from vegetables to cheese and nuts, shrimp, Kobe beef.” Although Becker describes the event as “a madhouse,” she and her husband would never miss it: “It’s fine. We’re from New York, we’re used to it.”

If food celebs are what you’re after, there’s a veritable smorgasbord of Food Network superstars on the festival program. Bobby Flay hosts a late-night tour of Chelsea Market, Alton Brown will be doing a cooking demonstration, Nigella Lawson has hopped across the pond, and Alice Waters will fly across the country for this foodie fest.

In contrast to other pricey food-centric weekends, Schrager explains that he structured this festival with an “a la carte” ticketing policy. “I really wanted people to be able to pick. If they could only spend $35, I wanted them to have an event. If they had no money, I wanted them to make sure that there was something they could bring their kids to. What I think we managed to do well is have Food Network superstars like Rachael Ray and Paula Deen next to [great chefs] like Alain Ducasse and Ferran Adria. There are lots of great events in this city, but I don’t know of any event that offers this variety.”

Five tips on how to make the most of the festival:

1) If you love a bargain, skip the $750 Alain Ducasse tasting and head for the event that fuses food with fashion: Meatpacking Uncorked. Forty dollars buys you access to wine tastings at 50 MPD boutiques—“the greatest value and the best event of the weekend,” Schrager says

2) At the Grand Tasting, “go all the way to the end and start backwards,” advises Becker, “because there’s such a crush [up front].”

3) Do a little thinking before you chomp down at Burger Bash. “Look at all the burgers first and narrow down what you want to try,” Schrager says. “There’s no way in the world to try 15 or 18 burgers.”

4) Or, take the tip that he’s learned from watching Burger Bash hostess Rachel Ray: “Take a bite and throw it away,” he says. “Or pass it along to the security guard so you’re not wasting it.”

5) Look out for coupons and deals. At the South Beach Grand Tasting last year, Becker picked up a coupon for free mache (a kind of lettuce). “I’ve been getting deliveries of mache to my home for a year now!” she says. There are sure to be plenty of foodie magazine subscription offers and discounted gourmet items, so keep an eye out.

For the ful list of events and participating chefs, visit nycwineandfoodfestival.com

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