The streets of New York City will soon be filled with stars, but we're not talking about one of the city's many movie sets. Culinary celebrities and food aficionados are descending upon the city to celebrate the gastronomic identity of New York with numerous events, demonstrations, and seminars hosted by Food Network celebrities and chefs from around the world at the New York City Wine & Food Festival Oct. 11 to Oct. 14. But the events won’t just be feeding attendees, as proceeds are donated to fight hunger locally and nationally.
The fifth annual New York City Wine & Food Festival kicks off Oct. 11 and will feature more than 500 different chefs at the 120-plus scheduled events. Ticket prices start at $20 for events like a panel discussion on the future of restaurants hosted by Food & Wine editor Dana Cowin and climb up to $400 to watch what is expected to be a "hilarious" roast of Anthony Bourdain hosted by celebrity chef Mario Batali, according to the New York City Wine & Food Festival’s website.
New York City Wine & Food Festival's sister festival, the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival, started at Florida International University in North Miami 15 years ago as a one-day event called Florida Extravaganza, which showcased international wines paired with dishes by local chefs. Lee Brian Schrager, now vice president of corporate communications at Southern Wine & Spirits of America, took control of the festival in 2002, both renaming it and relocating the event to South Beach. The newly revamped Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival expanded to two days and welcomed 7,000 guests to a range of speakers, dinners, and tastings during its first year.
Based on the success of the Florida festival, Schrager decided to yet again make a change by expanding the festival’s footprint beyond Florida. In the fall of 2007, New York welcomed its inaugural New York City Wine & Food Festival with just one event — SWEET!, a night of endless cupcakes, chocolates, flambéed concoctions, and artisanal ice creams available to guests at numerous walk-up tables. SWEET! is now a regular feature of the NYCWFF and this year will act as the official fifth anniversary party with speakers and tastings hosted by Semi-Homemade’s Sandra Lee.
"It was a natural fit," said Schrager. "New York City is one of the greatest culinary destinations in the world. It made sense to create something that would be an annual celebration of all of the great wine, spirits, and culinary talent that live and work in New York."
Dinners, speakers, tastings, and demonstrations will be held at restaurants throughout New York City, including a $200 dinner with chef and author April Bloomfield at City Grit and a $225 celebration of the last 20 years of local and national food scene trends at Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya. Seminars like the $110 Beer Glass Tasting hosted by Food & Wine offer guests a more hands-on experience, while parties like the $150 Brooklyn’s Backyard hosted by Man v. Food’s Adam Richman educate guests on culinary traditions and trends.
"There are a ton of new, as well as, returning events," said press representative Jason Caslow of Robin Insley Associates.
Festival organizers decided to crowdsource using social media to see what events guests wanted to see again, and what new events should be included.
"We listen to the feedback on Facebook, Twitter, and from our talent and sponsors, and go from there," said Schrager. "Each year is still a bit of a learning process, but by now we know which events that we’re known for and people look forward to."
And there is one major aspect of the New York City Wine & Food Festival that has remained since its conception. Taking a note from its South Beach sister festival, New York City Wine & Food Festival is donating all net proceeds to help fight hunger both locally and nationally, and has done so since the start of the festival five years ago. The money raised will be split between the Food Bank for New York City and Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign.
"We lost 40 percent of our federal funding, which is about 11 million meals, and there are deeper cuts on the horizon," said Carol Schneider, the associate director of media relations for the Food Bank for New York City. "Logically speaking, there are more people unemployed and no one is catching up. We are seeing more people through our programs and it’s a very trying time."
The Food Bank for New York City feeds more than 1.5 million New York residents annually and according to Schneider, there are more people in need of assistance every year and the contributions from the New York City Wine & Food Festival are necessary to keep up with the demand. More than $5 million has been raised for the Food Bank for New York City and Share Our Strength to date, and each year more money is donated. Nearly $600,000 was given to the Food Bank for New York City this past year, up from $390,000 in 2008. Schneider said that she hopes donations this year will again break $600,000.
"This is an enormously important festival," said Schneider. "It brings so much money into the local economy and it’s our second largest contribution of the year."