Is it really already that time again? The New York City Wine & Food Festival kicks off Thursday and festival-hoppers, culinary glitterati, and food media mavens are gearing up for long days and later nights filled with good bites and great gossip. Of course, big events like Meatball Madness and the Blue Moon Burger Bash are back, but there are some new events and changes afoot this year (Rachel Ray ceded her burger-hosting duties to Whoopi Goldberg, for one). Here's a look at things to keep an eye out for.
MEATBALL MADNESS: One of the most interesting turns at this year's event will undoubtedly be the participation of Dirt Candy's chef Amanda Cohen. After swearing off festival events, she accepted an invitation to compete, sent to her even though it's widely known that her restaurant serves a vegetarian menu. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
BURGER BASH: The 2010 winners are back. People's Choice winner Bobby Flay will be looking to take the throne from Shake Shack. But if the lineup on the festival's site is final, there's been a burger upheaval since last fall. Gone are: Carmellini, Peter Hoffman, Spike, Michael Schwartz, and Minetta. Josh Capon returns with B&B, joined by newcomers and those jumping back into the fray after a hiatus: ABC Kitchen, DBGB, Marc Forgione, Michael Lomonaco, Goodburger, and Marc Murphy, who took home the judge's award in South Beach. Interesting to note that the Bash is a stage for a potential showdown between Shake Shack and Schnipper's, which have now each moved into each other's territory (Times Square and Madison Square Park).
FRIED: Perhaps one of the most exciting events at this year's festival, Fried features Elizabeth Karmel, whose Hill Country Chicken, any Madison Square Park office denizen knows, is one of the hottest lunch tickets around. Special guests Bobby Deen and Katy Mixon will be attending too. Putting Pies 'n' Thighs, Red Rooster Harlem, and Seersucker in one place should be enough to make a lot of people happy, especially if Pies 'n' Thighs serves their exceptional chicken biscuit (left). But there are at least 12 other participants, and one would assume from the lineup, some Korean takes on the genre. There are somehow still some tickets available for this sleeper event.
ROCK AND BOWL: Put Anne Burrell at a food festival event with booze at a bowling alley and you can be pretty sure something crazy is bound to happen. At the least it should be good for a few racy quotes.
MEATPACKING UNCORKED: Some of Food Network's nascent Cooking Channel stars come together for their own party. Kelsey Nixon, Ben Sargent, Mo Rocca, Lee Anne Wong, and Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos host a district-wide wine and food tasting party with street performances, musicians, and artists.
SWEET: Last year's host, Duff Goldman, is out. First girlfriend of New York, Aunt Sandy, will be hosting the festival's dessert extravaganza event this year, which has relocated to 82 Mercer. SWEET veterans Johnny Iuzzini, Ludovic Augendre and Florian Bellanger, Francois Payard, et al. are returning, but savvy New Yorkers will likely be more interested in Doughnut Plant joining the fray.
GENERAL OBSERVATIONS: This year's Chelsea After Dark features 30 of Chelsea Market's shops and includes a lounge hosted by Emeril . . . The Feast is playing 21 questions with Eric Ripert . . . David Bouley is hosting a sold-out dinner in his Bouley Test Kitchen.
Check back in at The Daily Meal for full coverage of this year's New York Wine & Food Festival coverage.