The flavors, fun of Mardi Gras to take over at Lehigh Valley Food & Wine Festival

From www.mcall.com
Jennifer Sheehan

Get ready for an epic party, New Orleans-style.

The Lehigh Valley Food & Wine Festival will take on the feeling of Mardi Gras when it returns for its 10th year, May 31- June 2 at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center.

Every year the festival showcases cuisine from the region's top restaurants, offerings from vineyards and distilleries from around the world and cooking demonstrations and workshops. The event is hosted by the Sands Bethlehem Event Center and Northampton Community College in partnership with Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits.

Festival organizers unveiled this year’s plans with an elaborate news conference Tuesday — complete with New Orleans-style brass band, a traditional second line parade and king cake — in the new Zime Cafe inside NCC’s Fowler Family Southside Center in South Bethlehem.

“There’s a lot of pressure with the 10th year,” said Mark H. Erickson, president of Northampton Community College. “This will be the best party yet.”

Here are some of the highlights for this year’s festival:

* New Orleans flair: Festival-goers will enjoy New Orleans inspired dishes, second line parades, a themed selfie station, festive beads and even a signature Food & Wine event cocktail.

* Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse will return, but his popular cooking demo moves from Friday afternoon to Saturday morning. The timing allows festival-goers to arrive in the morning for the demo, then enjoy the Grand Tasting in the afternoon.

The Grand Tasting, which will run 1 to 4 p.m. June 1 and 2, is the festival’s signature event. A ticket option will allow guests to buy early access VIP tickets and gain entrance to the festival at noon. Guests will enjoy plates from Emeril’s most popular eateries as well as the region’s most prestigious restaurants along with an impressive array of wines from around the world.

It’s fitting that the theme of this year’s festival is Mardi Gras as Lagasse is known for his New Orleans-focused cuisine. Lagasse is a pioneer in the world of celebrity chefs and arguably one of the most recognizable names in food.

A James Beard Award winner, Lagasse is the author of 19 cookbooks, star of several TV shows including Amazon Prime’s “Eat the World with Emeril,” Food Network's long-running “Essence of Emeril” and “Emeril Live” as well as Bravo’s “Top Chef.” Chances are you’ve heard someone use his catchphrases “Bam!” and “Kick it up a notch.” He is owner of a dozen restaurants across the country, including three in the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, his only East Coast sites.

At the demo, Lagasse will also announce which NCC students won highly competitive externships to work in his New Orleans restaurants. Each year, a group of students from NCC’s culinary and hospitality management program receive all-expenses-paid externships to gain experience honing their skills in the acclaimed chef’s kitchens.

* A new celebrity: Bethlehem’s Daniel Roebuck will be the master of ceremonies for the May 31 opening night premiere party, which will feature an extravagant four-course dinner prepared by Lagasse. The night will also include a live auction to raise money for NCC student scholarships.

From horror films with Rob Zombie to character actor roles on TV shows such as “Lost” to a Geico commercial, the Bethlehem native has a successful 30-year career in entertainment. He also has a deep appreciation for his Lehigh Valley roots, having shot his first film as a director, “Getting Grace,” here and making plans to shoot two more in the Lehigh Valley.

* Designated driver ticket: A new ticket option, festival-goers can simply enjoy all the foods without the alcohol.

How much: In advance, tickets for each day of the Grand Tasting are $85 for general admission, $100 for VIP, which includes access at noon and access to the champagne and spirits room; and $50 for a designated driver ticket (food only). Each attendee will receive a souvenir wine glass. Advance purchase is recommended at lehighvalleyfoodandwine.com or at the Sands Event Center box office.

Tickets and info: http://lehighvalleyfoodandwine.com/


Twitter @jenwsheehan