Food festivals: Hot dining destinations

March 4, 2011 8:35:58 PM PST
If food and wine are priorities on your vacation, you're in luck. There are now at least a dozen major food festivals around the country throughout the year.

Last weekend, the action was in South Beach. On Friday, they're kicking things off in Charleston, South Carolina for a weekend of food and wine. It seems there's a major food fest almost every month now somewhere in the country including a handful of notable ones in the months ahead.

Every June, some 5,000 food and wine lovers descend on Aspen, Colorado, hoping to rub shoulders with the chefs and TV personalities they've read about.

"It's a world that's exciting, I think it's more accessible than its ever been before and people love to experience it," said Kate Dixon, Food & Wine Magazine's Midwest director.

The Aspen Classic started in 1982, and has become the template for festivals around the country. There are large tastings, as well as smaller seminars on wines and cocktails. Cooking demos are obviously big hits.

"Our consumers want to attend these events and immerse themselves in the pages of the magazine," Dixon said.

For the past five years, over Mother's Day weekend, Vegas Uncork'd has launched its own food and wine event. There's usually one serious cocktail.

"Unlike the food and wine event in Aspen, where one ticket pretty much buys you everything, here in Las Vegas it's more of an a la carte experience - the classes, the dinners, the seminars - you kind of pay for whatever you want. However, most people tend to go to this Grand Tasting on Friday night because you get a little bit of everything: the food, the wine the music, and of course, that over-the-top, Sin City opulence."

"The one thing you never have to worry in Vegas is it's always nice and sunny."

And for Chicago chefs like Jean Joho, that's a plus. His Eiffel Tower in Vegas is 12 years old. So he strongly supports the event.

"You have the creme de la crème. I think what is also fun is you have all the major French chefs from France coming: you have Alain Ducasse, you have Guy Savoy, you have Robuchon they're all here," Joho said.

That would be Joel Robuchon, the man most chefs consider to be the greatest in the world, with properties and Michelin stars all over the globe, including two at the MGM resort here. Even he teaches a class during the weekend.

"I spend one week, four times a year here, and sometimes even more," said Robuchon. "The interesting thing about Las Vegas is you can try a lot of different things because people come with a lot of different backgrounds."

But you don't necessarily have to fly out of town for a food and wine fest anymore. For the past few years, the Illinois Restaurant Association has been running Chicago Gourmet at Millennium Park. There are now hamburger competitions mixed in with the cooking demos and wine tastings.. a wise move on the part of organizers, who realize there's plenty of homegrown talent.

"We decided to do it because we want to be telling the world that Chicago is a premier dining destination and the difference that I think we have is that our chefs in our event call Chicago home," said Sheila O'Grady, the Director of the Illinois Restaurant Association.

Just missed:
South Beach Wine & Food Festival
Feb 24-27

Charleston Wine & Food Fest
March 3-6
Charleston, SC

Coming up:
Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo Food & Wine Festival
Mar 26-28

Pebble Beach Food & Wine
Apr 28-May 1

Vegas Uncork'd
May 5-8
Las Vegas, NV

Atlanta Food and Wine Festival
May 19-22

29th Annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen
June 17-19
Aspen, CO

Food & Wine Presents: Taste of Beverly Hills
Sept 1-5

Newport Mansions Wine & Food Festival
Sept 2011
Newport, RI

Chicago Gourmet Food Festival
September 24-25

Kohler Food and Wine Experience
Oct 20-23rd
Kohler, WI

Bon Appetit Beaver Creek Master Chef Classic
Jan 2012