The New York City Wine and Food Festival is around the corner. The festivities last from October 17-20 and take over the Big Apple with events all over town, indoors and out, uptown and downtown, and everywhere in between. Household name chefs host dinners, demos, tastings, and brunches, and basically get to hang out with each other and their biggest fans.
So we caught up with three major players at this year's festival—Marcus Samuelsson (a Fodor's Travel Tastemaker), Ted Allen, and Lee Schrager, the man behind the event (as well as its sister event in South Beach)—to get their insider tips for attending, the events they're most excited about, and what makes a good Bloody Mary.
What events are you most excited about at this year's event?
Ted: I'm most excited about the Chopped brunch, of course! I see our judges all the time, but we're almost never able to get together all at once, so I'm really looking forward to that. Something people may not realize about their favorite chefs is that they work 24/7/365; these festivals are a rare opportunity for them to kick back with their peers after their cooking demos are done. I'm also excited to see some of our favorite Chopped winners come back and cook for us, and to spend a lazy Sunday chilling out on the pier.
Marcus: I just picked up the Jerusalem cookbook so I'm really looking forward to the Yotam Ottolenghi dinner. I have to stop by and see my guy Andrew Zimmern do Oktoberfest and of course I want to see how my friend Geoffrey Zakarian dresses for brunch for the New York Times event.
Lee: There are 100 + events this year, and I'm looking forward to all of them but am especially excited about two of our newest additions—Jets + Chefs: The Ultimate Tailgate hosted by Joe Namath & Mario Batali, and La Sagra Sunday Slices sponsored by Time Out New York and hosted by Anne Burrell & Adam Richman.
What's your best insider tip for people attending the festival?
Ted: Comfortable shoes! And carry a backpack or small shoulder bag with a bottle of water, camera, energy bars, etc. And, if you get sweaty, please don't hug the chefs; go in for a fist bump.
Lee: Whatever events you choose, make sure you check out the locations in advance and plan for enough time to travel from one venue to another. Also, check the weather and look at our website to see if an event is indoors/outdoors. Plan your wardrobe accordingly and, yes, wear comfortable shoes.
Marcus: Have a lot of patience, wait your turn, and know that we chefs want to meet all of you but the rules of the playground still apply: No shoving allowed.
Tell us about the philanthropic element of the NYC Wine and Food Fest.
Lee: We launched NYCWFF in 2008, based off of the success of its sister Festival, the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival presented by FOOD & WINE. Now in its 6th year, it mirrors the charitable component of South Beach by benefiting the hunger-relief programs of Food Bank For New York City and Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign.
Ted: Having the opportunity to pitch in here and there for Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry is a privilege. People may not realize that thousands of children in New York City—and in every American city—go to bed hungry almost every night. It's a natural fit for us Food Network folks.
Marcus: This is absolutely an important part of why I love working with the NYC Wine and Food Festival. Coming from a small African village where food was always scarce, I never take what I have for granted. It's because we chefs are in this place that we have a responsibility to teach others how to give and share.
Marcus, since you're speaking at the Food Memories panel...what is one of your favorites?
I have so many that involve my grandmother who taught me how to cook, but one of my favorite memories is having lunch with my father and uncle in our fish shack in Smogen after a great day on the boat.
What are some of the restaurants you're most excited about lately?
Marcus: I am super excited to see what Danny Bowien's take on Mexican will be [with Mission Cantina], and can't wait to welcome Jamie and Ken to New York with the opening of Toro.
What's your go-to in-flight snack?
Ted: I bring my own cheese and a hunk of crusty bread. Good cheese.
Marcus: I don't like to eat heavy meals on a flight so it's probably just some nuts and an apple. I save the gorging for when I'm back on terra firma.
What makes a good brunch?
Ted: The only things that matter to me about brunch is that there must be a great Bloody Mary—I usually order them virgin in the morning—and there must be a classic Eggs Benedict, which is one of my favorite dishes in the world.
Marcus: Your best friends and a great playlist.
Any secrets to crafting the perfect Bloody Mary?
Ted: Tons of freshly ground horseradish.
Marcus: Make your own mix and make sure to have more than just one.
Photo credits: Courtesy of Billy Farrell Agency