Gastronomical Growth

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The Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival returns for its third year with tantalizing new additions.

By Angela Bishop

If there’s one person who is excited about the culinary climate of Newport Beach, it’s Stefanie Salem, founder and CEO of Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival. “The city of Newport Beach has quickly become a worldwide culinary destination,” she says of the local restaurant scene, which welcomed a flagship for celebrity chef Rick Bayless’ Red O, among other notable openings in recent years, and will soon include the acclaimed Nobu, coming to Lido Marina Village. And Salem’s festival, celebrating its third edition this fall at the Newport Beach Civic Center, has played a part in shining a spotlight on the city’s many impressive dining establishments since the event debuted in 2014.

stefanie Salem
Festival founder Stefanie Salem

“We promise this year’s event will be the biggest and best yet,” Salem says. “With returning participants combined with new chefs, sommeliers, wineries and sponsors, the Civic Center continues to be the perfect venue to hold our main event, the daytime festival.” And, Salem adds, “We’ve also grown this year by adding a series of three new off-site events at local Newport Beach restaurants where guests will have new and exciting tasting experiences with both local and international artisanal masters.”

Finding the right balance in such a highly anticipated affair can be a bit tricky, but Salem believes this year will be perfect. “After year one and year two, we now know the right formula and the best experience for everyone involved,” she says. “To watch the magic unfold this year is going to be amazing.”

NEWPORT BEACH MAGAZINE: What was your inspiration for starting the festival?

STEFANIE SALEM: I was reading a book about re-creating your life, and found a great formula that I wanted to follow. The perfect trifecta for success is: Do something you’re passionate about, do something that you’re better at than most, and do something that can contribute to the community. One thing I am truly passionate about is food. One thing I’ve always been great at is creating something from nothing, and then bringing in our charity partner, Project Hope Alliance, was the perfect way to give back to the community. The Taste of Newport had ended two years before, and I knew there was a void in Newport Beach for another food event. However, I looked to create a food and wine experience more similar to events such as the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen or the Pebble Beach Food & Wine festival, a larger scale event where we could bring in celebrity chefs, pair them with our local top chefs, and truly bring a national spotlight of the city of Newport Beach and its incredible food and wine scene.

What makes this festival different from other local food and drink festivals?

SS: One of the best things about this festival is that you buy a ticket and everything’s included. Unlike many other food and wine events, you do not spend another dollar once entering the festival grounds or any of our off-site events. At many other larger scale events, you typically have to buy an extra ticket for celebrity chef cooking demos, wine tastings and other events like book signings. At the Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival, everything is included. Upon entering our Grand Tasting Pavilions, all of the executive chefs are there from 42 different restaurants personally preparing and serving cuisine, while engaging with guests. Gourmet tastings plus over 250 wine tastings, master sommelier panels, book signings, celebrity chef cooking demos and live music—it’s all included in the price of one ticket. It’s also a beautiful environment and layout with white peaked tents, chandeliers, vintage furniture, fine linens, floral arrangements … all against the backdrop of the beautiful Newport Beach Civic Center. It’s gorgeous.

Newport Wine and Food Festival
Wine tasting panel discussions are led by master sommeliers.

How did you approach this year’s festival differently than last year’s?

SS: This year, we have three all-new off-site events at different restaurants in Newport Beach that include celebrity chefs, master sommeliers and local chefs. We’ve also changed up our VIP tickets for the daytime festival. The general admission tickets are from 2-6 p.m. and, in that time, you’ll have your master sommelier panel, two different cooking demos and also the Grand Tasting Pavilion is open that whole time. In addition to that, we’ve added two different VIP events for each day. For the VIP ticket, you’ll enter at noon, you’ll get to do one of two very exclusive demos and tastings, and then VIP guests will have early entrance into the festival at 1:30 p.m. From live VIP cooking demos and pairings with Rick Bayless and Hubert Keller to a very special Champagne & Caviar tasting and Hundred Acre 100-Point Wine Tasting, these highly exclusive events will provide our guests with experiences they won’t find anywhere else.

Do you think the immense growth from 2014 to 2015 helped bring in more impressive names this year?

SS: As far as the growth of the festival from 2014 to 2015, people were blown away because it was by leaps and bounds. As with any growing event, we’ve had to learn from some mistakes and also take each and every bit of feedback very seriously. But what we’re most proud of is that almost everyone who participated last year said, “We want to come back.” We aim to create an experience that is not only enjoyable for guests, but also for all participants involved and, because of that, almost all of our celebrity and local chefs and sponsors are returning for year three, many of whom have been with the event since our inaugural year. Everyone is excited to be a part of the growth and helping to bring a culinary spotlight to Newport Beach.

Rick Bayless gives a cooking demonstration.

What do you hope guests gain from attending the event?

SS: They’re going to have a true one-of-a-kind experience. Whether you’re into food or wine or just want to have fun, you get this close interaction with all of these celebrity chefs that maybe you’ve only seen on TV, get to meet your favorite local chefs and even grow to love some new ones. For the first time ever in Newport Beach, we will have six master sommeliers in place at the festival, which will certainly wow our wine lovers, aficionados and novice wine drinkers alike. We will also have vintners and winery owners pouring tastings. People get to learn about not just brands of wine that you’ve heard of or seen in stores, but discover new wines that they love. And not even just wine. We have lots of spirits, beer and, of course, food to discover—all in one place. It truly is a community atmosphere—everybody’s there to have fun [and] everybody’s approachable. This event is boutique and truly hands on, and guests will experience food and wine like they never have before. There’s nowhere else like it in the country.



Local Favorites

The Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival pairs renowned chefs from all over the country with those from in-town restaurants. Here are some culinary hometown heroes scheduled to appear at the event.

rachel-haggstrom-courtesy-tony-floresRachel Haggstrom
Executive chef, Balboa Bay Resort

Rachel Haggstrom’s vast experience and wealth of knowledge has brought Balboa Bay Resort to new culinary heights. She specializes in her farm-to-table cooking style, and will be demonstrating that approach in the Grand Tasting Pavilion on Saturday, Oct. 1.


Cathy PavlosCathy Pavlos
Executive chef/co-owner, Provenance

Longtime Newport Beach resident Cathy Pavlos describes her menu as Napa-esque, focusing on garden-fresh seasonal options. She will be presenting items from the Provenance menu on Saturday, Oct. 1, in the Grand Tasting Pavilion.


Steve KlingSteve Kling
Executive chef, Five Crowns and SideDoor

An early experience with food ignited Steve Kling’s passion for creativity in cooking that has led him on a path of achieving executive chef titles at several restaurants, with a reputation for hard work, dedication and innovation in the kitchen. His offerings from Five Crowns are a can’t-miss addition to the Grand Tasting Pavilion on Sunday, Oct. 2.


Marc JohnsonMarc Johnson
Executive chef, Oak Grill and Aqua Lounge

Marc Johnson describes his style as “clean and focused.” A Southern California native, he is passionate about supporting local farms and choosing seasonal ingredients for menu items, on which he likes to put his own special twist. Johnson will also be a part of the Grand Tasting Pavilion lineup on Sunday, Oct. 2.


Off-Site Opportunities

With such immense growth, the Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival has added three events at local restaurants—more intimate experiences that complement the main lineup. 


Opening Night

Sept. 29, 6-10 p.m.

The Ritz Prime Seafood

Hosted by renowned sustainable seafood master chef Rick Moonen and The Ritz Prime Seafood Executive Chef Phil Kastel, the evening begins with a cocktail reception before the plated five-course tasting and pairing menu is served. The chefs will introduce each course and a master sommelier will offer a detailed wine pairing explanation. Moonen will also offer an intimate meet-and-greet and book signing during the night.


Private Luncheon with Nancy Silverton

Sept. 30, noon to 3 p.m.

Pizzeria Mozza

This intimate, five-course tasting menu with exclusive wine pairings is hosted by celebrity chef and cookbook author Nancy Silverton, a James Beard Award winner. After a glass of welcome bubbly, diners will enjoy an exclusive meal with each menu course and wine pairing explained by the host and master sommelier. A meet-and-greet and book signing with Silverton is part of the event.


French Masters Dinner

Sept. 30, 6-10 p.m.

The Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar

Celebrity chef Hubert Keller—a “Top Chef Masters” finalist and James Beard Award winner—and local French masters Yvon Goetz, Jean-Pierre Dubray and Pascal Olhats will combine efforts to create a five-course tasting and pairing menu. Before the meal begins, guests will enjoy a meet-and-greet while watching the coastal sunset and savoring hors d’oeuvres and Champagne. The evening will conclude with an interactive dessert course and after-dinner drink with the chefs and master sommelier.

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