Newport resident Stefanie Salem kept one goal top of mind as she brought her dream of an annual food and wine festival to fruition. “We want to put this on the national circuit,” she explains of the Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival, which returns this year Oct. 2-4. “Our goal is to be the next Pebble Beach Food & Wine or the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. We clearly have a long way to go, but that is the long-term plan, … to really showcase Newport Beach and its exploding culinary scene.”
Similar to its inaugural event, the festival will take place at the Newport Beach Civic Center and Park with a launch party, demos and tastings planned over the course of three days. Offering a tour of the county’s culinary scene, more than 25 restaurants are participating. Festivalgoers can expect to try about 15 different restaurants on Saturday and Sunday at the Grand Tasting Pavilions.
“Last year, we had one pavilion and it seemed liked everybody gravitated toward that—it was the place to be—so this year we have two,” Salem says. In addition to classic establishments like Tommy Bahama Island Grille, Roy’s and Mastro’s Ocean Club, the lineup of participants features newer hot spots like Slapfish and Red O.
“We really want to focus on the best Orange County has to offer and get a variety of everything. We’re not having multiple types of one restaurant,” Salem explains. “We have such a diverse group of chefs and they all excel in their own way. As a chef, you’re an incredibly creative person so we leave the creativity to the masters. … It’s going to be a lot of what’s in season and what they’re feeling for the moment.”
Not to forget about the festival’s wine element, more than 200 varieties will be poured alongside the food booths under the pavilion tents. “One thing we’re doing different is on Sunday we’re having a Riedel master glass seminar,” Salem says. “… You’ll get three different glasses and three different wines. Basically, you’ll get to taste how the wine tastes in each glass.”
Rounding out the daytime festivities are live cooking demos and book signings by Hubert Keller and Rick Bayless on Saturday and Rick Moonen and Alan Greeley on Sunday; mixology courses; wine seminars; and the “Top Chef” Home Cook Challenge, featuring alumni like Shirley Chung, Louis Maldonado, Brooke Williamson and Brian Huskey.
Not only is the festival educational for attendees, it’s also beneficial to the participating chefs and restaurants.
“Honestly, it’s a great way to get out and meet your fellow restaurant-goers and workers alike,” says Mastro’s Ocean Club Executive Chef Josef Morphis. “We all get so caught up in the day-to-day grind of work that we miss out on opportunities to make new acquaintances. This is a great avenue for that.”
“It’s really unlike any event Orange County has seen,” Salem adds. “You can … go to your favorite restaurant and ask the chef his technique or trick and taste their food. If you’re a foodie like me, it’s kind of a dream.
A general weekend pass is priced at $250 or individual tickets can be purchased for either day for $150 (VIP options are also available).
—Written by Kirsti Correa