For fans of cooking and food personalities, loving the art and excitement of beautiful dishes and celebrity chefs is about more than buying cookbooks and watching their programs.
Sometimes, it’s about celebrating that love by joining with like-minded lovers of food and cooking for conventions and festivals.
Arguably one of the biggest food festivals in the country, the New York City Wine & Food Festival, could have canceled this year. Many conventions and festivals chose to do so. However, they did not cancel but rather made the choice to mobilize quickly to host safe intimate dinners in New York City restaurants through its Intimate Dinner Series, especially on the heels of indoor dining resuming in New York City, when it returns next week October 2–11.
Lee Schrager, founder and director of NYCWFF, had a big choice on his hands this season. While it was pretty clear the festival could not go on the way it has been for years – packed with crowds of fans enjoying bites of food – there was a way to adapt it. Schrager chose not to cancel but rather to pivot in a way that would support the struggling restaurant and events industry, both of which are in a really tough place due to the pandemic.
As the festival’s proceeds have always gone back to supporting charities like the Food Bank for New York City and No Kid Hungry, it seemed the show going on was more needed than ever.
“When this pandemic unfolded back in March, our team went straight to the drawing board to understand how we can best serve those who have generously supported us for the past 13 years,” said Schrager, who said the decision quickly came to use their platform to to amplify the stories of the restaurant and bar community in New York City. “Supporting the community and those who serve it during the regrowth and reopening phase and is why we decided to return,” said Schrager,
This year, the festival is focused on connecting restaurants and bars to their community.
“In April, more than 5.5 million restaurant jobs were lost and we have been working around the clock to do our part,” said Schrager. And the effort has been going on well beyond the planned length of the festival. “Through NYCWFF at Home and a series of socially distanced Bake Sales I held down here at my home in South Florida, we’ve raised over $2 million for restaurant employee relief. In New York, we partnered with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation to create a Restaurant Employee Relief Fund, where the money raised went to supporting hundreds of thousands of New York State restaurant workers who have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis,” said Schrager.
One example of how the festival is supporting local restaurants this year is the Intimate Dinner Series, which is focused on bringing people back into their community’s restaurants. “Each limited-seating dinner offers guests the opportunity to safely support their local establishments and enjoy a chef’s tasting menu paired with wines and spirits,” said Schrager.
Why is this more important today than ever? “Our festival mission and driving goal is to aid in the fight against hunger,” said Schrager.
More than 1.2 million New York City residents are food insecure and many more are being impacted because of this pandemic. “100 percent of our net proceeds benefit the great work of our charity partners – No Kid Hungry and Food Bank for New York City – and to date, NYCWFF has raised more than $13.5 million to aid both organizations in their efforts,” said Schrager.
The 13th annual Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival will take place October 2–11, and part of the planned activities include a live virtual version of the Burger Bash.
Behind the Burger Bash hosted by Rachael Ray, which will be Friday, October 9 at 7pm, will air live on Zoom and feature four previous Burger Bash chefs who will compete for the Judges Choice Award. It’ll be more interactive than the traditional Burger Bash (one of the most popular parts of NYCWFF each year) because tickets will include a Pat LaFrieda Burger Bash Box, which come with the competing chefs’ recipes, Pat LaFrieda artisanal burger patties, Martin’s potato rolls, Cabot cheese and more, meaning viewers can cook along at home.
“I am so glad to be participating in NYCWFF this month,” said food personality Katie Lee. “I won the first ever Burger Bash back in 2008, and it’s really exciting to see how the competition has evolved since then, especially this year as a digital event. Now people all over the country are able tune in and participate, not just those who can make it to the actual event in New York City,” said Lee.
Katie Lee says she’s always up for a little friendly competition with fellow chefs, and she’s looking forward to doing her burger with a spin in this competition. She’ll be using Gardein’s new Ultimate Plant-Based Burger in her recipe this year. “More and more people are trying to eat less meat, and this burger makes it easy and fun for everyone from vegans to even the biggest meat eaters,” said Katie Lee.
Other virtual programming includes a Cook from the Book cookbook series with celebrity chefs such as Marcus Samuelsson and Maneet Chauhan, and an In the Kitchen cooking series Jet Tila, Stephanie Izard, Molly Yeh, and many more.
Some of the most beloved food industry events are not happening this year, or happening in a very different way – but finding a way for the show to go on, and support those struggling restaurants and chefs, is more needed than ever.