More than 3,000 foodies flocked to the fourth annual Food + Wine Festival Palm Desert, held March 21–23.
The event, produced by Palm Springs Life in association with Sunset magazine and a host of sponsors, showcased an array of talent, from hot celebrity chefs and confectioners to craft brewers and sommeliers. Festivalgoers sampled freshly prepared bites made by the chefs as well as from local restaurants, sipped savory wines from various wineries, and sat in on expert cooking demonstrations and seminars.
The festivities fired up on Friday, March 21, with a four-course gourmet luncheon featuring James Beard-recognized chefs David LeFevre, Brooke Williamson, Matthew Accarrino, and Gale Gand, with premium wine pairings for each course.
California Dreamin’,” the Grand Tasting event on Saturday, March 22, introduced the Coachella Valley to the month’s coolest culinary accessory suitable for patrons over 21: brilliant orange wine glass neck holsters provided by Trio Restaurant, which not only signified access to the festival’s tents but also kept both hands free to scoop up tasty tapas.
Throughout the day, the tribe of tasters wandered from table to table in a state of bliss, noshing on delicacies from more than 50 restaurants, cradling wine from more than 80 of the world’s top wineries, and sampling rum, tequila, craft beer, and vodka along the way.
Chef Valerie Gordon, owner of Valerie Confections in Los Angeles, entertained patrons as she whipped up berry pies, inviting them to help stir and then sharing slices of the sweet result. She stayed to autograph copies of her first cookbook, Sweet, while The Fabulous Beekman Boys — Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge — put together a “brunch for ladies who lunch” in front of a crowd next door.
The Chicago-based Hearty Boys, François de Mélogue (Figue Mediterranean Restaurant), Chris Mitchum (Lantana Restaurant at Hyatt Regency Indian Wells), Johannes Bacher (Johannes), Deborah Scott (Cohn Restaurant Group), Andie Hubka (Cork & Fork), Jon Tice (Tinto at The Saguaro Palm Springs), Gale Gand (Elawa Farm), Alex Reznik (Ditmas Kitchen & Cocktail), and Julie Pech (Chocolate Therapist) were among other chefs to share their culinary creations amid craft beer and wine seminars.
Sunset magazine wine editor Sara Schneider presented one of the most interesting and esoteric of the day’s wine seminars, pairing varietals with specialty nuts from Emerald Nuts. “It seemed a bit crazy at first,” she says, “but of course everyone has cocktail hours, and sooner or later everyone puts out nuts to go with the drinks. Why not do it right?”
On Sunday, March 23, the “Brunch, Bubbles, and Brews” Grand Tasting cooled patrons off with Champagnes, sparkling wines, and microbrews — a refreshing antidote to a hot desert afternoon.
Comfortable clothing was the order of the day as celebrity chefs Roy Choi and Ari Taymor held demonstrations (with samples), and foodies received generous helpings from The Venue Sushi Bar & Sake Lounge, Babe’s Bar-B-Que & Brewhouse, Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar, LunaOlivo olive oil, Sadie Rose Baking Co., Tequila Alderete, Double Cross Vodka, and wines from Southern Australia along with freshly prepared plates from Legacy Thai, Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion, Dish Creative Cuisine, Sullivan’s Steakhouse, Mitch’s on El Paseo, Yardhouse, and San Diego’s Island Prime.
Beer lovers enjoyed a lesson from La Quinta Brewing Co.’s brewmaster, Ryan Pearson, who shared the establishment’s “core classic” beers, which debuted when the microbrewery opened in November of last year. Brandini Toffee and Chicks With Bark capped the festival with something sweet — the perfect end to any delicious meal.
Other food stars of the afternoon included Thomas Steferak from Cello’s American Bistro, who demonstrated how to make the perfect limoncello, his restaurant’s signature drink, and celebrity caterer-chef and “entertainologist” Lulu Powers, who signed copies of her book, Lulu Powers Food to Flowers.
Spiritual Street Feasts
Classically trained chef Roy Choi was laid off when the recession hit and then founded Kogi BBQ, a food truck that became a massive Los Angeles hit with its Korean-Mexican tacos and high-energy Twitter marketing. His empire now includes the brick-and-mortar Southern California restaurants Chego, A-Frame, and Sunny Spot. Choi’s latest venture, Pot Bar, opened in February at the Line Hotel and is already earning rave reviews from L.A. foodies.
A happy, affable fellow with both arms inked with tattoos and an unabashed love of his food, Choi drew the largest crowd of the weekend with his demonstration of classic Korean barbecue.
“It isn’t like American-style, Texas-style barbecue, where the process is long and slow,” he explained. “This is all about a quick marinade and then grilling.”
After whipping up the marinade ingredients — garlic, onions, sesame oil, rice wine, orange juice, soy sauce, and spices — in a blender, Choi gave away his secret for perfectly marinated meat. “It’s a spiritual transfer of energy while you massage the marinade into the meat … All I’m thinking about is how good this is going to taste and how much happiness it will bring you. When I’m done, all you need is this and a bowl of rice.”
Judging from the murmurs from satisfied onlookers lucky enough to sample the finished short ribs — and the long line waiting for autographed copies of his memoir/cookbook, L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food — Choi got that energy transfer just right. — Carolyn Patten.