It’s a gem of a little food fest, one that doesn’t subject its guests to hordes or parking nightmares. There are many reasons to celebrate the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival any year, but as the fest turns 10 next month – it runs from Dec. 8 through 11 – here are 10 reasons to raise a glass this year.
It’s an intimate affair.
As food festivals go, this one works hard to maintain a level of intimacy. Granted, chances are there will be human traffic jams during parts of the fest’s Grand Tasting finale at The Gardens Mall. But that’s one event – and still it’s a fun one. For the most part, the festival’s dinners and tastings are easy to navigate. That’s because the organizers don’t overbook events. This means fest-goers get the civilized, top-notch experiences they expected when they purchased their tickets.
Can’t beat the backdrop.
Palm trees? Check. Crashing waves? Check. The Breakers’ grand, Italian Renaissance archways and loggias? Check.
The setting for festival events is pretty spectacular. It’s December in Palm Beach – any wonder why the festival lures some big names? And in the past few years, the fest has expanded its reach into the mainland, into West Palm Beach and Palm Beach Gardens. This year, two of West Palm’s hottest restaurants (Avocado Grill and The Regional) will host festival events. While these may not be oceanfront spots, they possess the funk factor that many food enthusiasts seek in the county’s fastest rising dining destination.
Southern food goals are strong.
This year the festival revels in the region by hosting a “Southern Revival” lunch at The Regional Kitchen. The months-old, CityPlace restaurant is where Chef Lindsay Autry gives her native Southern cuisine a global spin. The farmhouse-inspired restaurant, appointed with mementos of Autry’s North Carolina roots, provides an ideal setting for a meal created by a cast of Southern food stars. Joining Autry in the kitchen will be her acclaimed mentor Michelle Bernstein (Crumb on Parchment, Miami), James Beard Award-winning chef Stephen Stryjewski (Cochon and Peche Seafood Grill, New Orleans) and Southern chef/author Virginia Willis. No surprise: The event is sold out.
There’s an all-out veggie feast this year.
The festival’s “Rustic Root” dinner will bring some top food stars to Chef Julien Gremaud’s popular Avocado Grill in downtown West Palm Beach. Among them is Amanda Cohen, the pioneering chef/owner of Dirt Candy, a New York hotspot serving plant-based cuisine. Cohen, dubbed the “Veggie Czarina” by Haute Living magazine, will be joined by award-winning chefs Elizabeth Falkner and Dean James Max.
This five-course dinner with wine pairings and open bar costs $150 per person. Tickets were still available at press time.
The best of culinary Miami comes to town.
That chaotic metropolis to our south may have some mighty fine cuisine, but one has to brave gridlock traffic and ridiculous parking situations to enjoy it. For a few years now, the festival has been luring some of Miami’s best and brightest. This year, the 305 delegation is simply outstanding. Coming to the fest:
- Chef/ restaurateur Jose Mendin, whose Pubbelly group of restaurants mirrors Miami’s vibrancy and cultural depth. In many ways, he’s the chef who best reflects his city right now.
- Chef Jeremy Ford, winner of Bravo’s “Top Chef” Season 13 this year. He’s chef de cuisine at uber-chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Matador Room.
- Timon Balloo, the innovative executive chef/partner at Midtown’s Sugarcane restaurant.
- Chef/restaurateur Richard Hales, who brought new Asian flavors to Miami with his Sakaya Kitchen and Blackbrick Chinese restaurants.
- Chef/restaurateur Giorgio Rapicavoli, who turned a vibe-y pop-up into one of Coral Gables’ hottest restaurants, Eating House. More recently, he opened Glass & Vine in Coconut Grove’s iconic Peacock Park.
Palm Beach Grill opens for lunch.
The festival features “Lunch at The Grill” on Saturday, Dec. 10. This is kind of a big deal. Not only is the Palm Beach Grill a tough reservation to score, the place doesn’t serve lunch. The New American-style restaurant may be part of a national chain (Hillstone), but it’s one of the buzziest spots on the island. No surprise there. Hillstone, after all, was named “America’s Favorite Restaurant” this year by Bon Appetit magazine.
“It’s never going to win a James Beard Award. Or try to wow you with its foam experiments or ingredients you’ve never heard of. But it is the best-run, most-loved, relentlessly respected restaurant in America,” went the intro to the March story.
Tickets to the lunch were still available at press time – 99 bucks gets you a seat at lunch. No famous chefs. But you get four courses with wine pairings and open bar.
It loves a good love story.
The festival’s “Chef Welcome Party” was the setting of one noteworthy marriage proposal two years ago. In a quiet, oceanfront spot away from the party crowd, festival director David Sabin dropped to one knee and proposed to Chef Lindsay Autry, his longtime girlfriend. The party morphed into an unofficial engagement bash. Earlier this year, Sabin and Autry had a destination wedding in one of America’s hottest food cities: They were married June 4th in Charleston, SC.
There’s a party in the ‘burbs.
The festival’s grand finale event, the 10th Annual Grand Tasting, happens at The Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens for the second year in a row. For eight years, the tasting event packed both floors of Palm Beach’s 150 Worth shopping complex. By moving the event to the more spacious Gardens Mall, the festival tapped into an important dining market: north county.
The cachet mingles with the commercial.
In the mix of personalities, fest-goers will find familiar faces from Food Network, James Beard Award winners and the occasional Michelin star-decorated. Take Chicago chef Lee Wolen. He’s worked at a succession of Michelin-starred restaurants, first at New York’s venerable Eleven Madison Park, then at Chicago’s Lobby at The Peninsula, where he earned a Michelin star, and most recently at Chicago’s Boka Restaurant, which has won stars three years in a row. He’ll be cooking breakfast at the Eau Dec. 10 with James Beard semifinalists Mendin and Rapicavoli from Miami. That morning, over at the Four Seasons Resort, fest-goers can mingle with Food Network stars Robert Irvine, Marc Murphy, Jeff Mauro and Travel Channel host Adam Richman at the day’s events there.
Tickets were still available for that Eau Resort breakfast. They cost $75 per person.
It’s not South Beach.
Nothing against that big, bodacious fest to our south. In fact, that fest is like 20 festivals in one. It puts on more events in a day than Palm Beach puts on in its entire four-day duration. But Palm Beach has little interest in becoming South Beach, fest-wise – and that’s a good thing. The 561 festival is manageable and offers a sense of intimacy. A food enthusiast can have a proper conversation with a visiting chef. Eight of the 14 events are sit-down meals. The vibe is more lively dinner party than packed disco.