“This event is almost overwhelming in terms of opportunities,” said Michelle Metter, festival organizer. “The caliber of professionals who join us is dramatic. Each year we pull from a larger network of food and talent.”
The festival is the largest culinary event in San Diego, but extends far beyond. Highlighting local and national talent — not to mention Food Network celebrity chefs — it has evolved over the years as a vacation destination, drawing visitors from across the country while boosting the tourism economy in the off season, said Metter.
Classes are always a highlight at the festival, with cooking demonstrations and wine tastings held at the San Diego Wine and Culinary Center in downtown’s Marina District and the Macy’s School of Cooking in Mission Valley.
This year’s class highlights feature a tribute to Julia Child, “Celebrating Julia: Past & Present, Inspired French Dishes with a Modern Twist,” hosted by chefs RJ Cooper and Katsuya Fukushima from the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America.”
Former “Top Chef” contestant and San Diego restaurant group owner Brian Malarkey will host fellow “Top Chef” alumni Edward Lee, Lindsay Autrey, Sarah Grueneberg and Mike Isabella for a “Fruits de Mer” class presented by Alaska Seafood, while festival-favorite chef Billy Strynkowski of Cooking Light Magazine returns with a “Flavors of the Mediterranean” course.
Master sommelier Joe Spellman will hold a “blind tasting,” walking participants through using their senses to identify characteristics in unmarked glasses of wines — a treat for both those with limited wine knowledge and a challenge for more experienced wine connoisseurs. Meanwhile, La Jolla’s Roppongi Sushi and Asian Fusion restaurant will be the site of a Tastemaker dinner with Michael David Winery on Thursday, Nov. 15 at 6:30 p.m.
One of the festival’s most exclusive events — and new to this year’s festival — will be the “Eight decades of Barolo and Italian Luncheon” on Friday, Nov. 16 at the Marriott Marina Kitchen. Celebrity chef Suzette Gresham and wine expert Giancarlo Paterlini will host an intimate group of guests for an Italian luncheon and Barolo wine tour with vintages dating back to the 1930s.
The festival culminates in the Grand Tasting Event, this year to be held Saturday, Nov. 17 at Embarcadero Marina Park North behind Seaport Village. The tasting features 170 wine and spirit purveyors, 70 of San Diego’s top chefs and a “Chef of the Fest” competition, where local food stars battle it out for bragging rights and $50,000 in cash and prizes.
The San Diego Wine & Food Festival also helps raise funds for the next generation of chefs, benefiting the American Institute of Wine & Food (AIWF). Money from the AIWF fundraiser luncheon and silent auction, to be held Nov. 18, goes toward the AIWF culinary arts and oenology scholarship program. To date, the festival has raised more than $200,000 for culinary scholarships.
The AIWF luncheon, headed by chef Bernard Guillas of the Marine Room and La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club, closes out the festival in grand fashion.
“Our goal is make sure we are creating an amazing community,” said Guillas. “By inviting chefs from all over the U.S., you are able to give a good taste of what’s going on culinary-wise.”
Guillas, San Diego’s chef statesman, said he continues to see the local culinary scene blossom, as young chefs are not only embracing the farm-to-table movement, but are also creating establishments that are high-energy meeting places, rather than just restaurants.
Hotel and festival packages are available. For full event schedule and to purchase tickets, visit www.sandiegowineclassic.com.