Do you prefer Top Chefs, best chefs, or rising star chefs? Or are they the same thing these days? That's the question you must answer when buying your tickets for the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival. The lineup will be released on the festival's revamped website on Mon. Aug. 30, tickets will go on sale next Thurs. Sept. 2, and foodies are already salivating at the tantalizing choices.
The Dine Around dinners — easily the most sought-after tickets — are stacked with stars, from Top Chef alums to New York's hottest restaurateurs to up-and-comers from around the country.
For instance, at FIG, Chef Mike Lata will be joined by Michael White of Marea in New York (who canceled his appearance at last year's festival and won the Beard Award for Best Restaurant of 2010), Kevin Gillespie from Woodfire Grill in Atlanta (and Top Chef), and the inimitable Frank Stitt from Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham, Ala. (who made the most amazing collards ever at last year's Gullah luncheon).
Over at Charleston Grill, Michelle Weaver will be working with hot shot Gavin Kaysen from New York's Café Boulud. This is a guy who competed internationally in the famed competition Bocuse d'Or. At Anson, Top Cheffer Bryan Voltaggio of Volt will be teaming up with Jeremy Holst to create a menu of fresh, seasonal classics. Robert Stehling at Hominy will welcome Zak Pelaccio from Fatty Crab, Fatty Cue, a Brooklyn restaurant that puts an Asian spin on barbecue.
The Neighborhood Dining Group's Husk, which is opening within the next month, will pair Chef Travis Grimes with Donald Link from Cochon in New Orleans for a Southern dinner with some Cajun spice. Over at McCrady's, Sean Brock will work with Michael Anthony who inherited the kitchen at Gramercy Tavern from Tom Colicchio. The list of big names goes on and on. In all, 19 local chefs will be participating in the Dine Around. Don't delay in securing your tickets, because they will be snatched up faster than the free samples at Costco.
The ultimate celebrity dine around comes on Saturday night at the Food + Wine with a View in the penthouse of the People's Building. It costs a cool $1,000, but guests are treated to a sumptuous night of wine, food, and service from superstar chefs and winemakers (who have yet to be announced).
Festival organizers have added plenty of new events to the 2011 lineup. The Top Chef Bash will take place under the big tent in Marion Square with appearances by Dave (I'm not your bitch, bitch) Martin, Marisa (from the season better known for Sam Talbot) Churchill, Casey (fan favorite) Thompson, Carla (cooks with love) Hall, and Kevin (looks like Yukon Cornelius) Gillespie. When attendees buy their tickets for this event, they'll get a chance to vote for a featured Lowcountry ingredient that each contestant will have to incorporate into their dishes, which will be judged by a panel of celebrities at the event.
Other new events include an eco-conscious locavore lunch at High Cotton, a sake and sushi tasting at O-Ku, and a family-style French meal at La Fourchette.
For the Early Spring Harvest Luncheon on Wadmalaw, local farmer Sidi Limehouse will harvest produce that will be planted specifically for Chef Nathan Thurston (The Ocean Room) to prepare for this event, which will be held at the Firefly Distillery.
Wine lovers should make note of the Bordeaux Spectacular at Charleston Grill. Winemaker Bruno Eynard of Chateau Lagrange and proprietor Emmanuel Cruse of Chateau d'Issan will host a vertical tasting of 14 of their rarest wines. And Master Sommelier Andrea Immer Robinson will be cracking open some rare bottles for her Big Bottles Tasting Tour. The seminar and tasting will be followed by an auction of rare large format autographed bottles of wine.
The popular Bubbles + Sweets event has undergone a significant change. Now called Festival After-Hours, this party in the main tent at Marion Square has ditched the focus on pastry and expanded to be more of an after-party vibe with plenty of late night fare — sliders, tacos, dim sum — plus specialty cocktails in addition to wine, beer, and champagne. Apparently, festival organizers are hoping this will lessen the crashing of the other after-parties that take place around town.
So there you have it, food lovers, a quick rundown of what the festival has to offer. For more information, check out charlestonwineandfood.com.