7th Annual Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival (Part Two) 10 min read

Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are. - Anthelme Brillat-Savarin


NYCWFF featured more than 100 events spread across various venues in New York City. The festival’s second day featured three fantastic events:


  • Blue Moon Burger Bash, presented by Pat LaFrieda Meats Purveyors and hosted by Rachael Ray
  • Dominique Ansel’s Wonderland, hosted by the Cronut Creator himself
  • Rock & Roll Night Market, hosted by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto

Blue Moon Burger Bash




If you are a burger fanatic, this was a place to be. There were over thirty Burger gurus fiercely competing for the guests’ palates.  Burgers were created by Andy Bennett of Rouge Tomate, PJ Calapa from Costata, Josh Capon’s B&B Winepub, Cliff Crooks from BLT Steak, Paul Denamiel from Le Rivage, Andy D’Amico from 5 Napkin Burger, Alex Guarnaschelli of Butter, Robert Irvine from Restaurant Impossible, Pat LaFrieda of his namesake LaFrieda Meat Purveyors, Michele Mazza from Il Mulino Prime, Marc Murphy of Benchmark Restaurant, Ian Russo of Dirty Burger, and many more.


Umami aroma’s filled the air and the burgers were off-the-charts delicious. The chefs pulled every ounce of charisma out of their arsenal, hawking their creations like carnival barkers. Alex Guarnaschelli, with her will of steel and charming smile, unabashedly cajoled guests to vote for her burger. Robert Irvine brought out his secret weapon, his stunning wife Gail, to help hand out his burgers. Male customers were seen drooling…presumably from his great food! Irvine was particularly gracious, sticking around for long hours over several events to pose for photos and chat with fans. A man of seemingly endless energy, he is the same person you see on television. He is a chef of the people. The Food Network was very smart to capitalize on that.


The competition was fierce, as all chefs brought their A-game; many using LaFrieda’s mouthwatering meats. My favorites were George Hirsch‘s “Sloppy Giuseppe”, Costata’s “White Label Burger”, with Le Rivage’s “L ‘Aristocrat Burger” (La Frieda Blue Denim blend, Ventreche bacon, cornichon relish, mimolette cheese).  The People’s Choice Award winner, for the fifth time, was B&B Winepub. Chef Josh Capon’s famous burger (caramelized onion, bacon jam, shaved pickles, American cheese, secret sauce) wowed me and the crowds.


Whose protein prowess officially prevailed and won the celebrity judges over? Food Network’s Chopped star Marc Murphy took home the trophy for Burger Bash Champion for his “lamb-marc” burger, featuring spiced ground lamb with mint chimichurri.


After the event, I should have been headed to Cedars Sinai, conveniently located nearby, to have my stomach pumped.  However I opted for Dominique Ansel’s Wonderland dessert extravaganza instead.



Dominique Ansel’s Wonderland


Mercifully, a mere eight top NY pastry chefs were on hand to entice my over-saturated palate for this sweet extravaganza. The event featured Dominique Ansel of Dominique Ansel Bakery, Richard Capizzi of Lincoln Ristorante, Stephen Collucci from Colicchio & Sons, Benjamin Grué of Benoit, Ghaya Oliveira from DANIEL, Lauren Resler from Empellón Taqueria, Miro Uskokovic of Gramercy Tavern, and Zac Young from David Burke.


I was only going to look, or so I thought!


The gorgeous Reflectory, a grand ballroom at the new High Line Hotel, was decked out in a Alice in Wonderland – Mad Hatter theme. Whimsy and magic filled every table; transforming the stately ballroom into a fairy tale paradise.


When I arrived, it seemed that Dominique, widely regarded French pastry chef and owner of Dominique Ansel Bakery, was handing out long stem roses. However, upon closer examination, it turned out that Ansel was rewarding guests with raspberry and vanilla marshmallow cake, mimicking a rose bud atop a real life stem. Muffled gasps could be heard throughout, as party goers bit into the pillowy goodness oozing with fresh raspberry.


Miro Uskokovic, the pastry chef from the iconic Gramercy Tavern out-did himself with a most unusual dish: porcini mushroom tartlets,  a savory-sweet and intellectually stimulating desert. They stole the show.


The sight of Stephen Collucci of Colicchio & Sons chocolate tea cups filled with delicious earl grey tea crème and garnished with cape gooseberries, made me weak in the knees. They looked great and tasted even better!


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Stephen Collucci’s chocolate tea cups

Rock & Roll Night Market



Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto


A swift Cab right later and I was Rocking & Rolling with Night Market Sushi and karaoke hosted by none other than Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto.


The venue was singing with the creative interpretations of sushi, rolls, sashimi, a wide variety of dim sum prepared by the finest chefs in town. The event featured such luminaries as Jamie Bissonnette of Toro, Ratha Chaupoly and Ben Daitz of Num Pang Sandwich Shop, Brad Farmerie of PUBLIC, Yuhi Fujinaga from The Sea Grill, Jose Garces, owner of Garces Group, Anita Lo from Annisa, Ming Tsai from Blue Ginger, Jason Wang Xi’an of Famous Foods and many more.


If I had to eat one thing for the rest of my days, it would be raw fish. Imagine standing in the middle of sushi and ceviche paradise with Masaharu Morimoto and his sous chef Manabu Inoue, handing out amazing sushi and dim sum.


I loved the  “Toro’s Taco” (octopus), curry with kaffir lime rice, and the Sea Grill’s Hawaiian amaebi. Simple, with a hint of sweetness and simply sublime, I wanted ten more, yet could only handle one luscious crustacean. There were lamb dumplings by Xi’an Famous Foods and “Mouth Watering Eggplant” by Jose Garces.


Then event afforded the opportunity to chat with celebrity chefs in an intimate environment.   A few brave souls even chose to sing karaoke with the celebrity chefs. Many jovial party goers ate and sang all night long.

NYCWFF isn’t for the weak-palated. The next day it was time for:


  • Stacked: A Sandwich Showdown, presented by Martin’s Famous Potato Rolls and hosted by “Restaurant: Impossible” Robert Irvine
  • Best Bloody Mary brunch hosted by the stars of “Chopped”
  • Cigars & Spirits, hosted by Mohegan Sun
  • Tacos & Tequila: A Late Night Fiesta, hosted by Bobby Flay

Stacked: A Sandwich Showdown



Robert Irvine


The first event took place on the terrace of the festival’s headquarter hotel, Hudson New York.  The ever energetic, Robert Irvine and his wife Gail were on hand, serving his mind-blowing smoked espresso-rubbed brisket with grilled onions, taleggio cheese, horseradish aioli, crispy pickled jalapeños and celery root slaw. This incredibly tasty bite, along with his immense charisma, earned him the People’s Choice Award.


I loved Sandy Dee Hall’s “Summer Pig,” Kyle Knall’s “Roast Beef Dip”, Mrs. Dorsey’s Kitchen’s “Eggplant Parm Grilled Cheese”, Untamed’s “Hot Goldie.”  However, my runaway winner was Fat Sal’s “Fat Spicy Ham.” It hit every note: shaved ham, melted jalapeño jack cheese, jalapeño slaw, “fat” sauce, and a  fried egg on grilled rye. I still dream of this sandwich.



Fat Sal’s “Fat Spicy Ham”

Best Bloody Mary Brunch


Invented in 1921 at Harry’s Bar in Paris the “world’s most complex cocktail” is synonymous with Sunday brunch. Typically, the drink is made from vodka and tomato juice. It can contain dozens of ingredients in its spice mix, allowing mixologists to get wildly creative.  My favorite variation on this theme is my very own  “Sunny Mary.” It is made from yellow tomatoes and sake.


The Bloody Mary versions that day included such unusual ingredients such as heirloom tomato puree, Serrano chilies, Cuban coffee, garlic, pickle puree, tomatillo, Thai bitters, and fresh pressed guarapo. The garnishes were a meal in itself; featuring chicken wings, pork belly, jumbo shrimp, beef sticks and many more morsels. America’s Best Bloody Mary, 2014 was served by David Wakefield of TenOak, for his Bloody Beaux Thai (Absolute Cilantro, siracha, Creole hot sauce, Bloody May mix, mustard, celery salt, pickle juice, and Worcestershire sauce – yum!)



While sipping my mini-Marys, looking around the room at various Food Network celebrities interacting with patrons, I tried to imagine what the world would be like without Food Network.


Founded in 1993, Food Network revolutionized the way America eats and, more importantly, perceives food. They have had a profound impact on our country’s culture.


Original stars included Emeril Lagasse, David Rosengarten, Donna Hanover, Jacques Pepin, and Robin Leach. Mario Batali and Bobby Flay soon followed.  Emeril Live! which became the channel’s first hit show. Iron Chef America, a spin-off of the successful Japanese series, was an instant hit. Alton Brown, became a phenomena for his Good Eats. And who is not familiar with the, Rachael Ray, the network’s biggest crossover star and host of 30 Minute Meals and $40 a Day. Most of us learn by osmosis, so next the time someone complements your food, odds are, these fine folks had some influence on your chicken parm.


A mere twenty years later, Food Network is broadcasted into millions of households. It even has its own video game! Water cooler chats now include molecular gastronomy and artisanal mixology. There is a whole generation that grew up with awareness of what food can be, in its elevated, consummate expression. Sous Vide replaced Swanson Frozen, and every self-respecting foodie knows more about “nose to tail” cooking than James Cameron knows about using special effects in movies.


The great American food revolution would not have been possible without, Emeril Lagasse, Paula Deen, Jacques Pepin, Mario Batali and other pioneering voices that taught us that food isn’t merely fuel, it’s a story; a story of families, traditions, integrity, pride, joy of sharing, an elevated life experience accessible to each and every one of us.


Food Network changed the way we shop for food, socialize, eat out, critique restaurants. It elevated chefs who would otherwise be a local neighborhood celebrities to national superstars. It’s no accident that its newer flock of stars, such as Geoffrey Zakarian, Aarón Sánchez, Chris Santos, Amanda Freitag, Alex Guarnaschelli, Scott Conant, Guy Fieri, and Robert Irvine have become household names.


Restaurant supply stores aren’t just for restaurants anymore, and gourmet kitchens have become a required feature in even the most modest homes. The farmer’s market is the new produce department. With the abundance of designer coffee I sometimes wonder how is it that Folgers is still in business?


Organic, biodynamic, sustainable, socially conscious – terms previously non existent in American vocabulary are now the norm. Restaurants boast “fresh from the source, sustainable cuisine.” Every notable chef will tell you that they personally select the finest ingredients at a local farmer’s market. All of this is common place thanks to the personalities from Food Network.


Movies such as “Chef” could not have been made twenty years ago, today they are well received by an audience whose entire reference point originates from Food Network programming.


“You are what you eat,” according to Brillat-Savarin, who espoused this aphorism in 1826. If that holds true to this day, then the better we eat, the better humans we become. What the food world look like twenty years from now? I hope that our food values will always be rooted in simplicity, integrity and generosity of spirit.


I envy the next generation of Chefs, diners, home cooks and those discovering the world of food for the first time. I hope their appetite for wonders will never cease.

Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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