This April marked the 7th annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival, and my team and I were beyond excited to spend a few days in sunny California. The overall weekend was a huge hit- there is so much to taste, so many events to attend, so many people to meet. It left me thinking that people need a guide on how to “Food & Wine Festival” in style. So here it is. Enjoy!
Remember how I said we were excited to go to “sunny California?” Yea, turns out: Pebble Beach ain’t so sunny. It’s beautiful and definitely warmer than NYC, but it’s not LA. We forgot to check the weather and may have under-packed in the layering department. Do yourself a favor and do not make the same mistake.
# 2: Plan out your Wardrobe
Now you know the forecast- let’s get packing. Overall, food & wine festivals during the day are what Mom would call “smart-casual,” which I refer to as “trendy-fashionable-with-heels.” You don’t need to be “fancy” per se, but keep in mind the general audience at these places are the wealthy upper-crust. You don’t want to look like a bum. Maintain your sassy appearance in comfortable wedges because you’ll spend most of your days on your feet. You don’t want to miss out due to discomfort. Evening and night events vary- but pack some versatile dresses that can easily go from fancy-schmancy dinner to VIP nightclub.
# 3: Pack Lightly
May I recommend a cross-body bag? You’ll want to keep your hands free during the Grand Tastings and culinary demos, so take as little with you as possible. There’s nothing chic nor easy about balancing a margarita and rosé in one hand, and bacon wrapped rabbit, your iPhone, and camera in the other. I would recommend business cards (I’ll get to that in a sec) your phone, small wallet, shades, a pen, and whatever you do: do NOT forget your guest-pass! If you’re an avid photographer or social media junkie (ahem) make sure to bring a camera with social media apps and wifi capabilities, so you’re not juggling your camera and iPhone in an attempt to instagram Chef Duff Goldman’s “Cheeseburger Cake.” I’m currently eyeing the Samsung Galaxy Nx.
# 4: Scope out the Events
I’m always down for a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants/animal-spirit vacation, but in this case you should have a plan. There are endless events to attend from day to night, and the truth is you won’t be able to make them all. Check out the website ahead of time and make a note of who you want to see, the food you want to taste, and the events that are most appealing to you. Find out where they are all located in relation to each other so you can map out a plan of attack and spend your time much more efficiently. In addition- make sure to scope out the transportation situation. Most of these events have shuttles and taxi service. With all the wine and cocktail tasting, don’t even think about getting behind the wheel of a car.
If you stick to the tastings, you’ll never actually get a balanced meal at a Food & Wine festival. Believe it or not- this can leave you feeling unfulfilled when you’ve consumed well over your daily caloric intake. So here’s what you do: If you can- try to eat 3 healthy meals (breakfast, lunchm and dinner) and treat the tastings as “snacks.” If you’re not hungry going into it, you’ll have more control. If you can’t eat a real meal- try to balance the tastings by nutritional content. If you started with a burger and a piece of cake (been there, done that) try to find a station that’s serving something green next. Finally, drink lots of water. Lots and lots of water.
The question I get asked time and time again is “How do you work for a celebrity chef and not weigh 500 lbs?” Well, the truth is:
I’ve gained a lot of weight I gained a little weight until I realized the following:
1. You don’t have to taste everything.
2. Tasting something means taking ONE bite. Not finishing the entire plate and soaking up the sauce with some bread you found lying around.
Hopefully, this will not be your last meal on Earth, so don’t binge.
# 6: Make new Friends
The crowd generally stays the same throughout the weekend and it’s kind of like summer camp. Except with wine. And fois gras. Typically, I find them to be super-friendly and ready to party, so go ahead and make some new friends! You’ll never know who you’ll hit it off with. On top of that- say “hey” to the chefs! They love to get feedback and have their egos stroked, so don’t be shy: tell them how great they were on that Chopped/Iron Chef/Top Chef/Next Food Network Star episode. You may even get a little something out of it!
# 7: But Don’t be a Creep
…having said that: don’t be a stage 5 clinger. It’s bad enough if you creep on one of the general festival goers, but ESPECIALLY bad to do that to the chefs. Just because you were casually chatting at happy hour doesn’t mean you can interrupt their culinary demo. That should go without saying, but I’ve seen some weirdos get a little too comfortable with my boss-lady. Security!
# 8: Bring Business Cards
Even if you’re not in the culinary or hospitality industry- bring those business cards! F&W festivals are great networking events. You never know who you’re going to run into, so it’s best to be prepared. On top of that- every one is in great spirits (thanks, in part, to the wine) so you may be able to break barriers that would otherwise be locked down.
# 9: Remember: Everything Ends up on Facebook
Drink like a fish- not like a college freshman. Everyone and their mother has their iPhones up and ready to embarrass you on the internet. Case in point: On the shuttle back from dinner at Pebble Beach Food & Wine, a man was encouraged to sing his little heart out. He was a fabulous singer. Voice of an angel. But man- was he wasted! I took a video. It’s on my instagram. I’m not proud, but… it. was. epic.
# 10: Step out of your Comfort Zone
There’s a first time for everything, and at PBFW14 I tried octopus for the very first time. I’d always been a fan of it’s cousin, the squid -aka- the calamari, but this was uncharted territorty. When Jenn Louis’ tender grilled octopus hit my lips, it was love at first bite. Who knew octopus was so light and refreshing? I didn’t! Point is- food festivals are n awesome place to try something new: the portions are small, the chefs are highly-acclaimed, and if you don’t like it you can just take a bite and throw the rest away. You won’t offend anyone. They’ll think you’re just saving room for the next tasting.