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Alain Ducasse Takes Center Stage at Cannes (Cannes)

In the run up to this year’s Festival de Cannes, Electrolux, a purveyor of fine kitchen wares, washing machines, and an unlikely Riviera candidate, quietly cooked up plans to host its first ever pavilion at the festival, alongside the Germans, the Slovenians and the Chinese.

During the 12-day event, none other than Alain Ducasse and his team will be cooking inside what will be known as the Electrolux Agora Pavilion, for opening and closing night, and for official events for the duration of the festival. These have thus far taken place inside the Palais.

Not only is a new Cannes dinner location news as far as film festivals go, but the Electrolux presence is also evidence of the latest trend to hit festivals -- the arrival and presentation of celebrity chefs and all that surround them, as a big part of the attraction.

"The Festival de Cannes is a source of lifestyle inspiration and, by being there with our professional chefs we hope to encourage our consumers to effortlessly create the same grandeur in their own homes by using our appliances," said Neil Gannon, head of marketing expertise at Electrolux

And it’s not just in Cannes that this trend can be detected.

In February at the Berlin International Film Festival, the world famous sommelier, Charlie Arturaola, wandered the 40th floor of a futuristic skyscraper on Potsdamer Platz, posing for photographers in a loud outfit, consisting of a burgundy colored Chinese silk jacket and a crocked black beret which was oh so "campagne."

An unlikely hero of this year’s festival, Arturaola was the star of the Argentine film, The Ways of Wine, one of several films that screened as part of the Culinary Cinema series, in which films about food and drink are accompanied by a gourmet dinner served by a Teutonic chef in a glitzy circus tent.

And back in January, Gordon Ramsay’s protégé, Markus Glocker, poked his head out of his make-shift kitchen in Park City at the Sundance Film Festival to speak to film reporters on cooking up a meal full of flavors to reflect Ralph Lauren’s Big Pony scent, which was presented to a select crowd of young entrepreneurs who had gathered for this exclusive dinner. Lauren was attending Sundance for the first time.

Read between the lines and it seems that celebrity chefs, and all that surround them, have become the latest species to descend on the film festival circuit.

Who could blame them for coming?

There is so much media focus placed on film festivals with their glut of stars and media that they are hard to beat for upping one’s profile or for getting a possible endorsement or photo op with celebs.

"It's great exposure and PR for the chef and the restaurant and of course it’s nice to get away from your own kitchen to share your ideas, cooking style and flavors with different people in a very special location like Park City," said Glocker, who usually cooks at The London in New York.

At Sundance, chefs like Glocker are presented through the House of Hype LifeStyle Lounge where the Ralph Lauren dinner took place, or as part of a second series, the ChefDance, which takes place further down Main Street.

The Berlin International Film Festival even begins with a sophisticated dinner after-party, with no less than eight chefs each presenting three-course meals, one on each floor of the Berlinale Palast where the opening film is screened. During the festival, the so-called Culinary Cinema series showcases a dozen-odd foodie films. This year that included the Japanese feature, Jiro Dreams of Sushi and The Recipe from the South Korean director Anna Lee.

"During the Berlinale 10 years ago, we began cooking with an awareness for quality and serving decent wines,” said Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick. “And then five years ago we launched Culinary Cinema to call attention to the relationship between film, culture, cuisine and the environment. Food brings people together and connects them to their surroundings. A country’s cuisine is a yardstick of its culture."

Aside from the great exposure for chefs, the presence of so many cooking types is also changing the game at festivals.

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Forget slumming it in a sleeping bag. Sundance was nothing short of a luxurious feast this year. Alongside the dinner series, the Napa Valley Film Festival hosted a luxurious soiree featuring food and wine from top vineyards and restaurants from the region, which upped the ante and has to have been one of the most memorable festival parties in decades.

And these dinners also offer a chance for representatives from different industries to get together, from fashion to vino, to swap notes.

In Berlin, journalists, bored of film talk, listened eagerly to insights on the world of wine from Arturaola. “Hong Kong is now the world center for wine, as New York and London can’t keep up,” he said. “One, because they don’t have the storage space and the other because their Internet is too slow.”

Dinners at festivals have long been part of the attraction, from the lavish Vanity Fair events to exclusive Cannes dinners at the Hotel Du Cap-Eden-Roc where jeweler Di Grisogono invited 600-plus guests to dine on the terrace.

But never before have so many chefs been presented as the main feature of these events.

"These festivals for chefs are getting bigger and bigger because of the media and television, but in general it’s just nice to interact with people who share the same interests,” Glocker said. “Food and wine are always bringing people together. The location doesn’t really matter — it’s all about food and wine."

Going back to long before this became a trend, the American Pavilion did its bit to bring the next generation into the fold, with the Cannes Culinary Program, which was launched in 1997. “The program offers young chefs the opportunity to feed thousands of attendees at the festival, from directors such as Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese to the numerous actors, filmmakers and industry executives who make their way through Ampav’s doors,” said program director Walter Harris.

The Cannes Culinary team will prepare up to 1,000 meals per day, including breakfasts, lunches, dinners and special event menus for receptions and parties. The team fly in from all over the world and this year includes a number of young chefs such as Alyssa Failla, 23, Ravine Rambox, 32 and Jennifer Gomez, 23, of the Culinary Institute of America in Poughskeepie, New York, as well as Christopher Laflin, 24, of Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in Pasadena.

And celebrity chefs are not the only ones making the trek to the world’s film festivals. Over the past decade, fashion players have made their presence known in the film world with increasing fervor. These days, they are not just there to dress the stars but operate as active player in these events. Think Chopard sponsoring Cannes to the French jewelers Piaget being an upscale sponsor of the Independent Spirit Awards, which would seem like an unlikely combination but makes sense to the brand. "It suits our image and is not too stuffy," said Paiget’s Cecille Lemarie who attended the event this year. Piaget hosted a delicately decorated designer lounge to view the awards outside the main Spirit Awards tent.

And so It seems that it was only a matter of time before appliances wanted their red carpet moment too.

“Electrolux has a long heritage of working with many of the professionals responsible for creating the A-list lifestyle, whether through food, styling or design.  We want to raise awareness that Electrolux products have always been used by the very best creative experts and to pass on their knowledge to our consumers so that they can achieve the red carpet style they see in the film world,” said Gannon.
 
“We believe that many of our consumers aspire for the lifestyle they see on the big screen. This can go from wearing a breathtaking dress to recreating a specific dinner scene or even a meal,” he added.

Arturaola summed up the festival foodie trend nicely: “I never thought I would be the star of a film festival.”