In less than a week, the inaugural Los Angeles Food & Wine festival kicks off with more than 50 gourmet events taking place from Santa Monica and Beverly Hills to Hollywood and downtown.
The event was announced just last spring, after the owners of the renowned Pebble Beach Food & Wine festival swooped into town and aligned themselves with Wolfgang Puck, who announced he would split from the event he’d hosted for almost 30 years, the American Wine & Food Festival, which benefited Meals on Wheels.
Over the four days of Oct. 13-16, Puck will be one of more than 170 chefs participating in the new festival, which will also bring together 200 wineries and will include a red-carpet opening night where American Idol's Randy Jackson will deejay for the first time ever, "grand tasting" feasts at L.A. Live, a Saturday night performance by Train and the likes of Modern Family's Eric Stonestreet and Cougar Town's Busy Phillips jumping in as sous-chefs. The new event also benefits Meals on Wheels.
THR spoke with Pebble Beach Food & Wine’s David Bernhal, the co-founder of Coastal Luxury Management. And on the next page are some of the highlights from the dizzying amount of events happening during the big weekend.
THR: How are you doing?
Bernhal: I’m running around like a chicken with its head cut off.
THR: Well, don't get near a chef then.
Bernhal: I have 136 of them with big egos, and they all have knives!
THR: Why did you end up deciding to launch this in L.A.?
Bernhal: We took the Pebble Beach Food & Wine from 650 attendees the first year to 7,500 attendees, the largest in the country. We had offers to do another festival elsewhere, but we thought it made sense to stay here in California. L.A. is one of the most recognized cities in the world, and it didn’t have a nationally recognized food and wine event.
THR: What about Wolfgang Puck's own Meals on Wheels festival?
Bernhal: It was an amazing event. He brought amazing chefs together to cook. He did it for 28 years, and it raised $15 million for charity. But it was a one-night thing. I was like, "How come South Beach can have four days of food and wine events, but L.A. doesnt?"
THR: So how did you end up pairing up with Puck on the new festival?
Bernhal: If you come to L.A., you don't want to compete with Wolfgang. So we sat down with him and had drinks and talked and said, "Let's still have this benefit Meals on Wheels and we'll make it national. We'll have 70 events and not just in one location but all over Los Angeles."
THR: How are ticket sales?
Bernhal: The tickets are spiking. Some events have sold out. But we realized that L.A. is a last-minute market. A month ago, it was like, "Oh my god, are people coming to this event? Did we piss someone off?"
THR: What's going to be in store at the big tasting events?
Bernhal: I had our team pull together a list of all the dishes from the 30 different rock-star chefs in a coursed-out format, and we paid two wines with each. And then we are placing wineries in the right places so you don’t have to go far to find things that pair well with the dishes. It's the ultimate meal.
THR: How long have you been down here?
Bernhal: Three and a half months.
THR: Where have you enjoyed going out and eating?
Bernhal: Oh my god. So many. I like A-Frame in Culver City. Rick Bayless at Red O has done a really great restaurant. I love Gjelina in Venice and the Gorbals downtown. Animal and Son of a Gun. Ricardo Zarate's Mo-Chica and Picca. Bouchon. Sometimes I feel like a steak and go to Cut. If I'm downtown I'll go to Rivera or WP24 or Spice Table, which is amazing. Bryant Ng is doing such sophisticated food at a great price point.
THR: Any specific dishes that stand out?
Bernhal: I would definitely say at Fig at the Fairmont in Santa Monica, one of my favorite is the chicken liver and foie gras parfait. I'll go in and for appetizers get his queso fundido with chorizo, I'll get the parfait and I'll get the beef tongue and ask for extra tortillas. It's a gout-tastic meal. Every once in a while if I'm feeling spaghetti I go to Scarpetta. It is rock star because he uses butter in his sauce. The tuna cones at Spago have been around since the dawn of time but no one makes a better one. I love the brussels sprouts at MB Post in Manhattan Beach and at Red Medicine. And I'm not even a vegetable guy. At the Bazaar you gotta get the foie gras lollipops with the cotton candy. Those are absolutely ridiculous.
THR: Do you make most of your money off ticket sales?
Bernhal: Are you kidding me? You couldn’t cover the event. It’s all about great partnerships and sponsors. We’ve got a minimum commitment to charity of half a million dollars whether we make money or not. That’s the unique thing about partnerships.
THR: What did you have for lunch today?
Bernhal: I haven’t eaten, dude. I’m starving.
Highlights of the festival's lineup can be found on the next page.