Best Food & Wine Experience Ever?!

What are you doing this weekend? I know what I’m going to be doing: As much Food & Wine Experience as possible. Longtime local foodies know this show as the one weekend a year when us Minnesota Monthly types take over the Minneapolis Convention Center, bring in wine makers, wine distributors, and various complementary folks such as cheese makers and beer makers. Then we sell tickets to raise funds for MPR, and people like you and me get to wander the convention center tasting all the great wines, beers, and fancy foods that come complimentary with your entry fee. It’s a great time and we’re raising money for a great cause. However, if you haven’t been in a while, you should know that we’ve been adding lots of fantastic new attractions, like:

A Dreamy Dinner
On Friday night there will be a posh winemaker’s dinner featuring the wines of Washington State and the cooking of two great chefs—first, the inexhaustable Erick Harcey, who brought the world two of the area’s most talked-about restaurants, namely Stillwater’s The Kitchen and north Minneapolis’ Victory 44, and last but not least, locavore-celebrity J.D. Fratzke, the Winona native who made his name at Muffaletta and now cooks at the Strip Club. This $90-a-person dinner should be a very interesting snapshot of today’s haute-but-real America. Washington State is turning into America’s own northern Rhone, brimming with earthy, substantial, plush, and multi-dimensional wines meant for hearty food. And Fratzke and Harcey are part of the first generation to grow up not just with Midwestern pride, but a full pallette of local world-class ingredients. The dinner will be at Kitchen Window, in the revamped Calhoun Square. Did you miss going out for Valentine’s Day? Do you want a chance to do it again? Now’s your chance.

Taking Over Macy’s!
Women buy most of the wine in this country, yet when most of us picture a wine connoisseur or wine collector, we think of men. What’s it going to take to allow women to feel comfortable claiming that role of connoisseur? Perhaps our Macy’s Gourmet Gathering? That’s when we take over the downtown Minneapolis Macy’s from 5:30 to 8:30, bring in wine vendors, food tables from some of the best restaurants in town (Grand Café, Barbette, Sanctuary, many more) chef demonstrations, book signings—by me!—and generally create a wine event that’s as comfortable as it is fun. For this one, $50 ($55 at the door) gets you a fancy wine glass and lots of food and wine. Will it get you to change your gut instinct about what gender a wine connoisseur is? Could be. Could also finally get all your best girlfriends in a room so you can hear their true opinions of the new line of Coach bags.

The Big Show
There are too many great reasons to list to come to the Convention Center for the big Saturday and Sunday shows, but check out our long list of exhibitors, chef demos, and signings to get a sense of it all. As ever, a ticket gets you a beautiful Riedel wine glass and so many great things to drink and eat it’ll make you giddy.

Chef Challenge
Last year we ran a chef challenge, pitting some of the best chefs in town against each other, setting the winners of those challenges against one another, and finally crowning a winner. Everything about it was so much fun—watching chefs pull out all the stops trying to best one another, seeing small gaffes magnify into chef-torpedoing final disasters (an undercooked piece of squash, an over-abundance of pickled ingredients in a relish), watching the chefs under pressure… fascinating. And we’re doing it again, this time with even higher stakes: The winner will take home $5,000, and a $1,000 Kitchen Window gift certificate!

John Radle won last year, and Sameh Wadi is going to be this year’s crowd favorite, as he’s fresh off his Iron Chef competition. Will he have brought back some special big city tricks? Michael DeCamp, known as Young Chef, or YC, might be one to watch; he’s always cooked in the shadow of his mentor Tim McKee, but what if McKee can’t cook and it’s all been YC this whole time?! This may be revealed. This competiton is ongoing all day Saturday and Sunday. I’ll be judging at this stage too, so if you’re at the show, come by and say hi!

Who’s the Best Cake Decorator in Minnesota?
If you’ve ever sat entranced before Food Network cake-decorating shows, have we got a spectacle for you: We’re pitting six of the area’s best wedding-cake stars against each other for a cake-decorating challenge—for $3,500 worth of prizes! Gateaux, of course, is the one to beat. Robin Martin has been featured on some of those Food Network shows and does mind-blowing work. But newcomer Celebration Generation might be hungrier, and definitely has more to win. I can’t wait to see some crazy elaborate cakes in person. Again, this is there for anyone coming to the main Food and Wine show floor on Saturday or Sunday.

Budget-Friendly Wine Seminars
But that’s not all! My one heartache this year is that since I’ll be at the Chef Challenge stage, I’m going to miss some of the super-fabulous wine seminars. And they’re only five bucks! You don’t need a convention floor ticket to go to them.

And that’s it kids! Hope to see you this weekend. If you’ve got any questions about the event, post them in the comments. And if you’ve got money riding on the winner of the chef challenge, don’t tell me about it. I think those bets are only legal in Nevada. See you soon, I hope!