Three years into the Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic, one of the most high-profile culinary gatherings in the Queen City, founders Donna Covrett and Courtney Tsitouris are feeling pretty good.
Gone are the nerves and uncertainty of the inaugural year. In fact, what Covrett and Tsitouris have crafted has been so well-received, it has outgrown its former home in Washington Park. This year, the event is moving to Yeatman's Cove.
The Classic has grown by about 30 percent every year, and Covrett and Tsitouris expect roughly 4,000 attendees for this weekend’s edition.
"It was always in our plan to grow into the riverfront," Covrett said. "We are a river town and we wanted to show our unique personality to the rest of the country."
As before, a portion of the Classic’s proceeds will go toward the Freestore Foodbank and Findlay Market. Tsitouris said they were able to provide about 14,000 meals last year to the Freestore Foodbank, adding, "We hope to do more."
What's new this year
The Grilling Pavilion will be crackling with chefs and nonstop grilling action. According to Covrett, the pavilion will house a fire pit and all kinds of grilling equipment, ranging from planchas (flat surface grills) to a big smoker that chef Dan Wright is bringing. The pavilion also will include a couple of Cincinnati-made Arteflame grills. "(The chefs) will be grilling all weekend long, and you'll learn tips and techniques from them," Covrett said.
Eat your heart out, Cincinnati (#EYHOCincinnati): True to the founders' mission of shining a spotlight on the city's culinary community, the social media hashtag for this event has been changed from #CFWC15 to #EYHOCincinnati. "We really wanted to create a hashtag that wasn't just necessarily about the Food + Wine Classic but celebrated the culinary community as a whole," Tsitouris said.
EYHO Local Love Card: The idea behind this card is simple: Spend $20, get $20. If you spend a minimum of $20 at one of the participating restaurants, you will receive a Local Love Card with a discount code to take $20 off the ticket price to the Classic. “But you have to ask for it,” Tsitouris said. Use the discount code on the Classic’s website, cincinnatifoodandwineclassic.com/2016tickets.
Artisan Marketplace: Roughly 20 local vendors will showcase their culinary-related wares at the marketplace. Vendors include Cincinnati Wood Collaborative, a craft woodwork shop, which will feature items like cutting boards and magnetic knife blocks. Another vendor, CG Ceramics, which crafts dinner plates for some restaurants downtown, will feature handmade pottery items. The marketplace will be available throughout the weekend.
Recipes and a Dream: Aspiring food entrepreneurs from Findlay Kitchen will share their stories and compete for prize money.
More room, better flow: According to Covrett, as much as they loved Washington Park, it felt contained and congested for the crowd they were attracting. Yeatman's Cove offers the space they needed to create more pavilions and individualized experiences. For example, the dessert course will break out into its own pavilion -- three of them, to be exact -- and the wine and beer tastings will take place in the beverage pavilion. The Rising Stars Brunch, which had been held off site the last two years, will take place at Yeatman's Cove this year.
Lower ticket prices: The new venue allows for more attendees, resulting in lower ticket prices. Tickets are generally $5-$30 cheaper than last year.
Raffle: This year, attendees will be able to buy raffle tickets to win an Arteflame Grill. All proceeds from the raffle will benefit the Freestore Foodbank.
There are essentially four parts to the Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic. Here's what to expect.
6:30-9:30 p.m. Friday: The Grill Invitational Grand Tasting ($95 until sold out, then $115)
More than 40 local, regional and national chefs will line the Serpentine Wall alongside more than a dozen Arteflame grills. Together, they will compete for the best dish award in two categories: the judges' choice award and the people's choice award. As in years' past, national food writers such as Keith Pandolfi from Serious Eats and David Tamarkin from Epicurious will judge the competition. Attendees are encouraged to cast their votes for the people's choice award. The winning chefs will each receive an Arteflame grill, which retails at $1,850. There will be plenty of boutique wines, craft beer, desserts and live music to go with the grilled bites.
Noon-5 p.m. Saturday: Saturday Savor ($95 until sold out, then $115)
This daytime event is heavy on educational programming, with plenty of culinary and cocktail demonstrations, seminars and a panel discussion with national food experts. More than a dozen restaurants will serve tastings alongside grilled bites from the Grilling Pavilion. The Beverage Pavilion will serve wine and beer, including more than 30 boutique varieties.
6:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday: Feast in the Park ($95 until sold out, then $115)
The evening grand tasting will don a touch of fine dining, featuring more than 40 chefs, more than 40 boutique varieties of wine and beer and three dessert pavilions. The Grilling Pavilion also will offer grilled bites throughout the evening, and there will be live music, too.
11:30 a.m.-3:45 p.m. Sunday: Sunday Savor ($95 until sold out, then $115)
Up-and-coming chef de cuisines, sous chefs, pastry chefs and spirits experts will serve food and drinks throughout the day in the Rising Stars Brunch. The Sunday Savor follows a similar format as the previous day, with food and beverage experts hosting demos and seminars. Watch chefs Dave Taylor (Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse) and Andrew Mersmann (Red Feather) defend their title in the third annual Goetta Superstar cooking competition. The Somm Slam competition will close the day as five local sommeliers undergo blind tastings.
A tasty sneak peek
Jason Louda, chef of Meatball Kitchen, will cook crispy garlic short rib with cracked corn pudding, fresh mustard greens and a deviled egg yolk barbecue emulsion at Friday night's Grill Invitational Grand Tasting.
For the Feast in the Park on Saturday, Jared Bennett, chef of Metropole, will serve butcher’s pate, charred peaches and pickled shallots. Suzanne Church, pastry chef at Metropole, will make salty caramel profiteroles for Sunday’s Rising Stars Brunch.
Renee Schuler, chef and owner of Eat Well Celebrations and Feasts, will be busy at the VIP Lounge, serving elegant foods like parmesan frico tuile with truffle steak tartare, and sweets like one-bite spice cupcakes with salted caramel buttercream, caramel drizzle and banana chip.
Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic
Where: Yeatman’s Cove, 705 E. Pete Rose Way, Downtown
Discount for Insiders: WCPO Insider has partnered with the Cincinnati Food+Wine Classic for an exclusive offer. Get $20 off your tickets to The Grill Invitational, Saturday Savor, Feast in the Park and Sunday Savor.
Grace Yek writes about food for WCPO Digital. She is a certified chef-de-cuisine with the American Culinary Federation, and a former chemical engineer. Questions or comments? Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.