This year New York Food and Wine Festival offers dozens of foodie events throughout the city and hundreds of chefs, who will together prepare meals for around 45,000 hungry people under less than ideal conditions.
And those 45,000 paying customers would love their food – prepared by teams led by their favorite Food Network chefs – to be delicious, served quickly, and, let’s be honest, Instagrammable.
It’s a tall order and the chefs themselves have to work in very crowded and unfamiliar conditions. These makeshift prep areas certainly don’t measure up to a restaurant kitchen, and their level of comfort is sure to be low. (Add in a pandemic and additional workplace safety and attendance requirements, and the job gets even more difficult.)
So, how do you please thousands of people with delicious dishes served quickly? We asked four Michelin-starred chefs attending NYCWFF – Geoffroy Zakarian, Robert irvine, Spike mendelsohn and Matt Abdou – their secrets to preparing for food festivals and some tips for home chefs who might be faced with a larger guest list than expected this fall or winter.
The good news? A lot of preparation before an event and some positive thinking can go a long way. âI’ve been here for quite a long time and I don’t even see these kinds of situations as obstacles anymore,â says Irvine, host of Dinner: impossible and this year’s popular NYCWFF Steak and Whiskey Event. “As long as you have all the equipment to do the job and keep it all warm, you’re golden.”
To get started, bring only what you need
âFor an event like this, everything is recipe driven. All the ingredients and equipment you need need to be brought on site, which means we are extremely thorough in the planning, âsays Zakarian, an Iron Chef, president of the City Harvest’s Food Council and popular television host who oversees the Farmer’s Market Brunch Saturday. âWe send detailed equipment lists in advance, even with photos included. No less than what we need or more than what we need, but it has to be fair. Additionally, Zakarian notes that prep work or main cooking for his events is never done on the NYCWFF site itself.
For some chefs, it’s also about getting help where they can, including from other food festival attendees. âThe only thing more important than a good neighbor is a meticulous packing list,â says Abdoo, the executive chef and partner of Pig Beach which is part of three NYCWFF events (Burger Bash, Dinner with Chris Lilly, Matt Abdoo, Shane McBride and Barbecue in the courtyard). “If you forget your pliers, you either don’t have pliers or you are hoping that one of your neighbors has an extra set and is kind enough to borrow them from you.”
Keep your menu simple (and your ingredients organized)
If you feed a lot of hungry, anxious mouths, now is not the time to experiment. âWe’ve learned over time that it’s best to keep it simple and delicious. There is so much food at these events that sometimes the simplest dishes are the most successful, âsays Mendelsohn, a Food Network personality and co-founder of PLNT Burger. He is also one of the many celebrity chefs attending Thursday Burger Bash, generally the most popular and chaotic event of the Fest.
And whatever you do, use … Microsoft Excel? âYou think I’m kidding, but cooking for a lot of people involves a lot of math, so my team and I do most of our planning on spreadsheets,â says Irvine. âIt starts with the question of how many guests we’re likely to have and it’s all calculated from that. From big things like meat and potatoes to condiments, salt and pepper.
It’s all about prior preparation (even for home chefs)
The four chefs suggest that home cooks planning a big party should do the same at least 24 hours earlier. “The word is put in place – that’s the French word put your affairs in order, âsaid Mendelsohn. âI always like to prepare myself the night before as much as possible. That way I can just do some of the finishing touches on the day of the event and enjoy the company. “
âDon’t cook anything you don’t know well,â adds Zarkarian, who also offers this fantastic accommodation tip / tip: âOrder dessert or appetizers at a great local spot. It is a total mistake that you have to do everything from scratch for a dinner party.
However, you are not faced with the same logistics as the NYCWFF teams. For them, a 24 hour advance is not enough. âWe start planning all of our food orders, staff and logistics four weeks later,â admits Abdoo. “And the preparation of the meals begins about seven days before the date of the event.”
And finally, wherever you are, get help
âI have three executive chefs working for me, and one of them will be arriving the day before, get to work with a few sub chefs and start doing all the basic prep,â says Irvine. âAnd I follow my own advice – I want to enjoy the night too! I don’t care how big the party is. We have prepared multi-course meals for events of up to 5,000 people. Even on a night like this, you won’t see anyone jostling around my kitchen trying to make last minute preparations. All the hard work is done in the preparation phase.
The Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival presented by Capital One (NYCWFF) runs October 14-17. NYCWFF events raise funds for nonprofit food associations including God’s Love We Deliver and Food Bank For New York City. For tickets go here.
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