Tables full of food samples, cookbooks, merchandise, and more fill the inside of Pier 94.  The aroma of various foods begin to hit your nose: bright and herbaceous pesto served on crisp and crunchy crackers, fried balls of rice goodness stuffed with cheesy perfection, sweet and creamy cheesecake pops, and more.  There are two large stages, one on each side, each set up with a burner, stove, and all kinds of cooking equipment.  Millions of chairs line each room near the stages, set up for people to see their favorite celebrity chefs do what they do best: cook.  When the clock hits 12:25 PM, I rush to find my seat near the stage of the person whose demo I want to see.  Then, pictures and book signings commence, followed by a tasting of the many food samples and more demos, pictures, and book signings until I can finally rest on the hour car ride home at 6:30 PM.  This is the typical experience one has at the New York City Wine & Food Festival, or NYCWFF for short.  This year, however, it was a little different.

Due to COVID-19, many of the events were virtual.  Instead of live cooking demos and book signings, many chefs opted to host cooking classes from the comfort of their own homes over Zoom.  Over 60 classes were offered, and out of those, I chose two.  I know it doesn't sound like much, but they were really fun, and I'm thankful that I was able to participate.  However, I found that this new experience had both positives and negatives.

Pro: Cooking

Sophie Breslow
Sophie Breslow

While I love watching my favorite chefs demo dishes, I love eating them more, which I don't always get to do at the festival under normal circumstances.  Oftentimes, the chefs will let anyone who wants to come up after their demos to try the food that they just made.  However, I don't always get to do that because I either get there too late, or I don't want to try the food that they made.  Yes, there are also food samples, but who wouldn't want a dish that's been freshly made by a famous chef?  In this case, I automatically got to cook and try the food that the chefs were making since I was making it myself.  Not only that, but I knew what they were making before I signed up, so I was aware of the food that I'd be getting to make and eat.

The first picture is of the greek tacos with feta and mint tzatziki and cucumber-tomato relish that I made in Jeff Mauro's class, and the second picture is of the hearty gnocchi with herb lemon pesto that I made in Amanda Freitag's class.

Con: No Food Samples and Less Options

On the downside, I'm a huge fan of the food samples that the many festival vendors offer.  Anything from juicy burgers to creamy risotto to frozen treats, they have it all, and it differs every year, so I get to try a variety of items.  This year, because of the virtual format, there were no food samples.  In addition, because the virtual events were all cooking classes, I couldn't just choose them based off of who the chefs were.  I also had to choose them based off of the food that I knew I would eat when I made it, which limited my options for classes to take.

Pro: Staying in the Comfort of My Own Home

Kristen Kornbluth

Yes, I love getting to go to New York City whenever I can, especially for the festival, but it's also nice to get to stay home.  We didn't have to worry about traffic on the way in and me getting tired from standing all day long.

Con: Not Getting to Go to New York City

Kristen Kornbluth

As I said, I love whenever I get to go to New York City, and this is no exception.  Although staying home can be a nice break, the hustle and bustle of the festival is something I can never get enough of.  It's loud and chaotic, but it's also super fun and exciting.

Pro: Time

Although I love being at the festival for 6 hours, it's extremely tiring, and the great part about the virtual format this year was that the classes were only an hour each.  There were multiple classes offered each day, but I purposely chose to sign up for classes where I wouldn't be doing more than one a day.

Con: Not Meeting My Favorite Celebrity Chefs

Sophie Breslow

This one is kind of a given.  This, of course, is my favorite part of the festival because I get to meet my favorite celebrity chefs, people who I watch on Food Network all the time and who inspire many of the dishes that I make.  Unfortunately, that couldn't happen this year due to the virtual format, at least not for these cooking class events.  However, I was able to take screenshots of me and the chefs whose classes I took over Zoom.

This picture is from last year's NYCWFF when me and one of my friends and fellow Spoon Hofstra photographer, Hannah, met Katie Lee.

Con: No Merchandise

Sophie Breslow

This is a festival tradition that I've created for myself.  Every year, merchandise is sold at the event that I attend, and every year, I buy a t-shirt that I have the chefs sign the back of.  This is instead of buying their cookbooks and having them sign one of those.  I've always liked this because while I don't wear the shirts (because if I wash them, all the Sharpie signatures will come off), they're great personal memories to have.  Because of the virtual format this year, there was no merchandise to be given out or even mailed out.

This picture is from the NYCWFF in 2018 when I took one of my friends and fellow Spoon Adelphi photographer, Gabby.  We decided to get matching shirts for the chefs to sign.

While this year's festival was definitely unprecedented, it was also unique and well put together.  I commend the staff for being able to do this, and although it wasn't ideal, I was able to get my yearly helping of my favorite event of the year.  However, I recommend that when COVID-19 is over, you come down to New York City to attend the NYCWFF for real.  It's truly an unforgettable weekend that you don't want to miss!

In addition to this festival in October, the South Beach Wine & Food Festival takes place in Miami Beach, Florida every February.  If you'd like to learn more about some of the events that it offers, check out this article.