This fall, the NYC Wine & Food Festival is ready to make Whoopi. No, seriously: Whoopi Goldberg will be there. For the fourth go-round of this annual nosh-and-slosh bash, organizers have tapped "The View" co-host/Bill O'Reilly arch-enemy to present one of its centerpiece events, Burger Bash, where she'll take over from longtime host Rachael Ray. (More to come later on why.)
Goldberg's hosting gig is just one of several new face-lifts we'll be seeing at this year's fest, which sets up shop from Sept. 29 to Oct. 2 at various downtown (and, some cases, Brooklyn) venues. (Tickets go on sale June 20.)
Most notable, the festivities have been bumped up a week this year, to steer clear of the Jewish holidays. Another change: The fest will now host all its cooking demos, as well as its marquee Grand Tasting event, in one place—Pier 57—where guests can stay and meander for the entire day, instead of having to sign up for individual sessions.
And then there are the newbie food events, which include Rock and Bowl, a bowling-themed tasting hosted by Anne Burrell; Fried, an artery-busting extravaganza with Tyler Florence; Brooklyn's Bounty, an Adam Richman–hosted shout-out to the borough's best; and a tribute dinner to Jacques Pepin.
We copped a quick chat with festival founder/guru/BFF-to-the-chefs Lee Schrager for a heads up on what's going down.
So, why Whoopi?
Rachel couldn't do it this year, mainly because we changed the dates of the festival. And Rachel religiously goes out of town one weekend every year for her wedding anniversary in Italy, and that was the week. We didn't want to ask another chef to do Burger Bash because we didn't want to take away from Rachel, and we thought of people that were really kind of New York. Somebody said to me, "Whoopi Goldberg," and I said, "Wow, she'd be amazing." It was a very quick response. Now we can have whoopie pies—it makes sense.
Give me five burger joints you'll require Whoopi to try to prep for the job.
Of course Shake Shack. The Burger Joint. P.J. Clarke's. JG Melon. And Bill's Burger. Wait, wait! We have to add in Lure [which] has one of my favorite burgers.
Does her contract include a supply of TUMS?
[Laughs] We're actually working with Pepto-Bismol as a sponsor, so it might be appropriate for this one. We are actually in conversations with Pepto. Whether it's gonna come about, I don't know. After some of these burgers or meatballs, after eating for hours, you don't need it because of the food; you need it because of how much food you ate.
Tell me about some of the new stuff at this year's fest.
Curtis Stone is doing the festival for the first time, he's doing a barbecue-and-blues event. We've created a new event for Adam Richman, which [includes] all these artisanal people from Brooklyn gathered in one place for one night. We're doing a Chinese wedding banquet at this traditional Chinese wedding hall.
And you're also consolidating a lot of events at Pier 57.
The Grand Tasting and the demos—we've wanted to do it for years but we couldn't find the space. In South Beach, when you bought a ticket for the [Grand Tasting], it included the demos. So now, it's one ticket—you could spend the entire day. There's not a morning session or an afternoon session. You can come at 11, leave at 6, and go to seminars all day and eat and drink when you want.
Will you raise the ticket price?
Yeah, clearly. It was $150 for the Grand Tasting last year, now it's $195. Now it's the entire day and includes everything.
And the ticket prices for the other events?
We haven't raised the pricing on anything [else] this year. Meatball Madness, SWEET…we've been very cautious. It's tough times, our tickets are not cheap, but we give incredible value, and you're supporting a good cause. [Proceeds from the fest benefit Food Bank NYC]
Adam Richman's hosting a tasting of Brooklyn eats.
We're doing it in collaboration—Edible Brooklyn is presenting the event. We went to them, because I figured who knows Brooklyn better than them?
Do you see the fest evolving to include more outer-borough events?
Listen, I wish we could do more in Brooklyn! We were looking at doing some other events in Brooklyn. It was just, really, ease and proximity, but I think in the years to come you'll see more events in Brooklyn and events in other boroughs, without a doubt.
Photo by Natasha Ryan