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Michael and Rick Mast, from left

Michael and Rick Mast, from left Phtograph: Imogen Brown

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A matter of taste

The first annual Wine & Food Festival is about to get cooking all over town. Will New Yorkers be satisfied with a Miami Beach import?

By Rebecca Flint Marx

Some 40,000 people flocked to this past February's South Beach Wine & Food Festival to get a glimpse—or taste—of what celebrity chefs had to offer. The seven-year-old Florida fiesta is one of the undisputed culinary events of the year, a four-day orgy of epicurean excess held in a land of golden sand and golden skin.

On October 9, the party is moving to New York. Like its older sibling, the first annual Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival will be a four-day juggernaut, with everyone from Rachael Ray and Bobby Flay to Alice Waters and Gordon Ramsay participating. Events are equally varied: a burger bash in Dumbo, neighborhood eating tours and New York Times--moderated panel discussions. (Wondering how to navigate all that? Play our game.) The festival's director, Lee Schrager, has had to maneuver through unforgiving traffic patterns, chilly Northeastern temperatures and nearly impenetrable tangles of red tape to bring the revelry here. But the most crucial test of his bravery? Us. City management may be difficult to satisfy, but it is nothing compared with the jaded appetites of the New York dining public.

We are not, we would like to believe, as easily impressed as, say, the sun-drunk, starry-eyed populace of Florida. Celebrity chefs? We can pick through ramps cheek by jowl with them every Wednesday morning at the Union Square Greenmarket. World-class dining? Available any day of the week. The Food Network? Just another building on Ninth Avenue. So the question is, why should we care?

"Coming from New York City, how often do you go to Adour?" Schrager rebuts, referring to the festival's $750-a-head, Ducasse-hosted dinner there on October 11. "How often do you get 40 great pastry chefs under one roof? How often do you get to sit down with Ferran Adri? I consider myself fairly jaded, and I can't wait," he says, perhaps a bit unsurprisingly.

Still, ticket sales bear out his absolute confidence in the idea that the public shares his excitement. Many of the festival's events, such as discussions with Nigella Lawson and Waters, are already sold out. Ditto the Adri--Anthony Bourdain--Eric Asimov panel. And, according to Schrager, who has been tracking the demographics of ticket buyers, 75 percent of those tickets are going to New Yorkers.

The trick of appealing to celebrity-chef--saturated New York was something that Schrager & Co. have been working on for the past two years. For him, much of the challenge is a function of location: Instead of being cooped up in, say, the Javits Center, he wanted to let the backdrop of the city "dictate the weekend." And given the numbers of meat enthusiasts who turned up for this summer's Madison Square Park BBQ blowout, it's not crazy to expect that we would welcome, for example, the chance to gorge on burgers underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. While plenty of us may enjoy a good round of Rachael Ray bashing, the fact that she'll be hosting the October 9 patty party isn't really the point. The bottom line may be, as Serious Eats blog founder and festival participant Ed Levine puts it, that "New Yorkers love good, honest, real food."

In other words, the surest way to our been-there-done-that hearts is through our stomachs. Which is something that any chef, celebrity or not, figured out a long time ago. "Let's not forget that a lot of the chefs on board, myself included, cut their teeth in New York," e-mails Tyler Florence, who will be giving two demonstrations during the festival. "So we know what we're up against."

The Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival is Oct 9--12 (nycwineandfoodfestival.com).

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