FROM LEFT: Rachael Ray and Bobby Flay at last year’s Blue Moon Burger Bash; selections from Certified Angus Beef’s prelude dinner. BELOW: Tom Colicchio; Katie Lee, Lee Schrager and Giada De Laurentiis at the 2009 Meatball Madness event
Lee Brian Schrager may just be the most connected foodie on the planet. His more than 7,000 BlackBerry contacts, including Ferran Adrià, Rachael Ray and Katie Lee (to name just a few), are a who’s who of the culinary world. As vice president of corporate communications and national events for Southern Wine & Spirits, Schrager has more than enough responsibilities to fill a day, but it’s his role as founder and director of the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival and its twin festival in South Beach that keeps the philanthropic media mogul in touch with his gourmet passion.
GOTHAM: With New York’s thousands of restaurants, how do you fit it all into four days?
LEE SCHRAGER: The NYC festival has about 120 events over the four-day period, taking place largely in the Meatpacking District, but also spanning the boroughs from Harlem to Brooklyn. We create events that are on the forefront of foodie culture, like Carts in the Parc hosted by Andrew Zimmerman, which pays homage to the city’s street-cart vendors, and Ultimate Sandwich Showdown with Tyler Florence.
New York is the second festival after South Beach. Is anything a staple of both?
They both have beneficiaries. Both festivals have a Burger Bash event that’s hosted by Rachael Ray, as well as a Grand Tasting event and a familyoriented event. But that’s about it. The NYC Festival has a program that’s specially designed for the city, and over the last few years it has developed its own staple events like Meatball Madness hosted by Giada De Laurentiis, Sweet, Chelsea Market After Dark and Meatpacking Uncorked.
With the festival in its third year, how do you come up with 120 unique events?
I like to tailor events for the talent who donate their time each year, like this year’s Tacos & Tequila Party hosted by Bobby Flay. This came out of a conversation Bobby and I had after the 2009 NYC Festival, and we knew it would be a huge hit.
Is there a synergy between the events and the locations?
Yes, definitely. We produce our family-oriented event, Fun and Fit in the City, at the Harlem Children’s Zone, and it’s very successful for the community. Brooklyn’s Cookin’ is a new event concept for the festival that showcases a variety of restaurants and the exploding dining scene there.
Who helps make it all come together?
We have many great partners, like our beneficiaries Food Bank for New York City and Share Our Strength, as well as Food Network. The Meatpacking District Initiative has gotten on board and produces a series of events called Meatpacking Local, presented by The Corcoran Group, which adds lots of flavor to the overall festival program.
The Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival takes place October 7–10; for tickets call 866-969-2933 or visit nycwineandfoodfestival.com.
By the Book
“I wanted to do something truly special to commemorate our 10th year; this cookbook has been in the works for several festivals now,” says Lee Schrager about the release of the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival Cookbook (Clarkson Potter), available November 16. Filled with recipes from the festival’s participants plus a slew of behind-the-scenes stories straight from the chefs, winemakers and other culinary talent, the cookbook will be launched in high style—in the Foodie Holiday window theme display of Barneys New York
“I’m thrilled and honored to work with Barneys’ creative director, Simon Doonan, on this year’s holiday window,” says Schrager. “Barneys’ holiday window displays are legendary—I’ve been following them for years—and this is a truly special project to be involved with. All proceeds from the book benefit Florida International University’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.”
To qualify for such a debut, the cookbook underwent rigorous, ahem, quality control. “The same dynamic-duo culinary team that has worked on SOBE since the beginning helped us test every recipe,” says Schrager. “Those in the book were prepared by the team to ensure that they could be made by anyone reading the book. And, of course, they were taste tested.” Barneys New York, 660 Madison Ave.; barneys.com