Appetite: The masterminds behind SF Chefs.Food.Wine

Pub date August 25, 2009
SectionFood & Drink

By Virginia Miller of See her previous installment of Appetite here.

Re-capping SF Chefs.Food.Wine.: In conversation with Andrew Freeman and Dominic Phillips, masterminds behind the event

Andrew Freeman (left) & Kevin Westlye (bottom center) with the Mayor and friends Photo courtesy of Andrew Freeman & Co.

Imagine your favorite bartenders, chefs, and wineries under one massive tent in Union Square serving unlimited amounts of food and drink. Envision your favorite writers or TV personalities leading classes or cooking for a gala. Picture Grand Tastings where one never has to wait for a bite or a drink (a rarity, I know) and one can even talk to chefs, bartenders and winemakers while sampling their wares. Throw in evening parties (with DJs like Chef Hubert Keller) where music, food and drink flow into the night. Pack it all in to one weekend and you have an idea of what rollicking good time was had at SF Chefs.Food.Wine., which took place August 6-9.

Talking with the masterminds behind this event gave me a deeper appreciation for how smoothly this first year event ran. Without a clear vision, endless hours of planning and work by a team of dedicated experts, this would not have been the case. Two years in the making, SF Chefs.Food.Wine. was the first ever urban food and wine classic. Those who’ve been to other food and drink events know you often come away hungry from so-called "tastings", spending more time waiting for food to appear than eating it. Here, everyone stayed well fed, satiated and aglow. I talked to person after person who said they couldn’t wait to go again next year or that it was a better value than a number of cheaper (and less exciting) food events combined.

It takes a village to raise a child and a very strategic, well chosen village to create such a weekend. Kevin Westlye, the Executive Director of Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA), has long had a vision for a major event showcasing San Francisco as the world class food and drink city it is. To execute this vision, he gathered together a team par excellence. Capturing the energy and scope of our region and our local talent, the event showcases the Bay Area’s key place in the culinary world while maintaining a conscious focus on giving back, both in its green approach and to the charities benefiting from all ticket sales (Project Open Hand, Meals on Wheels, Feeding America, and Golden Gate Restaurant Association Scholarship Foundation).

Andrew Freeman and Co., the PR firm handling marketing and programming for the entire weekend, is a passionate group of individuals who assembled a schedule of no less than the best. Andrew and his team built a multi-day program from the ground up… as each name was added, interest grew, until eventually there wasn’t room to hold them all. Classic TV personalities like Martin Yan of Yan Can Cook, cooked dinners and led sessions along with current big names from Top Chef (Jamie Lauren) and Top Chef Masters (Michael Chiarello and Hubert Keller). Led by authorities in each area, classes covered subjects as broad as mixology trends, sommelier secrets, sushi, chocolate, tomatoes and so on. Participants consistently commented on how smooth things ran and the camaraderie felt by all involved. Andrew said the phrase he heard most about the event was: "It’s about time".

Dominic Phillips of Dominic Phillips Event Marketing. Photo by Justin Lewis

Dominic Phillips, of Dominic Phillips Event Marketing, took on the massive role of producing the event, handling logistics that could have easily gone so wrong without his hard-working team’s adept strategy. Dominic’s "ridiculous amount of planning" paid off with the use of 820 volunteers (‘compensated’ by being able to attend various sessions or tastings). A thoughtful layout placed tables at angles to keep the Grand Tasting tent feeling full but not crowded, spaced to avoid traffic jams or lines hovering for food (and thanks to the chefs, cooks and servers for keeping food fully supplied at all times!) His green approach was truly impressive with everything from the use of succulent plants rather than cut flowers, recycling all bottles and paper, donating wood signs to Habitat For Humanity and uneaten food to Food Runners following the event, with the goal of diverting at least 75% of the weekend’s waste from landfill.

In the capable hands of this stellar crew, an event that is a high price tag for some ($95-$150 for most events), ends up being well spent and worth saving up for. I’ve rarely seen a better one to splurge on, whether for an evening, day, or weekend. SF Chefs.Food.Wine. should easily gain its place among the great food and wine events in the nation, celebrating the Bay Area’s truly awesome culinary influence and community.