What is your idea of a grand weekend?
Let me suggest a possible scenario.
Imagine yourself indulging in mouth watering dishes from over 50 local restaurants while surrounded by hundreds of cheerful food lovers. Between tastings, you have the opportunity to witness live cooking demonstrations performed by professional chefs, try 80 wines / spirits or increase your culinary knowledge by attending seminars.
Sounds wonderful, right?
Well, that is exactly how I spent my weekend at the 4th annual Food & Wine Festival Palm Desert™.
The festival, organized by Palm Springs Life (magazine), was a celebration of the culinary sophistication existing in the Coachella Valley area (Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, La Quinta, etc.). In addition, chefs from around the country contributed their expertise to the educational purpose of the event.
The celebration took place in what is known as the ‘Big White Tent’ on the intersection of Larkspur Lane and El Paseo (Palm Desert’s premier shopping area often compared to Beverly Hills).
The festival began with a James Beard 4-course gourmet luncheon (Friday) and continued with ‘Grand Tastings’ (Saturday and Sunday).
Here is a comprehensive review of what happened during the weekend.
Saturday’s Grand Tasting (California Dreamin’)
My food festival experience started on Saturday with the Grand Tasting. Everything I tasted was flavorful (beyond flavorful I should say) and fresh. Now, I am a fan of braised short ribs and ahi tartare.
The atmosphere was jovial due to the well curated musical selection, the friendly restaurant representatives and the brightness of fellow attendees.
Here is a sample of what we had.
Caramel popcorn and chocolate toffee bar from Brandini Toffee
Braised Short Ribs and Cheese Polenta from Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar
Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar also had Pea Soup and Blue Crab samples
Falafel from Clementine Gourmet Marketplace and Café
Lamb Meatballs with Tahini Hummus from Figue Mediterranean
Pretzel and Ciabatta Breads from Sadie Rose Bread Co.
Chicken Osso Buco served over Slaw from Babe’s Bar-B-Que
Sushi and Fish Ceviche from The Venue Sushi Bar
Steak and Smoked Gouda Macaroni and Cheese from Sullivan’s Steakhouse
Ahi Tartare over Wonton from Matchbox
Variety of Sushi Rolls from Mikado Japanese Steakhouse
Shrimp Ceviche from The Yard House
Salmon Lomi Lomi from Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine
Later, the guys from Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine were serving Rock Shrimp Tempura
Octopus with Potatoes and Lemon from Tinto
Sauteed Wild Mushrooms from Lantana
Dates with Blue Cheese and Almonds from Cork & Fork
Braised Short Ribs topped with Almonds and Cranberries served with a Red Pepper Sauce from Alex Reznik’s cooking demonstration
Sunday’s Grand Tasting (Brunch, Bubbles and Brews)
The food frenzy continued on Sunday with the second Grand Tasting.
There was a lot of overlapping in terms of restaurants present the two days (about 40%). The restaurants that repeated on Sunday presented the same quality of food as the day before.
On the contrary, I feel like the food handed by some of the restaurants, in attendance Sunday only, had some flaws. There were too salty, unflavored and bland samples. Some flavor combinations didn’t work for me. Moreover, I saw a lot of emphasis on desserts on Sunday. I am not sure if most attendees are interested in the sweet side of things (I prefer the savory stuff).
Here is a sample of what we had.
Pork Loin over sweet potato mash (served with chimichurri) from Rockwood Grill
The Rockwood Grill had also desert on offer. They presented a Panna Cotta with Cherry Sauce.
Octopus in Edamame and Lemon Sauce from Mister Parker’s. They also presented a Panna Cotta topped with Passion Fruit and Cashew Brittle
Ahi Poke from TRIO
Fresh Potato Chips with House Ranch from TRIO
Caper and dill deviled egg from Purple Room
Octopus and Fish in Tomato Sauce from Catalan Mediterranean Cuisine
Bison with tomato gelee, pumpkin seeds and pumpkin fried bread from Dish Creative Cuisine
Korean Bar-B-Que Short Rib with Rice from Roy Choi’s cooking demonstration
There were 24 chef demonstrations. I am not a big fan of this part of food festivals since I have a short attention span. However, I watched some of the demonstrations and have to admit I learn several things. People sitting thru the entire demonstrations seemed satisfied, samples were given at the end and chefs looked very approachable.
Of course, the show was stole on Sunday by Roy Choi (of Kogi food truck fame). He gave a cool demonstration on how to prepare beef using a Korean Bar-B-Que marinade. A huge crowd gathered while he was speaking and, well, I surrendered to the ‘pressure ‘ by posing for a photo with him.
In my opinion, this is one of the areas that need improvement. People interested on the seminars have to pay an extra $25 on top of the Grand Tasting fee.
Of the eight seminars, I witnessed two of them (did not fully participate since I had a media pass). One of the seminars consisted of two tastings while a person talked for 15 minutes. I do not believe this commands a price of $25.
Another seminar was apparently sold out and two ladies who had bought tickets were told there was no space for them. There was space to seat but it looks like the volunteers didn’t want to prepare the set up required for the seminar.
There were several vendors offering goods such as books, sweets and handicrafts. However, the vast majority of the room space was dedicated to food and drinks.
The venue consisted of two big white tents separated by an open air patio. The decoration was tasteful and bright. There was a good balance of open spaces, areas to sit and tables to place food while eating. Everything was very clean and the staff was eager to respond questions. It was hot and stuffy inside the bigger tent but, being in the desert, there is not much that can be done (plus people were having a good time anyway).
If you enjoy food, this event is the right place for you. The organizers did a fantastic job and expectations were exceeded.
- For maximum enjoyment, visit on Saturday. Don’t quote me on this but I believe maximum effort is spent on this day since organizers know this is when crowds gather.
- If you want to avoid the big crowds, go on Sunday.
- Deal with hot weather by wearing light clothes.
- Take a backpack or big bag to save all the promotional materials and goods given by the sponsors.
- There is free parking right in front of the venue.
Have you experienced a food festival?
Disclosure: I attended the event with a media pass. However, all the opinions expressed here, as always, are my own.