By Lil Nickelson
This year was my most interesting year at the New York City Wine & Food Festival (NYCWFF).
I spent time at the two Ultimate Grand Tasting events on Saturday, October 13th and Sunday, October 14th on Pier 94 located at 55th Street and 12th Avenue.That Saturday I assisted one of my clients, Charles Pan Fried Chicken, Inc. who was invited to participate in the festival this year. Charles Gabriel, the chef /owner of the restaurant has a small staff that he did not want to pull from the restaurant, so I recruited to friends who have the necessary food safety certificates to assist us. The friends were Joann Poe is the owner of NYC’s Best Dressed Cupcakes, LLC and Cherelle Cuthkelvin who runs her own private catering and personal chef business.
In this role I had to assist Charles by filling out forms requested with background information on the chef, his restaurant and his cuisine and by attending a walkthrough on the Thursday afternoon before the Grand Tasting weekend to see where his table was located and other pertinent information about loading in and exiting the day of the event.
The festival gave four complimentary tickets to the Thursday, October 11th evening event, Supper is Served, that was held on the rooftop of Pier 92 starting at 7 pm. The Rooftop tasting featured female celebrity chefs Tarana Burke, Giada De Laurentiis, Alex Guarnaschelli, Padma Lakshmi, Katie Lee, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Rachel Ray and Carla Hall as well as Harlem based chefs Melba Wilson, owner of Melba’s Restaurant and Vinateria Restaurant’s executive chef, Mimi Weissenborn. Despite it raining most of the afternoon that day we (the three volunteers for Saturday plus a photographer, Rudy Collins) had a delightful time. Martina McBride and Natasha Bedingfield performed and happy feet were dancing and prancing all up on that rooftop.
Saturday, October 13th was a hectic day for us at Charles Pan Fried Chicken, Inc.’s table. From the time we set up the station with food and over the next four hours there was a steady stream of people sampling Charles classic soul food dishes on fried chicken, baked macaroni and cheese and collard greens. The line didn’t end until we had run out of food. Charles served over 2,500 tastings to the delight of the people; some of whom came back for seconds and third tastings. He brought what he thought was an extra pan of chicken and even that went to his amazement.
About two weeks after the event Charles received an award from the James Beard Foundation that named him a semi-finalist in the Best Chef New York City category. He had me to make a copy of it that he wants to frame and hang in the store along with pictures of satisfied celebrity customers Whoopi Goldberg and Harlem resident Danny Glover. The original he asked me to laminate and it proudly hangs in the window of his restaurant located at 2461 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd on the corner of 132nd Street. God willing his catering business will expand to other sections of the city over the coming months.
On Sunday, October 14th I attended the festival in my normal role of food writer along with my photographer Rudy Collins. Analon cookware had long lines with their spin the wheel and you get free cookware display both days. The food was excellent, but one noticeable change was there were more alcohol purveyors than food vendors on Sunday than in past years and I didn’t see the tourism boards from Caribbean countries like I had in past years. I really didn’t get a chance to roam around on Saturday because we were so busy serving food.
It is named the wine and food festival and I also know it’s expensive to purchase food for restaurants to put out 2,500 tastings for an event. Restaurants should check with their tax preparers about declaring their food and travel expenses as a charitable deduction. Also, please note that 100% of the net proceeds collected by the festival go to the No Kid Hungry campaign and Food Bank for New York City, which has received $11 million through the 2017 festival. Hunger is real in America and these events help to give to America’s neediest; as the festival’s motto says, “EAT. DRINK. END HUNGER.”.
Photo credit: 1) Charles Gabriel. 2) Joann, Lil, Cherelle and Charles. 3-5) Rachel Ray, and others. 6) Melba. 7) Mimi 8) NYCWWF.