SF Chefs year three starts this Monday, an event that has become San Francisco's biggest food and drink showcase – our "food and wine classic", if you will -- utilizing much of the Bay Area's best talent. (You can check out my coverage of the event from last year here).
The event takes over Union Square for a week with events, classes, grand tastings, and nightly parties. There's something magical about a tented Union Square, especially with the cable cars gliding by and tourists casually wondering what kind of fun is going on. After hours of tastings and music, one can walk to afterparties atop the Westin or other nearby locales, taking in the city lights until the wee hours with dancing and yes, more impeccable food and drink.
But with a week full of events, how does one begin to choose what to attend? I have covered a lot of ground every year I've attended and have some specific advice on what to make sure you don't miss, depending on your preferences. Oh, and don't forget to allow your stomach some recovery time.
If you're a cocktail hound or celebrity chef follower
Don't miss Friday night's opening celebration and grand tasting (6:30-10 p.m.). Sure, the chef line-up is impressive. Everyone from Michael Mina to Tyler Florence will be there serving creative tastes of their food. There will be more food than you'll ever be able to fit in one stomach, especially if you attempt to sample from the over 35 chefs who'll be there.
On the cocktail front, you'll work double-time to keep up with the amazing bartenders and bars represented as they shake up special event cocktails. There's fine bartenders at many SF Chefs events, but Friday night particularly showcases a larger number of our city's best bars in one place.
There's also plenty of wine, beer, and spirits. You won't suffer from choices. Chef Joey Altman and the Soul Peppers provide the live blues backdrop. Oh, did I mention that all tastes are unlimited with price of admission? That way you can keep going back for your favorites, if you do happen to pack stomach No. 2.
If you want all this -- and dancing too
Saturday night is another big shindig in "Union Square: Decadence After Dark" (7-10:30pm), again with over 35 chefs plus spirits, wine, beer, cocktails. Again, all unlimited. There will be dancing (if you're still mobile) along with eats from chefs like David Bazirgan of Fifth Floor and Thomas McNaughton of flour + water.
Save room for the after parties. Friday night's mayhem happens 10 p.m.-1 a.m. in private rooms at the City Club. With sponsors like Cigar Aficionado and Wente Vineyards, there's cigars given out and Wente wines flowing along with cocktails, beer, chocolates, coffee, caviar, oysters, and desserts from Pastry Chef Leena Hung (The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards). Best of all, Hubert Keller will be stationed at the turntable. That man does everything.
Saturday night offers a second afterparty option, this one hosted by Top Chef All-Stars winner Richard Blais and SF-based Skyy Spirits, the latter of whose portfolio includes beloved classics Campari and Wild Turkey, as well as the delightful Espolon Tequila. Chef Blais heads up a team of former Top Chef contestants (Fabio Viviani, Jen Biesty, Marisa Churchill, Mattin Noblia, Ryan Scott) for bites to go with cocktail creations by the Bon Vivants. There's even more food from Dennis Lee (Namu) and Ryan Farr (4505 Meats) and music from Hot Pocket – a quintet comprised of members of the Best of the Bay winning group Bayonics – and DJ Dojah so you can dance it all off.
If you want demos, classes, and unlimited tastings
There's individual classes during the week, but for a full feast included, hit up the grand tasting tent all afternoon Saturday or Sunday. Both days feature food from over 30 big-name chefs like Hubert Keller and Elizabeth Faulkner. But there's also ongoing demos from chefs like Martin Yan, NY's Cesare Casella, Fabio Viviani, and Gary Danko, while cocktail experts such as H. Joseph Ehrmann and Charlotte Voisey school you on spirits and cocktails. Watch for a Negroni cart where top bartenders will mix you a classic negroni, a sbagliato (basically a sparkling negroni... with prosecco), or a negroni variation of your choice (even better, Campari is donating $200 per hour the cart is in operation to support USBG's Bartenders Relief Fund).
If you want to get up close and personal
Choose from an array of classes, demos and meals taking place in the Westin for a more intimate focus than you'll get in bustling Union Square during the Grand Tasting Tent and evening parties. You could watch Chris Cosentino (Incanto) and Elizabeth Falkner (Citizen Cake & Orson) take on Dominique Crenn (Atelier Crenn) and Russell Jackson (Lafitte) in a chef's challenge. Maybe you want to attend a demo with Tyler Florence, a bartender's cocktail breakfast, a Wine Spectator pinot noir panel, “Secrets of the Sommeliers” with Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay, or a family cooking demo led by chefs Michael Mina, Craig Stoll (Delfina), Gerald Hirigoyen (Piperade), and their kids.
Another winning night last year was Thursday's 'Sugar and Spice" party. Smaller than Union Square events, tastes cover palate extremes, while cocktails from key bartenders and local wineries are featured. The line-up is strong (including Hoss Zaré of Zaré at Flytrap and Mourad Lahlou of Aziza), but it's manageable and memorable in the stunning mezzanine ballroom of the Westin.
Various SF venues
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