Celebrity chef Ric Orlando will be among several decorated chef from the area and New York City to showcase their skills at the Saratoga Food and Wine Festival at SPAC.
Food, and the culinary masters behind creating the meal, takes center stage at the 2015 Annual Saratoga Wine and Food Festival.
No. That’s not hyperbole. They actually cook right there in front of an audience at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), and will do so this weekend from Friday, Sept. 11 to Sunday, Sept. 13.
The notion of food preparation being a performance art is not all too foreign a concept to people today, with the popularity of Food Network’s “Chopped,” and “Healthy Appetite,” and Spike TV’s “Frankenfood.” Celebrity chefs Ellie Krieger and Josh Capon, respectively of the latter two shows are to headline this weekend’s event. Nonetheless, the phenomenon that is the “celebrity chef” is still fairly young.
“I’m old,” said Ric Orlando, executive chef to New World Home Cooking Co., New World Catering, and New World Bistro Bar. “When I started there was no such thing as celebrity chefs.” Orlando, now a celebrity chef in his own right with three national television appearances on Chopped, as well as his own regular local broadcasts. Since he started thirty years ago, he’s established himself as a major player in the local restaurateur business, and doing so while promoting local produce. But, before cable television, famous chefs rarely appeared beyond the cover of a cookbook.
The Saratoga Wine and Food Festival is SPAC’s primary fundraiser for its educational programming, including Classical Kids, a collaborative program in which SPAC works with local schools to teach elementary and middle school aged children about the classical performing arts. SPAC both designs and teaches dance and music curriculums that educate young students about the compositions and arts organizations presented at SPAC. Following classroom studies, SPAC hosts students at a summertime performance of the work that they studied. Graduates of Classical Kids receive two free tickets to a SPAC classical performance annually until they graduate from high school.
The emergence of cable stations dedicated to the culinary arts has helped the general consumer develop a more sophisticated pallet over the years, said Orlando.
“The media infiltration has changed everything,” said Orlando, When I came to Albany in 1989, I had to make special orders for cilantro and basil. The network just didn’t exist.” Even ten years ago, he said, foods people would have turned their noses up to like yams, kale and Brussel sprouts, are now popular menu items. The latter of which is served as an appetizer at New World Bistro Bar.
“It’s pretty cool that people just eat,” he said. Orlando said he takes an altruistic approach to preparing his menus, taking chances by challenging diners with his creations. “If you challenge people to think, those who do think will be your customers forever.”
The weekend’s first main event kicks off Friday at 7 p.m. with a challenge among chefs. Fired Up! is a grill competition that pits five Capital District chefs against five from New York City.
As a New Yorker, born and raised, Chef Admir Alibasic doesn’t shy away from competition. He grew up playing football, but his passion is food. He worked his way up the chain at Ben & Jack’s Steakhouse on 5th Avenue, from washing dishes as a high school student, to the executive chef. Working under the shadow of the Empire State Building poses a challenge in and of itself.
Frank Sinatra crooned, “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere,” about New York City. It speaks of a city that demands the best. “Nothing is handed to you,” he said about life opportunities. “It’s a dog eat dog world out there and you have to show people why you’re the best. You have to show why you continue to be the best.”
Alibasic will be among the chef competing in Fired Up! and said he’s “looking forward to bringing that Brooklyn-attitude up there.”
The Grand Tasting Package (one ticket to Fired Up!, Grand Tasting, and Jazz Brunch): $210 VIP Grand Tasting Package (one ticket to Fired Up!, VIP Grand Tasting, and Jazz Brunch): $285
Tickets to the festival and more information about the complete festival schedule are available at spac.org; by calling 584-9330; or in person at the SPAC Box Office.
The list of festivities are as follows:
FIRED UP! GRILL COMPETITION: Friday, Sept. 11, 7 to 10 p.m.
At Fired UP! Presented by Stella Artois and Certified Angus Beef Grill Competition, the kick-off event to the weekend’s events at SPAC, five chefs from the Capital District’s finest restaurants will compete against five New York City grill masters. Local chefs will represent favorite area restaurants: Angelo’s 677 Prime; Druthers Brewing Company; Hattie’s; Henry Street Taproom; and Mingle Saratoga. New York City chefs come to Saratoga from famed restaurants: Ben & Jack’s Steakhouse; Black Iron Burger; Dukes Original Roadhouse; and Milk Burger. While watching the competition, guests will also enjoy great music, gourmet food, BBQ, a cold refreshing Stella Artois, wines and spirits. Ultimately, guests will sample the inventive grill-off creations, helping judges to name the 2015 Saratoga Grill Master.
GRAND TASTING AND CONCOURS D’ELEGANCE: Saturday, Sept. 12, 12 to 4 p.m.
Saturday’s Grand Tasting and Concours D’Elegance event is centered on unparalleled wines, spirits, local foods, and the region’s top restaurants. All guests will have the opportunity to savor exquisite foods created by more than 30 chefs in the Capital District; a live auction, a mystery wall, and cocktails, wine and beer.
In addition, The Saratoga Automobile Museum will present a show of luxury collector cars including classes of Shelby Cobra, Alfa Romeo, Porsche, Lancia, Maserati, Ferrari, Lamborghini, among others.
Highlighting the afternoon will be culinary demonstrations by Ellie Krieger, Ric Orlando, and Zak Pelaccio, followed by a book signing with Ellie Krieger.
ADIRONDACK ROAD TOUR & GOURMET LUNCHEON: Friday, Sept. 11, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
This spirited one-and-a-half hour, professionally-led road rally for auto collectors winds through beautiful Adirondack roads to finish at the historic Lake George Club, where a gourmet lunch includes library-quality wines and imported fine foods.
IN THE GROOVE JAZZ BRUNCH | Sunday, Sept. 13, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
This Sunday Brunch features gourmet offerings from six of Mazzone Hospitality’s finest restaurants in Saratoga National’s idyllic setting. Live jazz, culinary delights, delectable Mimosas, Bloody Marys, Old Fashioneds, and the Best in Show Auto Awards highlight the event.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.