ast year, Donna Covrett, former Cincinnati Magazine dining editor, and Courtney Tsitouris, a food writer, designer and producer, launched the inaugural Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic, a three-day event designed to, as they say, “capture the energy and enthusiasm of the Midwest’s dynamic food and beverage scene.” In other words, it was three days of drinking, feasting, brunching and learning in Washington Park.
The event was a huge success, by all accounts, with more than 2,000 people in attendance from the Midwest and as far away as California. So the Classic is returning this weekend with a collection of more than 100 nationally recognized chefs, brewers, sommeliers, artisans and food personalities — Esquire magazine’s alcohol expert David Wondrich, food writer Keith Pandolfi (Saveur, Eater) and familiar local favorites like Jean-Robert de Cavel, Daniel Wright and Jose Salazar, to name a few.
“Guests get to interact, taste and learn,” Tsitouris says. “If Bravo, Top Chef and The Food Network got together and had a Cincinnati baby, it would be this event.”
“Cincinnati — as well as many similar mid-sized cities in the Midwest — is experiencing an incredible growth period, and the culinary communities are often a reflection of that growth,” Tsitouris continues. “We are working (to) grow Cincinnati into a dining destination.”
Set primarily in and around Washington Park, the event also highlights Over-the-Rhine — the “heartbeat of the city,” as the duo calls it.“I love watching how the visiting chefs and writers embrace our city,” Covrett says. “But even more so, I absolutely love seeing all these people gather together in one huge setting to celebrate chefs, food artisans, wine wonks and brewers. It’s like, ‘Table for 2,000, please.’ ”
What sets the Classic apart from other culinary fests locally is the educational programming. Covrett and Tsitouris’ team build two fully functional kitchens in Washington Park to use for competitions, demos and seminars, featuring everything from lessons in farm-to-table brunching to an educational coffee tasting and how to drink like a Belgian with Taste of Belgium’s Jean-Francois Flechet.
The ticketing model is festival-style, so instead of paying for each tasting or glass of wine, once you’re in the door ($100-$395 VIP), everything is included. “There is no culinary event with a better value,” Covrett says.
New This Year
Additional Programming: “The biggest one is that we added a day to include Sunday programming,” Covrett says. Sunday Savor features a full day of events, including a goetta smackdown competition, craft beer tasting seminar, vegan pantry basics with Dan Korman of Park + Vine and a Master Mixology competition hosted by Molly Wellmann.
Four Grand Tastings: The four signature grand tastings are two Day Markets, a curated epicurean stroll through the park, Pork Chopped (see below for details) and Feast in the Park, a 30-course prepared dinner party from top Midwestern chefs.
More Vegetarian Choices: “We received feedback from guests last year that there weren’t enough vegetarian options, so we’ve created a ‘clean eating’ section on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. utilizing Washington Park’s concession stand,” Covrett says. “It features vegan, gluten-free, plant-based and raw-food chefs.”
Pork Chopped (6:30-9:30 p.m. Friday): “Pork Chopped is the kickoff party and is both a grand tasting and live competition rolled into one,” Tsitouris says. “The all-star lineup of 30 local, regional and national chefs will compete for the best pork-inspired dishes in a live judging by national food writers from Bon Appétit, Fine Cooking, Saveur and Wall Street Journal. Guests will enjoy all 30 dishes paired with 20 boutique wines and brews, and some honky-tonkin’ music from Straw Boss.”
The Hunger Games (12:15-1:15 p.m. Saturday): Three local chefs compete in a timed skills contest for prize money for their chosen charity.
Noodle Kids (2-2:45 p.m. Saturday): 2015 James Beard Award winner for the Midwest Jonathon Sawyer leads a demo about how to cook with kids, featuring his 10-year-old son as sous chef.
Somm Slam (2:45-3:45 p.m. Saturday): Five local wine experts go palate-to-palate in a blind tasting. Bonus: The seated audience matches their own buds against the experts.
The German-American Art of the Cocktail with David Wondrich (3:15-4 p.m. Saturday): “We expect standing room-only,” Covrett says. “Dave is a really big deal and is often credited for reviving the craft cocktail movement in the United States. Every serious bartender owns a copy of Dave’s book, Imbibe. He’s participating in two ways: as a judge for the Master Mixologist competition on Sunday, and in his own seminar.”
The CINCINNATI FOOD + WINE CLASSIC takes over Washington Park Friday-Sunday. More info: cincinnatifoodandwineclassic.com.