From weekend festivals in the heart of Texas to lavish extravaganzas at luxury hotels in Las Vegas, every epicurean event has its own unique flavor. But no matter the differences in setting or ingredients for each place, all of them have one thing in common — a roster of savory-sounding events cooked with just the right amount of local flair. Here are five must-try food festivals happening this spring:
Every two years for the last quarter of a century, Charlotte has hosted this food and wine festival, raising more than $4 million for area charities. Calling it a weekend, though, is a bit of an understatement since this festival runs over five days with more than 30 events, from wine tastings to private in-home dinners. On April 24, top chefs from 19 restaurants — chef Marc Collins from Charleston’s Four-Star Circa 1886 is one of the participants we’re excited about — will be paired with notable vintners from around the world to put on Charlotte’s Largest Dinner Party simultaneously at dining establishments around the city. The Grand Gala rounds out the action with a live auction featuring rare vintages and one-of-a-kind tastings. This year, you can even bid on a private dinner party with ex-NBA stars Mike Gminski and Charles Barkley, tickets to a Yankees-Red Sox game and VIP passes to June’s U.S. Open in Pinehurst, N.C. April 22-26
Where To Stay: Four-Star The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte, located in the heart of Uptown, will host the festival’s Grand Gala and Live Auction. The Ritz also has special room rates for guests coming to town for the foodie fun. Indulge at the property’s Bar Cocoa, a decadent dessert boutique and cooking lab with a sidewalk terrace, or relax at the Four-Star, two-story penthouse The Spa & Wellness Center with a Wi-Fi-enabled Aqua Lounge. The property is green, too, complete with two beehives on the rooftop garden, a vegetated roof and complimentary bicycle usage.
This celebration in Texas’ capital city lives up to the state’s reputation: It’s big, it’s bold and it doesn’t hold back. The three-day event features food, wine, cocktails and music — all with a Lone Star State spin. We’re talking barbecue and bubbly, and tacos and tequila. There will be hands-on grilling demos, professional panel discussion and tastings — sign us up for Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker Graham Elliot’s So Fresh and So Spring, Spring presentation — alongside the fest’s big events, such as the Taste of Texas (chefs from around the state serve up signature samples) and the Rock Your Taco showdown. A new addition is the Feast Under the Stars that includes a lineup of chefs putting together a five-course, family-style alfresco feast in Austin’s Butler Park. April 25-27
Where To Stay: Less than two miles away from Butler Park is The Driskill Hotel. Opened in 1886, it’s a beloved historic landmark right in the heart of downtown Austin, conveniently located near the Texas State Capitol, the convention center, the opera, the symphony, shops, restaurants and Austin’s Sixth Street music scene. (There are more than 200 music venues in Austin, many of which are within walking distance of the hotel.)
Big Island Chocolate Fest, Kohala, Hawaii
Not many people know that Hawaii grows its own chocolate. For the third year, the Big Island Chocolate Fest will showcase local cacao in a two-day event that will spotlight chocolate demonstrations, hands-on seminars and culinary competitions (Food Network’s Jacques Torres is a judge). Rounding out the festival will be a gala on May 3 featuring chocolate-infused cuisine created by top area chefs, wine pairings, dancing and a silent auction. Proceeds benefit local schools. May 2-3
Where To Stay: Why venture far? Host hotel The Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii is offering the Chocolate Lovers package (a two-night stay, breakfast and tickets to all festival functions) for foodies. All 540 rooms and suites at this luxurious resort boast a private lanai that overlooks gardens or opens to the Kohala Coast. The property sprawls over 32 majestic acres that include a white sand lagoon, six restaurants and a world-class spa with waterfront massage cabanas.
In its eighth year, this food event is almost like a culinary rock concert with kitchen superstars such as Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis, Mario Batali, Nobu Matsuhisa and Tastemaker Thomas Keller in the festival lineup. The four-day foodie forum showcases dinners, cooking demos and wine workshops. There’s a night market on May 8 at Four-Star The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino featuring Asian-inspired dishes and drinks. May 9’s Grand Tasting will take place at the dramatic five-acre Garden of the Gods Pool Oasis at Caesars Palace, with a menu from more than 50 noted chefs that will be accompanied by more than 100 of the finest wines and spirits from around the world. The Four-Star Bellagio gets in on the culinary fun on May 10 with Fire and Ice: A Flame-Grilled Feast Over Cool Cocktails, a showcase of Sensi chef Royden Ellamar’s live-fire cooking techniques next to mixologist extraordinaire Ricardo Murcia’s inventive drinks. May 8-11
Where to Stay: Reserve a suite at one of the festival’s host hotels, the Five-Star ARIA Sky Suites, a chic property within the ARIA Resort & Casino complex on the Strip. Features here include a private VIP entrance and elevators, and lavish residential-style accommodations that boast full living rooms and a dining area that sprawls over 1,000 square feet for one-bedroom suites and 2,060 square feet for its two-bedroom penthouse. But you won’t be staying in your suites much, considering the resort has 17 restaurants, a nightclub, a Cirque du Soleil theater and casino.
The fourth annual gastronomic extravaganza is prepping to take over Midtown Atlanta. Some of the South’s top toques and mixologists will host cooking and cocktail demos, panel discussions, intimate dinners, seminars and tasting tents. Though the talent for the latter highlight (which includes more than 100 chefs) hasn’t been announced yet, we do know that well-respected chefs such as Tastemaker Ford Fry of JCT. Kitchen & Bar in Atlanta, Hugo Ortega of Hugo’s in Houston and Tyler Brown of Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Capitol Grille in Nashville will be among the stars hosting dinners. You also can take part in a variety of classes ranging from wines of Portugal to cooking catfish. May 29-June 1
Where to Stay: The official host hotel of the culinary weekend is the Four-Star Loews Atlanta Hotel. Situated in the heart of Midtown, this sophisticated spot is home to the seminars, panel discussions and demos throughout AFWF, and it’s a short walk from the welcome center and tasting tents.
Photos Courtesy of Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, The Driskill Hotel and MGM Resorts International