Off the Menu: Wine & Food Festival, Chocolate Tasting 101

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The chefs at the Wine & Food Festival media preview pose for a group photo
The chefs at the Wine & Food Festival media preview pose for a group photo

By Christopher Trela & Catherine Del Casale | NB Indy

We’ve been waiting for a dynamic food and wine event to replace the Taste of Newport, which ended its two-decade run in 2012.

The wait is over.

The inaugural Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival that comes to town Sept. 19 – 21 is not only replacing Taste of Newport, it aims to become a serious player in the Southern California food festival scene by bringing some of the best local and celebrity chefs to town for a three-day epicurean experience.

The Festival kicks off on Friday, Sept. 19 with a VIP launch party at RED O Restaurant hosted by Master Chef Rick Bayless.

On Saturday and Sunday, the Newport Beach Civic Center is the site of the all-day wine and food event that includes live cooking demos, cuisine from dozens offood wine 8 OC‘s best restaurants, sommelier panels, mixology courses, tastings from over 40 wineries, and live music.

The Festival ends on Sunday evening with a final party under the stars at Café Jardin at Sherman Library & Gardens.

We had a taste of the festival at a special media and VIP preview party at Sherman Gardens earlier this week, and came away impressed with the chefs, and the overall concept, of the Wine and Food Festival.

We sampled creative dishes from Festival chefs including Pascal Olhats of Cafe Jardin, Marc Johnson of OAK Grill, Imran Ali from Tamarind of London, Ashely Santo Domingo of 24 carrots, Scott Brandon of Fireside Tavern, Shirley Chung, of TWENTY EIGHT

Private Chef John Ledbetter, Jeffrey Lunak of Blue C Sushi, Bruno Massuger of Back Bay Bistro, Talia Zimmer of True Food Kitchen, Chris Tzorin of Tortilla Republic Laguna Beach, Meghan Nordtvedt of Wildfish Seafood Grille, and Rainer Schwarz of Driftwood Kitchen.

Chef Pascal Olhats and Chef Chris Tzorin
Chef Pascal Olhats and Chef Chris Tzorin

Also on hand were sommelier Jörn “Joey” Kleinhans of The Wine Elite, who is coordinating a daily sommelier panel, and Master Sommelier Michael Jordan (formerly of Napa Rose and The Ranch), who will also be at the Festival.

“I went around OC and brought together the best wine educators for a sommelier panel. They’ll blind taste wines with guests,” said Kleinhans. “We’ll share the insights of how sommeliers work, and participants can learn about wine in a couple of steps. Saturday we’ll be featuring California Gold, and Sunday is Old World versus New World.”

The Festival is being produced by NewBe Productions, LLC.

Stefanie Salem, President of NewBe Productions and founder of the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival, was born and raised in Southern California, and said she is a huge foodie.

“Food is my passion,” she stated. “I’m also excited to give back to the community through our Festival charity partners, Hoag Hospital Foundation’s Circle 1000wine food 10 and Project Hope Alliance.”

Kelly Jawor, senior vice president of business development of NewBe Productions, has been building the festival’s sponsor roster, culinary participants and charity partnerships.

Single day passes are $195. Weekend passes are $350. For more information, visit

LA Food & Wine Festival

Before Newport’s Wine and Food extravaganza comes another foodie fest: The Fourth Annual Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival, August 21 – 24 in Downtown Los Angeles. Over the course of four days (and three nights), the festival features myriad food and wine tastings, cooking demonstrations, culinary personalities, live entertainment and one-of-a-kind experiences.

We attended several of the festival events last year and were amazed by the creativity of the chefs and the overall fun ambiance, so you can bet we’re looking forward to returning this year to experience the Ultimate Bites of L.A., Friday’s Asian Night Market hosted by Iron Chef Morimoto, Lexus Live on Grand featuring Chef Michael Chiarello, the Lexus Grand Tasting, and more.

Grand Avenue next to Disney Hall is closed to traffic so festivalgoers can stroll the street and sample incredible cuisine and wine.

There are so many events over the Festival weekend that we don’t have room to mention them all, so visit the website for details and ticket info:

We’ll be reporting back soon on our Festival escapades.


Amy Jo Pedone
Amy Jo Pedone

Chocolate Workshop

Attention chocolate lovers! You may enjoy chocolate but how much do you know about the process of making fine chocolates, or the variety of chocolates available around the world?

Christopher recently took a Chocolate Tasting 101 class from Amy Jo Pedone, owner and chocolatier at Valenza Chocolate, and learned more than he expected about how chocolate gets from the ground to your mouth.

“Thanks to Amy Jo, who knows more about chocolate than anyone I know, I learned how chocolate is processed and made, and about the various types of chocolate,” said Christopher. “The opportunity to try eight different chocolates from milk to extra dark under the guidance of Amy Jo made me, and my palate, better appreciate the finer nuances of chocolate.”

Amy Jo is holding another Chocolate 101 class on Wednesday, August 20, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at The Hood Kitchen Space in Costa Mesa. The workshop is only $30 per person. You’ll learn how to engage your senses (touch, smell, sound, and taste) when tasting fine chocolate, you’ll sample eight single-bean origin, bean-to-bar chocolate tastings from all over the world, and you’ll get educational materials.

Reservations required due to limited seating (maximum of 18 “Chocoholics”). For more information, visit or call (949) 891-1206.

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