It’s a common dilemma for planners of tasting events: Fill a room with chefs passing out their food and, while you’ll attract a swarm of hungry diners, you’ll also have a hard time getting their attention for any kind of formal announcement. For Food & Wine’s Best New Chef’s event, which honors a crop of top toques each year with a food-filled reception, the solution is simple—march a band through the mob. At least, that’s what the American Express title did for the event in 2007. The year before that, a Stomp-style group called Street Beats banged pots and pans while winding their way through the hundreds of attendees. In fact, since 2004 the magazine has employed a wide array of entertainers to draw the crowd’s attention and introduce the night’s honorees.
By and large, the recipe for this component of the event has mixed music with dance or movement, often with timely pop culture references. For instance, Food & Wine promotion manager Shanette Vega brought in a tracksuit-clad dance team to do a short routine to a mix of hip-hop and Broadway music in 2008. The troupe, dubbed Iconic, was featured on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew, which premiered just two months before the 800-person event at Espace. At the 2010 Mad Men-inspired iteration, it was a group of Vegas-style showgirls decked out in top hats and feather tails dancing on the edge of the pool to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” which morphed into Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.”
Another element that’s become something of a trademark for the party is the use of an unusual or new location. Food & Wine has gathered guests at the Beaux-Arts-style Surrogate’s Court building—a grand and elegant space popular for film and television shoots, but rarely used for events. It was the first to host an outing at the historic Battery Maritime Building after its $60 million restoration, and this year took over four floors of Bohemian National Hall, the Upper East Side home of the Consulate General of the Czech Republic.