How New Food Festivals Can Stand Out—And Sell Out

AEG saw an opportunity to gather chefs in Los Angeles for two days of culinary programming.

By Alesandra Dubin April 14, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT

AEG's new All-Star Chef Classic included events held at "restaurant stadium," an intimate setup that allowed guests to view the program from multiple angles.

Photo: Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for AEG

Los Angeles is known for its diverse culinary culture and talent, so it's no surprise the landscape of food festivals and events is ever-changing, with regular new entries as well as fading stars. Amid the atmosphere of moving targets, a new entity made its entry onto the scene, seeing room in the calendar—and in the category. AEG’s All-Star Chef Classic took over L.A. Live March 22 and 23. Highlighting top chefs from around the country and across the world, the programming brought interactive experiences and demos, and high-end appliances by Fisher & Paykel, as well as events like a nighttime “Grill and Chill” program and a local farmers'-market-centric celebration.

The new festival came about after co-founders Krissy Lefebvre and Lucy Lean approached sports and entertainment company AEG with the ideas and secured the chefs. AEG then produced the event, working with 15/40 Productions to execute the design and production.

AEG Global Partnerships vice president of corporate sales Vanessa Shay said the company's decision to launch a new festival in town came from a desire to extend the company’s reach beyond sports and entertainment squarely into the lifestyle category—in particular, she said, because Los Angeles is such “a foodie town.”

L.A. Live vice president of events and sales Evelyn Taylor Carrion explained that the group chose the spring dates because they accommodated the chefs' schedules, as well as L.A. Live’s schedule—plus “it was an open date in the food festival and event world.”

The team also saw a market opportunity to host an event that centered on recognized chefs. “The focus for All-Star Chef Classic was on the caliber of award-winning and James Beard-nominated chefs and giving them the platform to do what they do best,” said Carrion. This positioned the new event in contrast with some other festivals and events that focus on more democratic street food or local cuisine fusions. And the formula worked: The inaugural event sold out quickly.

AEG indeed billed the All-Star Chef Classic as among the largest gatherings of the 2014 James Beard Foundation awards semifinalists, with more than 50 percent of its participating chefs nominees of the culinary organization's prestigious honors. That included Nancy Silverton, Providence's Michael Cimarusti, Naomi Pomeroy, WD-50's Wylie Dufrense, and Mélisse's Josiah Cirtrin.

Among the event’s signature production elements was its multisided “restaurant stadium” on the Event Deck, which put more than 250 fans close to the action in stadium seating. “The layout allowed the guests the intimacy of being right there with the chefs in the kitchen, but also allowed guests to view the action on the big screens, so they wouldn’t miss a moment of the excitement,” Carrion said. Providence co-owner Donato Poto was the restaurant stadium maître d.

As to the biggest challenge of launching the new festival? Organizers say it was the huge response the event received, due partly to promotional help from DineLA, which spread the word among the culinary community. “The only challenge is that the event sold out so quickly that we were unable to accommodate the demand for tickets,” Carrion said. “It was a wonderful surprise to see so many chefs from around the world come together and collaborate on the special menus for the events in restaurant stadium.”

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