LESSONS LEARNED: San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival

This year is the first year I have attended the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, which I found to be pretty much everything I love rolled into one: my hometown, wine, and food. The largest food and wine festival in Southern California, the festival spans an entire week and this year was the 10th anniversary. Needless to say, I was a giddy girl heading off to the first event SWISH: Serious Sips & Urban Eats, a.k.a. the battle over best burger in San Diego.

Lesson 1: Not all restaurants in touristy areas (like San Diego’s Gaslamp) suck and are overstated.

I live in downtown San Diego and as a native, I tend to steer away from restaurants in the more touristy parts of town, chalking them up to higher priced meals without matching a higher quality. So on the night of the burger battle, I was surprised to discover that the best burger in town located right in the thick of it. Barleymash Chef, Kevin Templeton, shut this girl up with his winning burger called The Champ.

Lesson 2: A burger is just as good as a dessert.

Local caterer, Indulchi surprised the taste buds by topping their burger with sweet strawberries and brie cheese, served between cocoa-y/berry Mexican donuts of sorts. Sound weird? Maybe, but I think I just may offer strawberries as topping on my next homemade burger!

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Lesson 3: I can be a chef and not just a cook.

Joining the Italian Master Class led by business partners Suzette Gresham and Giancarlo Paterlini of Acquerello in San Francisco, really had me geeking out. For instance, did you know that you can boil parmesan rind to make a soup stock? Or that you can easily make herb infused oils for your own cooking use by blending olive oil and herbs in a regular old blender? (Just make sure to store it in the fridge.)

The festival culminates with The Grand Tasting, an afternoon that has all festival participants sharing their tasty treats and sensuous sips. While restaurants competed for best chef, amazing cooking demonstrations and celebrity chef cookbook signings took place with beautiful San Diego Bay as a shimmering backdrop. I discovered vineyard estates in Baja that just may be the next best vacation stop for winos like me. Die-hard bacon lovers may faint, but I was really pleased to see there was a decent population of chefs who refrained from giving way to pork belly and instead played up pastrami, duck skin, and scallops in their dishes. 2014 just may be the year to end the pork belly and bacon craze and instead embrace the softness  of other flavorful meats.

I’d love to hear about food trends in your city or what festival is poppin’ off in your town. Tell me all about it in the comment section below!