What's not to love about the words "food festival"? If you want to give us fabulous food and a huge party all in one, we'll take it. But food fests don't always live up to the hype. These five here totally do, and they're happening all around North America and the Caribbean this fall—so if you live stateside there's one within a few hours by car or plane. Many combine great hotel packages with superstar chefs and celebs, and each destination has something spectacular to offer beyond the food, from natural wonders to historic sites to super-cool local hangouts.
New York City Wine & Food Festival
October 13 – 16
In nine years, this festival has managed to raise a staggering $9.5 million for both the Food Bank for New York City and No Kid Hungry organizations. The event takes place on a “culinary campus” that sets up on Pier 92 and Pier 94 in Manhattan, giving you gorgeous views out over the water as you sample and learn. More than 350 participating chefs host 90 events scattered around Manhattan and Brooklyn, from a Nordic breakfast with Noma's Claus Meyer to an Italian dinner with Giada DeLaurentiis. You can rub elbows with your culinary heroes—from Mario Batali to Ted Allen and more—and meet a few Hollywood and music celebrities while you're at it. Sign up for the newest event, Broadway Tastes, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka, and rumor has it that Whoopie Goldberg, Patti LaBelle and Valerie Bertinelli are also on the event calendar. For Andrew Zimmern fans, the adventurous eater captured his good times here last year. Find a participating hotel via this link, too.
The Kitchner Waterloo Oktoberfest in Ontario, Canada
October 7 – 15
Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest can be found in the tri-cities of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge just an hour away from Toronto. The events – from pop-up secret parties to 5,000-person beer hall tastings – occur all over. One favorite is the 120-float Thanksgiving Day Parade, on October 10th. The website has a handy 10 Things You Should Do tab here, but those savvy with social media will really excel at this festival. Seek out the hilarious mascots, Onkel Hans and Tante Frieda, and take a Hansie. The best hashtag photos on Instagram and Twitter can win prizes and access free tickets. The Kitchener-Waterloo area is also gorgeous this time of year. Technicolor foliage sets a backdrop for a round of championship golf at the Deer Ridge Club in Kitchener or for strolling the hundreds of vendors at the year-round farmer’s market in Waterloo, with bouncy castles, a petting zoo and trolley rides for kids.
Hawaii Food & Wine Festival
October 14 – 30
Two James Beard Award winners founded this non-profit festival, which celebrates the flavors of the island chain and focuses on sustainability and responsible fishing practices. The festival is held over a two-week period, on three different islands. This year, it’s Oahu, Hawaii Island and Maui, with fabulous hotels getting in on the action. Visitors should expect to fill up on traditional and modern Hawaiian recipes, with a plethora of beachside bonfire dining experiences, and to meet national as well as local chefs. The impressive 2016 talent lineup includes Hugh Acheson, Michelle Bernstein, Richard Blais, Floyd Cardoz, Jose Garces, and Ravi Kapur, to name just a few. We love this video from last year’s Moscow Mule pairing lunch at the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort and Villas. A minty, fresh cocktail in paradise? Yes please.
American Royal BBQ in Kansas City, KS
October 26 – 30
Congratulations, America. You are home to the largest BBQ festival in the world. Get thee to KC this fall for the largest yet: This year the fête of pork, which started in 1899, moves to a new home at the Kansas City Speedway. More than 600 teams will set up and compete, with eight countries represented and more than 60,000 people in attendance. Take a moment to chat with competitors as they plate up the BBQ. This event represents the grand finale of the contestants' year on what's known as the BBQ Circuit, in which they compete in event after event to qualify for this championship.
Given the size of this event, you can expect concerts and even rodeos flanking the weeks before and after. Make sure to step outside the festival’s boundaries too. Kansas City has exploded on the culinary scene over the last decade. You’d be wise to hit up the menus of the city’s three James Beard semi-finalists or check out the acclaimed cocktail skills of Ryan Maybee at his bar, Manifesto.
The Dorado Beach Culinary Getaway in Puerto Rico
November 3 – 6
There are a thousand reasons why Dorado Beach is an appealing resort for those visiting Puerto Rico. It’s a Ritz-Carlton Reserve property (Think: everything you love about Ritz-Carlton, but smaller and more private) situated on the Caribbean coast of the island, with 1,400 acres of preserved sanctuary land. The spa alone takes up five full acres, and the Mi Casa restaurant was designed by Chef José Andrés. The weekend is filled with intimate chef chats, wine tastings and personalized menus by all the star chefs attending. You’ll find yourself talking one-on-one with the likes of chefs Eric Ripert and Tim Love at beachside barbecues, and if you buy a package, you can attend a meet-and-greet book signing with Anthony Bourdain.
The Barbados Food & Rum Festival
November 17 – 20
The Culinary Capital of the Caribbean is set to celebrate its newly re-branded Barbados Food & Rum Festival, the 7th installment of the food and beverage extravaganza. This year celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten will preside over the culinary celebration, joining a star-studded list of chefs that have put their mark on the festival, such as Marcus Samuelsson and Tom Colicchio. Last year’s featured chef Samuelsson (pictured above, right, at the 2015 festival) says he's excited about the food scene in Barbados: “I watch how the culinary scene on the island keeps evolving,” he says. “And it’s still centered around the local experience, but it’s also getting to a higher-end level. As a great island, you need both.”
The official weekend includes a Thursday Festival Opening with the Oistins Cook Off. The Saturday and Sunday dinner series features fine-dining events pairing international chefs with local top chefs, and giant rum events where you’ll sip the best of the barrel. We're most intrigued by a Sunday event in which the Hilton Beach club will offer up a Black Belly Lamb sampling tent.
This November also might be the best month in the century to venture to Barbados. The island is celebrating its 50th Anniversary of Independence this fall with a multi-faceted museum exhibition of the island’s history, as well as gala events and live theater acts all month long.
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