It’s not every day you stand on the lawn outside your local library and next to you, dressed casually in a pastel collared shirt and beige slacks, is Hubert Keller, James Beard Foundation winner and chef extraordinaire. He’s laughing about a joke you couldn’t hear. What does Hubert find so funny?
You only call him Hubert in your mind because to say it out loud would imply you’re friends, though being this close to him, listening to the gentle lilt of his French accent, maybe you are.
Well, maybe you’re not.
He’s here, after all, to attend the Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival, along with some the finest food and wine purveyors around town. Since its start three years ago, the event has attracted names known both near and far—Top Chef contestants, Food Network stars, award-winning culinary masters from Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach, Corona del Mar and beyond.
Off in the distance, you spot Fabio Viviani, Italian-American restaurateur and TV mainstay, who is preparing for a meet and greet with the supremely well-dressed crowd. Fabio’s beard is thicker than you remember from those times you saw him on Top Chef, the black bomber jacket he dons more bad-boy chic than his laid back onscreen personality once conveyed. There’s a woman in a white, floor-length satin gown swirling wine nearby him, and you quickly devise a Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival Fashion Contest in your head then name her the sartorial winner of the entire bazaar.
Aside from the sophisticated dress, surrounding you are also the intertwining aromas of expertly prepared small bites: roasted almonds placed in little paper cones; sliced, raw salmon topped with caviar and dill; braised lamb resting on a ratatouille of local vegetables; butternut squash soup with maple bacon marshmallows; homemade ice cream, slow churned and fabulous; gnocchi colored green from the string beans mashed into its flour.
And of course, there’s wine, poured inside the large tents draped on high at the Newport Beach Civic Center where the event is being held, each tent dripping at its center with large, purple chandeliers and haute charm. Like obedient soldiers of the grape, sommeliers stand behind booths lining the middle of these tents, enticing you to try their fare without saying a word.
You taste Pinot Noir, a Chardonnay, a red blend, a Merlot. One som, jovial and really into Led Zeppelin, says he’s about to take you on a wine-wise “Stairway to Heaven,” and pours first his most unassuming vintage then walks you from one to the next, climbing a staircase of nuanced complexity until you arrive at the ultimate sip, what he describes as a wine “so good and expensive to make we’re idiots to even bottle it at all.”
But if this taste of smooth, lush, fruit-forward goodness is idiocy, then you tell him you’re fine to forever revel in madness. Hubert passes by just then and you want to wave hello in a casual sort of best-friend way (but you don’t), so instead you think to yourself, “Oh, Newport Beach Wine and Food Festival, you’ve done it again.”