L.A. Food & Wine Festival Co-Founder David Bernahl on Food, Music + L.A.'s Cultural DNA
It's called the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival, but it may as well be known as a food, wine and music fest for the major role that the latter component plays in the annual four-day-long gathering.
Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival Festival co-founder David A. Bernahl, II with Fabio Viviani at last year's event
This year's event -- the third in the series, taking place from Wednesday, August 21 to Sunday, August 25 -- won't deviate far from the programming of years past. ?uestlove of The Roots will return this year as a guest star DJ at Food Network celebrity Giada De Laurentiis' Festa Italiana on Thursday, August 22 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Grammy Award-winning reggae artist Ziggy Marley will perform on Saturday, August 24 as chef Ben Ford (Ford's Filling Station) shows the crowd culinary tips. Later at night, singer Gavin DeGraw will hit the stage at Lexus Live on Grand tasting led by Top Chef co-host Curtis Stone.
Since its launch, co-founders David A. Bernahl, II and Robert Weakly have made sure that the festival in L.A. would be unique from festivals past in having a strong musical presence. They saw music as a necessary ingredient in creating a world-class event that would generate interest from not just within the city. Just recently, they decided to add a short opera program, which will feature two members of the L.A. Opera company.
We caught up with Bernahl as he and his team were finalizing the details of the opera program along with a slew of other details before the event. Turn the page for how music came to be a major ingredient of the festival.
Squid Ink: How does Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival differ from other similar events in the country?
Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival Third Eye Blind performing on stage at the festival
David A. Bernahl, II: Los Angeles is so fully come onto the map now, not just as a contender, but as a leader with so many rising young chefs who are getting out there and doing new things that are edgy, cool and different. It's why we took on such a large footprint in year one with 70 events over four days in five cities. It wasn't just about being in one place. We want to bring people into different access points.
There's no other region in the country that has the kind of culinary trajectory, growth and excitement in the last 10 years than Los Angeles. We want to take food and wine as a way to celebrate all these cultural masterpieces in Los Angeles. We want to continue to integrate more music as we grow.
What was the idea behind having music be such a big part of Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival?
DB: We looked at Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival through a totally different lens from the beginning. We've always had the idea for Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival to marry the best of food and wine with the music and entertainment component of Los Angeles. It's part of the DNA here.
SI: Can you elaborate?
DB: So, as much we're celebrating food and wine, it's also about the culture of Los Angeles and its cultural diversity. We started to look at concepts holistically and we thought it's just such an amazing city to celebrate music as well. And because LA is so rooted in creativity and artistry, music and obviously Hollywood, we thought that we need to find a way to make all of this come to life.
SI: How has this informed the way the festival is programmed?
DB: It's like in food. Some of my favorite dishes offer a little bit of surprise. It's not always in the way you think it'd be packaged. At the same time you want to deliver something that would appeal to all the guests coming to your house that night for dinner.
This year's mashup, if you will, is exactly that. ?uestlove is just one of the best DJs ever. It's hard to create a vibe and make people want to dance and move. So it was about his ability to get things lively and upbeat on Grand Avenue.
With Gavin DeGraw, he appeals to a lot of different listeners, which is important to us. We're not a concert or a musical festival. We want the concert to be the forefront, but also a piece that marries well with everything else going on there.
SI: What else can we expect with this year's event?
DB: With this new location on Grand Avenue, it's almost sets a new footprint for what we'll be able to do going forward. We're looking to having even more cultural partnerships with the Walt Disney Concert Hall, L.A. Philharmonic and the Colburn School, which is the Juliard of the West Coast.
For instance, LA Opera is doing a pop-up right before ?uestlove goes on. You'll have such a sense of place being on Grand Avenue in front of Walt Disney Concert Hall and you'll have City Hall in the background and Grand Park and all these amazing things are right there.
To have two quick arias from two of the best performers from the LA Opera going into an amazing DJ set from classic Hip Hop just represents this awesome sensibility when it comes to Los Angeles culture. We don't have to have just our night of opera or just a fun night of dance. We can have a richer, sort of mashup of entertainment, food and wine all at the same time.
SI: Any tips for first time-goers?
DB: It doesn't hurt to get a group of friends together and either take the Uber, grab a cab or carpool. I'd recommend taking advantage of the Metro, which is a half a block away from the event taking place at Grand Avenue. Also, if it's your first time, pick an event or two that highlight the chefs or a particular concept that you're interested in so as to not get overwhelmed.
Note: According to L.A. Opera spokesperson Gary W. Murphy, Josh Guerrero, a tenor in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artists program, will be performing on Thursday. "We know that our audience and opera fans in general tend to be wine connoisseurs and foodies -- wine, food and opera is always a winning combination," says Murphy. "We'll have one of our up-and-coming young artists join the festivities and perform some food and wine-appropriate opera arias."
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