If your New Year’s resolution involves keeping up with the hottest new culinary trends or expanding your craft brew repertoire, here are the perfect places to jump-start 2014. Get access to under-the-radar dishes from the nation’s most innovative chefs at Austin’s Indie Chefs Week, or enjoy all the trimmings of fine dining minus the pricey bill at Charleston’s Restaurant Week. Plus, Vail and Boston are hosting two of the best booze getaways of winter. These are some festivals you won’t want to miss.
Indie Chefs Week
The 35 chefs cooking and collaborating at Austin’s Foreign & Domestic may be popular, but their cuisine is anything but mainstream. Indie Chefs Week brings together the nation’s most inspiring and innovative talent to whip up multi-course menus. Providence, RI’s James Mark will be cooking up Deep Winter pressed ramen with chicken, roasted golden oyster mushrooms, pickled wakame, sesame and egg, for example. Check out eight-course menus Tuesday through Friday, outfitted with wine and beer pairings. Feeling ambitious? Saturday offers a 20-course menu. Come hungry.
Charleston Restaurant Week
The Greater Charleston Restaurant Association (GCRA) gives you the chance to experience the best of Charleston’s Lowcountry cuisine for a pretty sweet price. Over 100 participating restaurants are offering prix-fixe lunch and dinner menus, all of which include three or four items for $20, $30 or $40.
Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival
The 14th annual Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival, hosted by the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa, is touted as the ultimate “beercation” and even gets a nod from Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione as being one of his “favorite beer events of the year.” The festival kicks off with a Brewmasters’ dinner complete with culinary creations and pairings from Dogfish Head and Avery breweries. The weekend continues with seminars, tastings and a special homebrew competition. All this, plus discounted ski and snowboard rentals for festival attendees.
Boston Wine Festival
America’s longest-running wine festival will celebrate its 25th year at the Boston Harbor Hotel, and, as always, Chef Daniel Bruce will debut a collection of new dishes carefully created to match each featured wine. The festival spans 10+ weeks, but you’ll want to be there on opening night when you’ll have access to over 50 wines from the featured wineries. The following weeks offer variety competitions (e.g. Battles of the Cabernets) champagnes dinners, jazz brunches and a variety of seminars so you can work your brain while treating your taste buds.
‘Uncorked’ Key Largo Food & Wine Festival
Key Largo and Islamorada, Florida
The Key Largo Food & Wine Festival has expanded into a 10-day event offering over 30 tastings, how-to cooking lessons, specialty dinners and more. Highlights include a premiere of the popular television show “Chopped” set in Key Largo with proceeds benefitting local charities and a Caribbean-style “Night at Sea” where guests can enjoy hors d’oeuvres, rum tastings, music and limbo contests onboard a 78-foot river paddleboat. The Grand Tasting Finale on January 18 will feature gourmet dishes from a variety of local restaurants and caterers paired with wines from the best visiting wineries across the nation.
Cayman Islands, Carribean
Hosted by Chef Eric Ripert, the Cayman Cookout brings world-renowned food and drink experts to the Ritz-Carlton for a weekend of tastings, seminars, demos, cook-offs and special dinners. At The Wild Chef Culinary Demonstration, Montreal chef Martin Picard will show just how he earned his title of "master of foie gras," and at The Run Down with Anthony Bourdain, the famous culinary globetrotter will weigh in on conch chowder, Cayman-style jerk and more of the islands’ culinary staples. Stick around for the Cayman Cookout Cook-Off on Sunday when the all-star judging panel of Ripert, Bourdain and José Andrés will crown Cayman’s most talented amateur chef.
Fellsmere Frog Leg Festival
First created in 1990, the Fellsmere Frog Leg Festival celebrates Florida’s most delicious amphibian appendage. Guests can satiate their appetites with a variety of festival foods like burgers, hot dogs, turkey legs, and fried dough, but more adventurous palates should hold out for the Frog Leg and Gator Tail Dinners. In between eating, enjoy carnival rides, browse the craft stands, and rock out to an extensive lineup of southern rock and bluegrass bands.