The 7th annual Palm Desert Food & Wine Festival brought together culinary celebrities, home cooks and foodie enthusiasts over a beautiful weekend, from March 24-26. Two days of grand tastings were marked by extravagant food and drink, along with live demonstrations from celebrity chefs, TV personalities and kitchen masterminds alike. Set in the El Paseo shopping district, the Palm Desert Food & Wine Festival embodied the fun-yet-relaxed feel of the Coachella Valley and region’s surprisingly diverse culinary talent.

So what made this year’s Palm Desert Food & Wine Festival stand out? In a nutshell, the cooking demonstrations blew it out of the park, there was more wine and champagne than you knew what to do with, and the food offerings featured some remarkable dishes not seen in years past. In some cases guests were forced to pick and choose among simultaneous performances…first-world problem indeed. Highlights below:

Saturday Grand Tasting

Talent and Demonstrations

• The Beekman Boys: Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell are simply hilarious. Bruschetta three ways almost took a back seat to the amazing antics that left audience members in stitches.

• Gail Simmons and Brook Williamson: Simmons, the festival’s official host and famed Top Chef judge, paired up with local Chef/Owner Brooke Williamson for made-for-TV banter, as well as great tips on making biscuits and curd.

• Zac Young: Rated as one of America’s top-10 pastry chefs in 2015, Chef Young churned out one of the most ridiculous chocolate caramel candy bars, with peanut butter cookie dough nougat layers. Does it get any sweeter?

• Melissa King: The Top Chef Finalist and Whole Foods Ambassador made the idea of carving poultry approachable for the home cook.

Culinary

• The Steakhouse at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa’s ahi and guacamole cones, as well as ribeye and mashed potatoes, highlighted both grand tastings.

• La Quinta Cliff House hopped on the cone train as well, with seafood piped into a crunchy sesame seed cone.

• Mad Mike’s Gourmet Food Company guided guests through a ‘sausage tour,’ with their cheddar bratwurst a true standout.

• The Venue’s sushi boat was a blessing for sushi lovers.

Sunday Grand Tasting

Talent and Demonstrations

• Aarti Sequiera: The Food Network star brought ‘Aarti Party’ to the festival’s stage.

• Stuart O’Keefe: The Irish celebrity chef shared one of his ‘Quick 6 Fix’ recipes, focusing on six or fewer ingredients and six or fewer minutes of prep, cooking and cleanup.

• Drew Davis: Executive Chef of local restaurant Catalan, the ever-entertaining Davis demonstrated how to make homemade mozzarella, where yours truly failed massively on stage, for the second year in a row, and owes Chef Davis a wood spoon that he broke in the process.

Culinary

• Chi Chi Restaurant at the Avalon Hotel’s octopus tacos were a definite crowd favorite, made with chorizo and squid ink tortillas.

• Brandini Toffee was back for another year with impressive toffee popcorn and milkshakes.

• Workshop Kitchen + Bar’s creative juices came out through an excellent duck confit with lentil and potato.

Wineries present included labels from France, Canada, New York, Virginia, Washington and of course California, including Napa and Sonoma as well as across Southern California; beer standouts included Babe’s Brewhouse and Bootlegger’s Brewery; and cider was well represented by Ace Cider.

And while there was no shortage of festivities that took place, it is necessary to note that a significant number of food vendors wrapped things up well before the event ended each day. Many booths ran out of food and closed down by 2:30, when the festival was set to last until 4 p.m. There were also noticeably fewer food vendors on Sunday’s grand tasting compared to Saturday, with some never showing up in the first place. While this didn’t significantly take away from the overall experience, one would hope that these scenarios would be more the exception than the trend leading into next year.

The 2018 Palm Desert Food & Wine Festival is already highly anticipated. For more information, visit PalmDesertFoodAndWine.com.