By Kai Oliver-Kurtin
Latin Food Fest to bring bold flavors to the Bay
The third annual Latin Food Fest is expected to draw more than 10,000 people to the Broadway Pier and beyond, Aug. 14 – 17. In partnership with the Port of San Diego, the festival includes a family-friendly bash, signature grand tasting event, a private spirits tasting and an exclusive six-course Cuban dinner party.
The all-inclusive 21-and-up Grande Tasting on Saturday, Aug. 15 will be held from noon to 3 p.m. and feature wine and spirits from Argentina, California, Mexico and Spain; Latin food from the Caribbean, Central and South America, Mexico, Portugal and Spain; cooking demonstrations by acclaimed local chefs; and live music by Todo Mundo.
According to Richie Matthews, the festival’s executive director, the 2015 festival will be featuring a robust amount of non-Mexican fare.
“Mexico still has a major presence with over 30 restaurants, wineries and spirits brands participating, but we worked hard to get the Caribbean, Spain, Central and South America represented,” Matthews said.
Jaime Chavez, executive chef of Sirena Gourmet Latin Seafood Restaurant in Little Italy, will be one of the nearly 20 chefs participating in the festival. A native of Chile, Chavez has incorporated Chilean, Mexican and Peruvian flavors and dishes into the Sirena menu. He’s working with local fish purveyor Catalina Offshore Products to acquire some special seafood products for his Latin Food Fest debut.
“Sirena’s specialty is ceviche — we do really unique ceviches,” Chavez said. “At the festival we will serve something really different and really fresh.”
Attendees will be able to vote for their favorite dishes in various categories, and the winners are announced during the festival’s “Best of Fest” awards. They can also bid on items during a silent auction to benefit the YMCA of San Diego County. VIP ticketholders are granted early festival entry and will have access to an exclusive lounge.
The 2014 Grande Tasting was held at the Embarcadero, but they have moved the event to the Broadway Pier this year to better showcase the port and surrounding tidelands.
“And due to the overwhelming demand by our guests, we added an all-ages event called Family Fiesta,” Matthews said.
During the Family Fiesta on Sunday, Aug. 16, from 1 – 6 p.m., guests can purchase Latin food, dance to live music, and get in the kitchen with celebrity chefs Ana Saldaña and Alejandra Schrader. Saldaña will demonstrate healthy dishes and Schrader will prepare Venezuelan arepas (flatbread). Children can get their hands dirty in the Kid’s Kitchen, have their face painted, and take a picture with the Jarritos Luchador wrestler.
Unlike the Grande Tasting and Family Fiesta, the Spirits of the Americas on Aug. 14 and Havana Nights Supper Club on Aug. 17 are invitation-only events.
“If you throw a dart at the calendar, you’ll be bound to hit a taco fest of some sort — and we are not that!” Matthews said. “Consumers want to see unique food of superb quality, and purveyors of amazing wines, spirits and artisan goods, and we deliver that.”
Due to the festival’s great success in San Diego, an inaugural Los Angeles Latin Food Fest was held earlier this year, and the first New York City Latin Food Fest will be held this November.
Francisco “Paco” Perez, owner of Mexican restaurants Aqui es Texcoco in Chula Vista, Los Angeles and Tijuana, Mexico, has participated in every San Diego Latin Food Fest, as well as the Los Angeles festival in March.
His restaurants are known for their traditional Mexican-style lamb barbacoa — which will be served during the Grande Tasting — and lamb broth. Perez said many people claim to dislike lamb because the first time they tried it, the meat was either too gamey, had too much fat, or wasn’t prepared well.
“But when they try our recipe, they like lamb again,” he said. “This is something that happens a lot to us, and I love when we can change people’s mind about lamb.”
General admission tickets for the Grande Tasting are $55, VIP tickets are $150 and a special designated driver ticket is $35. Adult tickets for the Family Fiesta are $20 for adults in advance, $30 at the door, children’s tickets are $5 advance or $10 at the door, and babies are free. VIP tickets, which offer unlimited food and drink, are also available for $150 in advance. Childcare for both Saturday and Sunday is available through YMCA Childcare Resource Service and a donation made online when tickets are purchased.
The Broadway Pier is located at 1000 N. Harbor Dr., Downtown and parking is available at 900 W. Broadway. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit latinfoodfest.com.