Founder And Director Lee Schrager On NYCWFF Going Virtual This Year

Lee Brian Schrager
Lee Brian Schrager

Photo Credit: World Red Eye

This year, the New York City Wine & Food Festival will return from October 2-11, bringing with it the very best names in the food and beverage industry to deliver can’t-miss experiences. However, its 2020 program may look a bit different than year’s past due to the ongoing restrictions of the pandemic. More than 60 events will take place over nine days throughout the city and virtually, debuting for the first time ever, “NYCWFF Goes Virtual presented by Capital One,” where the festival’s key events such as the “Behind The Burger Bash” will take place live over Zoom, allowing people from all throughout the globe to tune in and take part in the action.

Also new to this year is “Intimate Dinner Series,” featuring high-end, intimate dinners across the five boroughs at the city’s most cherished and lauded dining destinations. Talent and personalities in this series include Daniel Boulud, Dan Kluger, Einat Admony, Marc Forgione, Rocco DiSpirito, Justin Bazdarich, Costas Spiliadis, Stefano Secchi, Laëtitia Rouabah, Matt Abdoo, Shane McBride, Gabriel Kreuther, Josh Capon, Ignacio Mattos, Michael White, Chintan Pandya, Alex Raij, Eder Montero, Alfred Portale and Manish Mehrotra. Of course, all venues will be following strict CDC guidelines and proper social distancing orders. 

The festival will continue to fight to end hunger by giving back to No Kid Hungry® and Food Bank For New York City, whose missions are now more crucial than ever. 

191011_NYWFF_Day2_CZahoran_DSC_2902Photo Credit: Getty Images

In anticipation of the Festival kicking off tomorrow, we sat down with Founder and Director Lee Brian Schrager to talk about the new format of the NYCWFF, its new programming and other highlights of the upcoming event. 

HL: The NYCWFF is returning this year but will look different due to the pandemic. Can you tell us about how you and your team have had to adapt in order to put on this event? 

LS: As a Festival, we understand the power of food and its ability to bring people together—so it was important for us to hone in on this in a way that was meaningful and authentic. Understanding there is no playbook for this case scenario, we asked ourselves, how can we best serve the restaurant and bar community and also provide attendees the NYCWFF experience they have come to love? That’s when we realized that our Festival best serves as a platform to amplify and connect the faces and voices of the industry directly with fans. We focused on creating experiences that directly connect our audience to the biggest names in the industry in a way that is intimate and all from the comfort of their home. Our NYCWFF Goes Virtual presented by Capital One series allows attendees to go right into the kitchen of favorite chefs and lifestyle personalities and learn step-by-step how to prepare their recipes and even connect with the host directly during the live Q&A.  

191010_NYWFF_Day1_CZahoran_DSC_2658Photo Credit: Getty Images

HL: What are you most proud of that you have accomplished during this time

LS: Back in March, when this all unfolded, both the NYCWFF and SOBEWFF team dove right into relief efforts for the industry. We created the SOBEWFF® & FIU Chaplin School Hospitality Industry Relief Fund in South Florida and the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund in partnership with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation in New York. That, coupled with a series of socially distanced bake sales I held at my home, raised over $2 million for employee relief efforts. I know so much more work still needs to be done, but I am happy we were able to help give back to those who have supported us all these years. 


HL: Tell us about the Intimate Dinner Series. How did you come up with this new concept and what will it entail

LS: Understanding our potential limitations, we reimagined the Festival in a way that feels safe while keeping the focus on the restaurants and consumers. We’ve worked closely with each individual restaurant to secure an average of 10 seats per venue in a variety of group sizes. This allows for a more intimate experience with your loved one or close family and friends. Each dinner menu has been meticulously crafted by the chef and expertly paired with wines and spirits from the Southern Glazer’s portfolio to ensure only the finest experience. We really wanted to create a unique and safe offering for NYC locals to explore and support establishments during the regrowth and reopening phase.  

HL: Moving forward, do you plan on keeping some of the virtual aspects of this year’s event in place so more people can join in? 

LS: Absolutely! We saw such great success with the launch of NYCWFF at Home back in May to now having the most accessible NYCWFF Festival to date, I don’t see how we wouldn’t continue to expand our virtual offerings in the years to come.   

NYCWFF19_Italian_0444Photo Credit: Getty Images

HL: What are some of the other events of the festival you are looking forward to

LS: We have a fantastic lineup of virtual events. I am very excited to see what Yotam Ottolenghi, Nadiya Hussain, Thomas Keller, Alex Guarnaschelli and a few more we have in store for our participants. I’m also really looking forward to our Intimate Dinner Series which includes restaurants such as Balaboosta, Marea, La Vara, Prune, Portale and many more. You can check out the full lineup at