Choice Eats 2014: An Inside Look at the Village Voice’s Annual Food Festival

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The Village Voice has mastered the art of the tasting event. Founded in 2008, Choice Eats exposes attendees to an incredibly diverse, multi culti cross-section of NYC restaurants, high end and low, both media darlings and plucky under-the-radar eateries alike, from each of the five boroughs (yes, even Staten Island, and with an unsurprising, increasing emphasis on noteworthy Brooklyn spots). Outsized venues and a tightly organized team prevent it from being a sweaty shit show, there’s lots and lots of booze to keep everyone happy, and there’s a DJ, photo booths, and a series of intriguing panel discussions for anyone that’s less than focused on four hours worth of power eating. (Wait, what? Who could possibly be disinterested in the FOOD?)

We spoke to Marketing and Events Manager Christina Pettit about what really goes into planning (and what else to expect from), this year’s March 25th edition of Choice Eats.

How many months out do you spend actively preparing for the Choice Eats event?

Approximately 4-6 months. It makes us very, very hungry for quite a long time!

Besides organizing vendors, what are some of the other moving parts you personally have to oversee for Choice Eats? Which do you find the most difficult, and what’s the most fun?

In addition to securing the fantastic and diverse 80+ restaurants, we build the entire event – we brainstorm and commission the artwork for the event, choose the venue, design the floorplan, and work closely with our sales team to bring in great partners that will add to the event – look out for trays and glasses this year in addition to a couple of photo booths! That’s just some of the fun stuff – the hard stuff? Figuring out what type of utensils each restaurant needs and multiplying that by about 1000 tastes by all of our guests to determine how many each will need at their table. That’s a big ol’ math problem that proves that it pays to do your homework, kids!

There are many, many tasting events held in NYC throughout the year. What would you say sets the Village Voice’s Choice Eats apart?

We think that Choice Eats really speaks to the type of restaurants that NYC residents go to throughout the year. They’re local favorites & hidden gems and they span the entire city. Each restaurant is highly praised and recommended by our food critics so there is a great deal of accreditation that each one has. Choice Eats guests (and ourselves) can really rely on and consult the roster of Choice Eats restaurants over the years to always find the best restaurants in any neighborhood, in any borough of New York City.

You only featured 27 restaurants when you launched in 2008, and now you’re up to over 60. What has the Village Voice team done to help the event actively grow and expand over the years?

Hey, you’re right about that, good fact-checking, BK Mag! Our team here has really focused on providing the restaurants with a great platform to showcase their restaurant – our restaurants love the event and the exposure they get so they always like to come back. We also have continued to grow the event each year, allowing room for more and more restaurants and vendors.

How are the participating restaurants selected? Do any of them decline to participate? Do you get any restaurants actively lobbying to be included?

We work closely in tandem with our food critics to put together a list of who they have reviewed and would recommend to participate in the event. Yes, we have restaurants that cannot participate each year for various reasons – their operation is too small or the timing isn’t quite right for them. We do have plenty of restaurants that contact us to participate each year and we try our best to include them if our food critics approve!

There’s definitely a larger ratio of Brooklyn restaurants involved than ever before. What do you think this says about the state of Brooklyn’s dining scene in general?

I think Brooklyn, as we all know, is growing more popular every day – many neighborhoods are seeing changes within it and those changes are certainly prevalent in the restaurant and bar scene. We are so happy to have some of our favorite Brooklyn restaurants and some new ones at Choice Eats this year!

Taking the size of the crowd, the constraints of the space, and the cooking elements available into consideration, what does it take for a restaurant (or dish) to be successful at Choice Eats?

A dream and an appetite. Or, really, just a smart chef that can find an item that works well on-site and best represents their restaurant in a bite. Chefs are the brilliant scientists of the event—they masterfully review how much they need to bring, how they can prep it beforehand and serve it perfectly once doors open. They’re all our heroes, really—it’s a fascinating effort.

What restaurants/dishes are you particularly looking forward to this year?

That’s a very difficult question—it’s like choosing a favorite pizza! They’re all such a pleasure to work with and so excited to be there. We’re always very happy about the new restaurants joining the event—we are looking forward to welcoming Bunker, Jacob’s Pickles, and Oda House this year and of course, we are thrilled to have Choice Eats alums The Meatball Shop, Kuma Inn, and Peppa’s Jerk Chicken back plus many, many others. For a sneak peek of the full event map and to see where these restaurants are located, check out our map.

What are the most memorable “bites” you’ve ever had at Choice Eats?

We typically leave most of the bites to our guests, but some memorable ones for us from last year include Kuma Inn’s entire roasted pig (lechon), Brooks Headley of Del Posto’s Almond Joy Bastoncini and we can’t forget about Dirt Candy’s Tomato Chipotle Cotton Candy. Back in 2011, No. 7 Sub Shop brought their General Tso’s Broccoli Sandwich which was incredible.

Why is this year’s event going to be bigger and better than ever before?

Choice Eats will be in a new venue this year, Pier 36 at Basketball City, allowing the event to be bigger than ever. We will be featuring more restaurants on the main floor than years past as well as craft beers, wines, and spirits plus many new bells and whistles for guests attending the event this year, such as our first event Food Talks Demo Area!

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the Choice Eats website.

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