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Chefs will test creativity at wine and food fest

Chefs will test creativity at wine and food fest

Barbecue, brews and blues are beautiful for Marc Murphy.

Barbecue, brews and blues are beautiful for Marc Murphy.

The celebrity chef and New York City restaurateur will be watching the fires on Friday, as the 14th annual Saratoga Wine & Food Festival begins its three-day homage to culinary arts at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

This year’s party will feature more than 250 premiere wine and food exhibitors, a grand tasting and food seminars. Proceeds benefit the Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s children’s education program.

The festival is open to people age 21 and over.

Murphy, famous for his judge work on The Food Network’s hit show “Chopped” and for his New York City hot spots Landmarc, Ditch Plains and Kingside, will judge Friday’s kick-off event, “BBQ, Blues & Brews.”

The competition-style grill event will match top chefs from the Capital Region against Manhattan grill masters. They’ll all be trying to produce the “most extraordinary dish,” based on both people’s choices and judges’ awards.

14th annual Saratoga Wine & Food Festival

WHERE: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs

WHEN: Friday-Sunday

HOW MUCH: Events range $75 to $175

MORE INFO: 584-9330, www.saratogawineandfood.com

On the Capital Region team are Sean Comiskey from Druthers Brewing Co.; Jaime Ortiz from Angelo’s 677 Prime; Maria Mendez from Henry Street Taproom; and Kyle Lewis from the Brook Tavern.

The event will take place under tents on the SPAC festival grounds. Live blues music will be part of the scene.

Other main events during the weekend will include the grand tasting and master wine concours d’elegance and wine auction on Saturday and an “In the Groove Jazz Brunch” Sunday morning at Saratoga National Golf Course’s Prime restaurant.

Murphy is glad to be out of the kitchen, and in Saratoga Springs.

“Headlining the event, to me, is just getting out there and meeting the people, see the enthusiasm for the culinary world,” he said. “I think it’s just exciting to see everybody, and I’m sure people are probably going to want to see what happens on ‘Chopped,’ which is quite popular.”

The edgy show, which began in 2009, pits four chefs against each other. They all compete for a chance to win $10,000. To grab the dough, chefs must take a mystery basket of ingredients and turn them into a dish judged on creativity, presentation, and taste. Nobody gets much time to plan and execute.

Murphy likes the show because he said it’s the real deal, true competition, no gimmicks.

“What I love is when people come on and say, ‘Oh, I saw this at home, I can do this, I can do this.’ And all of a sudden, that basket opens and they say, ‘Oh my God, only 20 minutes!’ It’s exciting, I think the producers really do a good job of casting really good people on the show, which keeps it interesting. And I like that the show really focuses on the contestants . . . it’s about the food in that basket and about the contestants. I think that’s why people are really drawn to ‘Chopped.’ ”

Murphy, who has appeared on such shows as “Iron Chef America,” “Hot Chefs” and “The Martha Stewart Show,” among others, believes cooking programs help educate people about food and ingredients. Maybe, he says, viewers become more adventurous about their culinary choices. Sometimes, he hears from people who have tried something different and have loved the experience.

“To me, that’s a great moment,” Murphy said. “Seeing people getting out of their comfort zones and trying something new.”

The chef is high on new American cuisine. He likes using local ingredients and trying different flavors. “Maybe dreaming up new ones, like bringing Spain and Italy together,” he said.

Murphy is also high on grilling. Lately, he’s been smoking vegetables over charcoal and hickory for the summer grill flavor.

And yeah, he is bullish on charcoal. But he’s not ditching his propane tanks.

“You have to have gas to cook quick,” he said. “You may as well have both.”

The restaurant game means people have to move quickly. Murphy knows the pressure and knows the busy routines that come with opening and running a place.

“I wouldn’t know how to do anything else,” he said. “I love it and I enjoy it and I find a lot of people I work with feel the same way. You’ve got to give the customer the whole package — good food, atmosphere, lighting, music, service. If one of those things is not working, then you’ve got problems. It’s not just about one ingredient, it’s about the whole package you’re delivering to customers, and I think people who open really have to remember that.”

Murphy stressed the exploration factor. He wants people to be more adventurous when they pick up their knives and forks.

“You’ve got to go to farmers’ markets, you’ve got to go to stores, you have to ask questions,” he said. “Oddly enough, you have to watch The Food Network to see what other people are doing. You watch stuff and see things. If you go ‘Ewwww,’ maybe not. But if you go ‘Maybe .  ..’ then go try it.”

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at wilkin@dailygazette.com.

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