An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Jan 10, 2014
09:12 AM
The Connecticut Table

Sun WineFest Tickets Remain: Celebrity Chefs, Top Pours, Much More

Sun WineFest Tickets Remain: Celebrity Chefs, Top Pours, Much More

Chef Betty Fraser in a scene from a previous Sun WineFest.

Editor's note: This story was originally published online last August when tickets first went on sale. As of Jan. 10, tickets remained for the Celebrity Chef Dine Around and other Sun WineFest events. Additionally, Connecticut Magazine is giving away two tickets for a VIP experience at the celebrity chef event. Here are the rules on how to enter to win.

Around the time that chef Todd English was bringing his unabashedly rich flavors from Boston to Connecticut, with the opening of Miramar at The Inn at National Hall in Westport in the 90s, he spiced up the appeal of his new place for some sophisticated patrons by personally cooking for them at a private dinner at an estate on Flying Point in Branford.

Already a celebrity chef based on what he had accomplished at his restaurants Olives and Figs in Boston, English didn’t leave the details to a coterie of assistants. The broad-shouldered chef with the chiseled good looks of a model barely left the kitchen, lavishing attention on each dish and sweating all the details.

In a similar vein but different fashion, another chef out of Boston who has coast-to-coast star status, Jasper White, can most often this time of year be found at the helm of his Summer Shack, not far from Fenway Park, cooking, sweating the details, watching how his guests enjoy the experience—and offering wide-eyed boys the opportunity to hold the biggest lobster in the tank.

That’s part of how you get to be a celebrity chef—the passion and devotion to thrive on every pressure, detail and possibility presented in the long, long hours of building, managing and sustaining a restaurant business.

Those thoughts come to mind when reading the tempting descriptions of the meritage-like blend of events planned for The Sun WineFest ’14, held at the Mohegan Sun casino and resort, in what will be the 11th year of the popular event whose marquee offerings routinely sell out.

English and White are the first two chefs on a long list of accomplished culinary talents signed up for the Celebrity Chef Dine Around, where they and such peers as Govind Armstrong (8 oz. Burger Bar in Los Angeles and South Beach) and Donatella Arpaia (Donatella in Chelsea) will be manning stations and personally cooking for guests.

If it sounds like a don’t-miss event, at this point you’re probably sweating in chef-like fashion while thinking, “How did I miss that this was happening?” and “It’s probably too late to get tickets.”

Relax. The opposite is the case—at least for those who don’t tarry. Tickets went on sale this morning, (last August) even though The Sun WineFest ’14 doesn’t uncork and pour out its riches like a fine red Burgundy until next Jan. 24th to 26th—that’s right, after Christmas and New Year’s.

Asked about the seemingly pre-emptive timing of releasing tickets at the height of ripened summer for a winter event, event director Vicky Cirilli of Cirilli Associates LLC explained that the goal is to give wine and food lovers ample opportunity to avoid a different kind of holiday season disappointment—not getting the “gift” of a ticket by the time they hear about, and try to respond to, the building WineFest buzz and decide to connect. At that point, it’s often too late.

“Many of the events sell out,” she said, pointing primarily to the top two events, the Celebrity Chef Dine Around and the Sun WineFest Grand Tasting. Offering tickets months ahead of time “assures somebody’s going to get a ticket for one of the events they want to go to,” Cirilli says, explaining that she doesn’t hold back tickets in reserve to dispense miraculously at the last moment as many venues and events do.

“We put all tickets out there. Once they’re gone, they’re gone,” she says. And that means the only answer will be “sorry” to those who find out at holiday parties that their friends are attending and want them to come along.

Bottom line: It may have been 80 degrees today, but the time is now (or at least soon) to think about the mood you’ll be in while sitting by the fire around mid-December and reconnecting with the pleasure of a enjoying a rich red wine against the backdrop of the cold, snowy world outside. Add in the prospect of enjoying wines you’ve never experienced in the festive, welcoming atmosphere of Mohegan Sun, and the wisdom of heading to the Sun WineFest website sooner rather than later is obvious.

There you’ll find descriptions of all the events, along with ticket prices, details and links to buy tickets.

“Chefs Todd English, Robert Irvine and Jasper White are just a sampling of the world-class chefs hosting an evening of amazing cuisine at the Celebrity Chef Dine Around,” reads the description for that event. “Stroll among the live cooking stations and watch these culinary masters in action while enjoying the pairing of a premium wine, beer or crafted cocktail to complement each dish. This epicurean adventure is a perennial early sell out—don't miss it!”

It runs from 8 to 11 p.m. Jan 25th and tickets are $185.

“The Sun WineFest's signature event—the Grand Tasting, is truly grand!” the website says. “Featuring beers, wines, specialty spirits and delectable dishes, this weekend extravaganza has something for everyone. Guests are offered a selection of hundreds of wines, beers and fine spirits. Passionate foodies can sample* signature dishes from the region's most highly rated restaurants and quality food products from artisanal producers. The Culinary Main Stage is the backdrop for two days of celebrity chef demonstrations, including Todd English, Food Network star Robert Irvine and action-packed contests—Mohegan Sun WineFest Grape Stomp and the Oyster Open. Purchase copies of inspiring cookbooks and get them signed by your favorite chefs as they come off the Culinary Main Stage.”

It’s held on Saturday ($80), again on Sunday ($70) and there’s an option for a two-day pass to attend both sessions ($125). The website notes that there’s a “nominal charge for the sampling of signature dishes—a portion of the proceeds benefits Channel 3 Kids Camp.”

Cirilli explained that the system is an attempt to best serve guests, as all the wine, beer and spirits are included in a ticket price that comes in lower than the price for comparable-level tastings at other wine festivals. How much someone wants to eat becomes up to them, rather than the cost for each person likely eating a bounty of food being built into the price of every ticket.

There are several other events at the WineFest, including an Elite Cru Tasting, and one of the more fun events is the 10th Annual Mohegan Sun Oyster Open: “The ultimate shucker showdown gets underway when the nation's best oyster shuckers put their skills to the test and compete for a $5,000 purse during the 10th annual Mohegan Sun Oyster Open and featuring South Bay Blonde Oysters from Georges Bank,” the website explains.

How does Cirilli pull it all off—planning, scheduling and promoting a major wine festival with star chefs at a major East Coast venue? The same way the world’s finest wines are made, most likely: time, experience, creating the best conditions, talent, sweat and a little luck too—that and the fact that she’ll start on the 2015 Sun WineFest the minute the last cork is pulled on this coming festival.


Sun WineFest Tickets Remain: Celebrity Chefs, Top Pours, Much More

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