New York City Wine and Food Festival Founder Lee Schrager on 10 Years of 'Eating, Drinking & Ending Hunger'

Lee Schrager
Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for NYCWFF

Lee Schrager attends A Dinner with Giada De Laurentiis and Alex Guarnaschelli part of the Bank of America Dinner series curated by Chefs Club at Bank of America Building on Oct. 14, 2016 in New York City. 

The tenth installment of the beloved New York City Wine and Food Festival will begin on October 12 and, like in previous years, music will be a component of the proceedings with performances from Rev Run, Naughty By Nature and a panel with A Tribe Called Quest's Jarobi White. Founder and director Lee Schrager, a chef who also started the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, has witnessed firsthand the increasing intermingling of the food and music worlds. On the eve of the festival, which will support Food Bank of New York and No Kid HungryBillboard spoke with Schrager, whose personal tastes run more towards Broadway favorites than pop hits, about how he sees music and food fueling one another creatively, the kinship between chefs and rock stars and his favorite music memories over a decade in the business. 

How do music and food events play off of each other?

Music enhances an experience and no matter what demographic, having the right music changes an event from a "wine and food event" to a "lifestyle event". We’ve always had music and our focus now is on more music and bigger and better music. Good music can make a good event great and I think bad music can make a great event bad. 

What are some of the best music memories you’ve had working with the festivals?

A few years ago when Train performed at the festival, it was great. They were launching a new wine. At one of our Burger Bash events in New York, we had Coolio as a guest judge and at the end he got up and performed. Many years ago at our barbecue event in South Beach, Willie Nelson performed, which was a great complement to the event. Wherever we can add in music that it makes sense and is the right combination with the event, it’s a win for everybody.

Why is there such an affinity between chefs and rock stars?

Food is the one common denominator that we all share in common. Not everyone cares about horseback riding, not everyone’s into fashion, not everyone’s into bowling or the opera, but everyone’s into food. Everyone has to eat. Not everyone has the same level of interest or intrigue about food but I think that creative people, for the most part, whether they’re actors or artists, are attracted to food and like the experience. Good food is not just about good food and great wine at dinner; it’s about the people that you’re with, it’s about the atmosphere and it’s about the music that’s bringing the whole thing together.

You’re seeing food become such an increased presence at music festivals.

Everyone’s bringing food into it. Some successfully, some not as successfully. Listen, we will never be a music festival but I would like to expand each year and be a great wine and food festival that has good musical acts. Whether they are unknowns and locals just being discovered or whether they’re big known people that are enhancing the experience.

Do you listen to music when you cook?

If I listen to music, I listen to Broadway channels. Or if I’m going out and seeing a concert, I love jazz, I love Diana Krall. I’m the first to say I know nothing about music but I know what I like and what I don’t like. 

What’s going to be special about the ten-year anniversary of the festival?

Ten years of doing anything in New York successfully is something to commemorate and celebrate. Remember, we’re ultimately a festival raising funds and raising awareness for the Food Bank for New York City and No Kid Hungry, two nationally recognized hunger organizations. We’re a 100% non-profit 501(c)(3) and that’s the message. Our tagline is "eat, drink, end hunger." Maybe eventually it will be "eat, drink, dance and end hunger." Ten years of raising awareness and almost 11 million dollars in New York City; I think that in itself is reason for celebration, especially in a city that's tough to do business.

Learn more about Billboard's music and food panel, hosted by Billboard magazine Deputy Editor Isabel Gonzalez-Whitaker, on Oct 13 at 4:30pm with Mario Batali and Jarobi White here.


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