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10 Culinary Festivals For the Gourmet Traveler

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Grapes on the VineEven with all the doom and gloom of today’s economy, you still gotta eat!

So why not eat well? Sure you can cut back on everyday outings, but there are ways to experience high-end dining for affordable prices.

Resident foodie Courtney Crowder scoured the United States in search of the culinary events and festivals that you don’t want to miss.

1. Food & Wine Classic, Aspen, Colorado

This foodie fest is one of the most high-profile culinary events in the country. Taking place this summer from June 19 to 21, the Food & Wine classic features some of the world’s most renowned names in the industry—meaning you get to rub shoulders with the likes of Jacques Pepin, Mario Batali and Bobby Flay.

Mario BataliGuests can attend cooking demonstrations, wine seminars and the grand tasting tents. At $1,185 for the entire weekend, tickets are on the pricey side. To get a taste of the festivities for a more affordable price, grab a day pass to the tasting tent or attend the coveted Best New Chef Dinner, each $250. www.stayaspensnowmass.com/p-food-and-wine-classic.php

2. Restaurant Week, New York, New York

Where else to celebrate good eats than New York City? Now in its 18th year, this event allows foodies to enjoy a three-course meal in some of New York’s top restaurants for a fraction of the regular price. More than 250 restaurants participate, including well-known establishments such as Dos Caminos, Nobu and Blue Water Grill. A three-course lunch costs $24.07 and dinner is $35, not including gratuities and alcohol. New York’s Restaurant Week traditionally takes place in January and late June/early July. www.nycvisit.com/restaurantweek

For more culinary adventures in New York, check out Three Days, Nine Meals (or More): New York City.

3. Nathan’s International July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest, Coney Island, New York

Hot DogThis Coney Island tradition is THE biggest competition of the season in Major League Eating, which considered a real sport by many. Head to Coney Island on July 4 (get there very early to beat the crowds) for the 94th annual event, where competitors go stomach-to-stomach in a 10-minute regulation match.

Last year American competitor Joey Chestnut upset reigning champion Takeru Kobayashi by stuffing down a whopping 59 hot dogs and buns. But can this Major League Eater, who currently holds records in chowing down on jalapeño poppers, waffles and matzo balls, hold onto his title (and his lunch)? www.nathansfamous.com

4. Tales of the Cocktail, New Orleans, Louisiana

Get into the spirit of New Orleans at the sixth annual Tales of the Cocktail, where mix masters, historians and authors gather to celebrate cocktails and cuisine. Guests can mix and mingle with the experts for spirit tastings and pairings, seminars and competitions, as well as a “cocktail tour” of the city. This year’s event takes place July 8 through 12, with tickets starting at $30. www.talesofthecocktail.com

Courtney Crowder recently returned from working with volunteers in New Orleans, check out Notes from New Orleans: Battling Fraud on the Long Road Home as well as Volunteering in New Orleans: Wading Through Wetlands With Common Ground Relief. And she also wrote up Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Project.

Lobster

5. Maine Lobster Festival, Rockland, Maine

Where better to celebrate this special crustacean than the state of Maine? The festival includes a parade, the crowning of the Maine Sea Goddess, and the lobster crate race—the winner is the one who can run the longest across a row of partially submerged lobster crates before falling in the chilly Atlantic Ocean.

Other events include a lobster-cooking contest, a lobster tent showcasing everything you ever wanted to know about this spiny creature, and, of course, plenty of eating. Last year, festival-goers prepared more than 20,000 pounds of lobster, along with other fresh Maine seafood. This year’s fest is set to boil from July 29 to August 2. www.mainelobsterfestival.com/index.php.

Traveling to Maine? Don’t miss Leslie Garrett’s eco-friendly Maine vacation: America the Beautiful: Postcard from the Edge.

6. Restaurant Week, St. Louis, Missouri

The fifth year of The Downtown St. Louis Restaurant Week is set to be its biggest yet. Running from August 3-9, patrons can dine on three-course dinner menus for $25, not including gratuities and drinks. Besides serving great meals, the Downtown St. Louis Restaurant Week allows you to “add an Extra Helping” for $5, which goes to Operation Food Search, St. Louis’ largest distributor of food to those in need. www.downtownrestaurantweek.net

Desert Cacti7. Restaurant Week, Phoenix, Arizona (and beyond)

In its inaugural year, Arizona’s Restaurant Week hoped to sign up 40 restaurants in the immediate Phoenix area to participate—instead, more 90 restaurants joined the party. The event has become so popular that organizers expanded it to include Tucson as well.

This year, some of the best in the West are set to cook up three-course meals, including the Bourbon Steakhouse, Roaring Fork and Sol Y Sombra. Make your travel plans for the week of September 19-25 in order to take part in this foodie fest. Prices are $29 per person and $58 per couple. www.arizonarestaurantweek.com

8. Grape Camp, Sonoma, California

Go beyond the tasting room at this three-day, hands-on seminar, which runs from September 21-23. Participants get to work side-by-side with master vintners to learn the art and science of wine making, from grape picking to wine blending.

Closeup grapesOther events include food pairing, cheese making and gourmet dinners. Tickets are $3,500 per couple (it’s $1900 if you’re flying solo), including stay at the Vintners Inn for two nights, all meals, tastings, and transportation. www.sonomagrapecamp.com

Check out David Latt’s Wine Boot Camp Chronicles for an inside look at this type of experience.

9. Barbecue Festival, Lexington, North Carolina

Don’t tell the residents of Lexington, North Carolina that barbecue is reserved for summer block parties. These guys take their barbecue very seriously, hence a festival dedicated almost entirely to this lip-smacking, finger-licking American delicacy. Eight blocks of Lexington’s Main Street are closed to traffic, with barbecue being served at three locations. The event also features more than 400 exhibitors selling everything from crafts to homemade fudge, and five musical stages. This all-out pig-lovin’ fest is in its 26th year and will take place on October 24. www.barbecuefestival.com

10. Restaurant Week, Austin, Texas

This funky Texas city is known for its fiercely proud citizens, so why not dine local as well? The event takes place each year in March and late August, offering three-course prix dinners for $25 or $35 depending on the restaurant. More than 40 restaurants participate, from the trendy Cru Wine Bar to the elegant Green Pastures Restaurant. www.restaurantweekaustin.com

By Courtney Crowder for PeterGreenberg.com.

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