For the city’s still struggling restaurant industry, the New York City Wine & Food Festival’s full return next month is manna from heaven — and another sign that life is getting back to normal after COVID shutdowns.

At the start of lockdown, top restaurateurs closed up, leaving thousands of employees in the lurch. New Yorkers vacated the city faster than the spread of crime and COVID. Now they’re back — even if some have been priced out of their former apartments — and eager to feast, NYCWFF founder Lee Schrager told The Post.

“I think people are ready to go out and have some fun, and while I thought that New York was dead for a time, I also knew that it would come back as it’s the greatest city in the world,” Schrager said 

This year’s festival will bring together more than 400 chefs for 80 events at 41 venues across Manhattan and Brooklyn from Oct. 13-16. 

The creme de la creme of the culinary world includes French-born Alain Ducasse, Israeli-born British chef Yotam Ottolenghi and Tuscany’s Dario Cecchini. They join New York favorites Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Daniel Boulud, Michael White, Justin Bazdarich, Ed Cotton, Amanda Cohen, Leah Cohen and Marc Forgione.

Daniel Boulud
Daniel Boulud
New York Wine & Food Festival

“It’s back to business,” Schrager said, adding that people are hungry for human contact. “We are already selling the same number of tickets as 2019, when more than 44,000 people attended.” 

That’s quite a change from the first festival 15 years ago — a one-night event called Sweet, which brought together more than 50 New York pastry chefs and sold about 1,200 tickets.

To date, NYCWFF has raised more than $15 million. All net proceeds from this year’s gatherings will go to the festival’s partner, God’s Love We Deliver, Schrager said. 

This year’s coveted tickets include top chef JJ Johnson and Lauren Von Der Pool’s vegan dinner at God’s Love We Deliver using products from their rooftop garden. In addition, Kwame Onwuachi, a James Beard Award-winning chef and author of “Letters of a Black Chef,” will be hosting an Afro-Caribbean dinner.

Festivalgoers at last year's event.
Festivalgoers at last year’s event. The festival gives chefs the chance to reconnect with their fans — and generate sponsorship gigs, Schrager noted.
Getty Images for NYCWFF

The festival also gives chefs the chance to reconnect with their fans — and generate sponsorship gigs, Schrager noted.

“It’s like Spring Break for chefs, and the best networking event of the year,” he said. “The festival is a great opportunity for big-name chefs and lesser-known, new chefs, from restaurants throughout New York and beyond. There is so much opportunity. All the publishers are there, plus all the companies for pots and pans and aprons and things.”

While the pandemic didn’t end up changing the nature of live events, it has produced a certain group of people that prefer to congregate in small groups. 

The revamped Intimate Dinner Series will showcase renowned chefs Rachael Ray, Alex Guarnaschelli, David Burtka, and Mumbai-born and James Beard Award-winning best New York state chef/star Chintan Pandya.

Those not shy about big crowds can still attend the big signature events, from Tacos & Tequila to Blue Moon Burger Bash to the Backyard BBQ. The Grand Tasting tent will be at Hudson River Park’s Pier 76. Other events will be in Brooklyn, including a brunch with Michael Solomonov at his new hotspot, Laser Wolf Brooklyn.

Dishes from last year's event.
Dishes from last year’s event.
Getty Images for NYCWFF

Chefs on stage include Robert Irvine, Andrew Zimmern, Carla Hall, Duff Goldman, Guarnaschelli, Marcus Samuelsson, Geoffrey Zakarian, Katie Lee and Anne Burrell;

And thanks to a new sponsor, Air France, there will also be more French chefs — coinciding with the rise in new eateries from Le Rock in Rockefeller Center to Le Dive on the Lower East Side — as well as Boulud’s Le Gratin in FiDi’s Beekman Hotel, Maison Close in Soho, Francis Staub’s rebirth of the late Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles and Deux Chats in Williamsburg.

Dishes from last year's event.
This year’s festival will bring together more than 400 chefs for 80 events at 41 venues across Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Getty Images for NYCWFF

Schrager launched NYCWFF after emulating the Aspen Food & Wine Classic with his South Beach Wine and Food Festival 22 years ago. 

“I came up with both ideas from the Aspen event. I looked at that, and thought, how great would it be on the beaches of South Florida, and then, how great would it be to use classic New York City venues to showcase chefs and hold events,” Schrager said. 

He is looking forward to seeing which trends and star ingredients grab the spotlight this year. 

“One year, everyone did sea urchin. Another year it was pork belly. I can’t predict and won’t know what this year’s trend will be until I see it, but I will see it. It will be something,” Schrager said.

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