¡Latin Food Fest! an annual food fest that celebrates Latin cuisine and spirits on both the East and West Coasts returns to California on March 20-21, 2015 for its next star-studded Latin culinary classic, "Grande Tasting Los Angeles."

Festival Executive Director Richie Matthews, who also serves as President of DIÁLOGO Public Relations, shared his enthusiasm for the ¡Latin Food Fest! with Latin Post in an exclusive interview, as well as some insight on some growing trends in the Latin culinary world. He also highlighted an uptick and interest in spirits, and spoke about executive chefs versus TV chefs and an increasing trend more toward Brazilian cuisine and spirits and Salvadoran cuisine.

"While there are dozens of local Latin cultural festivals and fairs around America, where food is offered but not the focus, ¡Latin Food Fest! fills the need for a broad based destination event that celebrates and showcases Latin food, wine, spirits and culinary personalities," Matthews explained.  "It's all about the food; much like the major general market culinary classics in New York, Miami, Chicago etc.

"Taking place in Los Angeles - March 20-21, San Diego - Aug. 14-15 and New York - Nov. 14-15, 2015, ¡Latin Food Fest! draws thousands of culinary enthusiasts of all stripes, and is now the largest, most attended annual Latin food, wine and spirits event in the U.S. .... I run DIÁLOGO Public Relations and while working on a food initiative a few years ago, I became aware of the need for such a festival, which was the impetus of launching the festival."

What does the "Grande Tasting Los Angeles" have on its line-up?

With the beautiful Santa Monica Beach Park as a backdrop, "Grande Tasting Los Angeles" will feature an array white tasting tents featuring a star-studded culinary showdown (hosted by Tati Polo) and  a tasting booth, which will showcase offerings from more than 200 Latin restaurants, chefs, artisanal foods makers and renowned purveyors of Latin wine, beer and spirits.  There will also be a "Flavor of the Americas Dinner," "Latin Food Expo," "Chefs Night Out" and "Grande Wine Tasting and a "Baja Beer Garden" pavilion.

"Grande Tasting is an all-inclusive tasting festival so guests pay one price to enter and indulge in a variety of local and international Latin food, wine and spirits. Chefs who will go head to head in a fun cooking competition and the Best of Fest Awards is our showcase of culinary excellence," Matthews added. "Thematic pavilions will include: Grande Wine Tasting with wine Argentina, California, Chile, Mexico and Spain; Spirits of the Americas, and the popular VIP Playa. The dinner is a benefit, expo a trade event and Chef's Night Out a party for the participating chefs and VIP's."

At the "Spirits of the Americas," mixologists and distillers will hold tastings of Cachaça, Rum, Pisco, Mezcal, Sotol and Tequila. The festival will also have live music and an art show featuring local musicians and artists.

"Our inaugural event was in 2013, which included over 100 restaurants, wineries, distillers, food companies and chefs, including Aaron Sanchez, Ingrid Hoffmann, Javier Plascencia, Pablo Salas and fifty other culinarians," he said.

"While we have an amazing lineup of 'celebrity' chefs, we have found that our devoted foodie audience is more interested in executive chef types who are attached to a kitchen instead of a TV studio. We are also raising the profile of mixology and spirits, and will be hosting our third annual 'Spirits of the Americas' tasting and awards with neat and mixed samples of Cachaça, Rum, Pisco, Mezcal, Sotol, Tequila and other Latin spirits."

Like with Latin cuisine, the craft/specialty Latin beverage industry is on the rise and Matthews adds that this trend is "hot, hot, hot."

There have been shifts in the Latin culinary direction as well, according to Matthews.

"Latin food in Southern California and New York was about Baja food and wine in recent years but that seems to be over and the now we're seeing a trend toward Brazilian cuisine and spirits such as Cachaça, Peruvian chefs and food, Salvadoran cuisine, and Spanish wine is the defacto champion of the Latin wine world," he said.

Another trend is: "We are finding that Latin food enthusiasts are most interested in restaurant cuisine that is simple, healthy and fresh but the trend has moved away from deconstructed cuisine such as molecular gastronomy and away from street food," Matthews added.

The 2015 Latin Food Fest will take place in Los Angeles March 20-21, San Diego Aug. 14-15 and New York Nov. 14-15.  (Visa® cardholders can get discounted tickets for the 2015 festival beginning Friday, Feb. 6, online at www.latinfoodfest.com/tickets.)