Luciano Pellegrini, James Beard Award winner, will be in attendance at the Food and Wine Festival.

What will be more savored at this year’s Food and Wine Festival Palm Desert? Fine food and drink, or theimpossibly handsome visage of a soap-opera star who writes cookbooks?

Either way, this year’s event, which takes place Friday, March 22, through Sunday, March 24, in the ElPaseo shopping district in Palm Desert, is shaping up to be a world-class culinary shindig that organizerssay is their biggest and best yet.

Luciano Pellegrini, winner of the prestigious James Beard Award and executive chef of Piero SelvaggioValentino restaurant in Las Vegas, will be there. So will Sharone Hakman and Alejandra Schrader,finalists from the hit television show Master Chef.

According to Jeff Hocker, the event’s executive producer, award-winning chef Bradley Ogden, the driving force behind numerous big-name restaurants inCalifornia and beyond, will also be in attendance, as will Sean Kanan, who wrote a cookbook duringdowntime from his day job as an actor on General Hospital, The Bold and the Beautiful and The Karate Kid,Part III.

As for food and wine, expect a serious deluge of good things to eat and fine things to sip. More than 30 restaurants from the area are participating, as are more than 20 chefs,many from well-known eateries from across the country.

As for wine, Hocker says officials are putting more of an emphasis on that portion of the eventthan ever before. In the past, the event focused largely on wines from Napa and Sonoma counties, butthis year, wineries from Argentina, Italy and other renowned wine-producing regions are coming as well.

New to the event this year are special wine seminars that have yet to be finalized. Hocker expects thereto be between four and six classes which will be offered for an additional $25 during the Grand Tastingevents.

Hocker says organizers have also made an extra effort to organize the event so the food is located nearwines that pair well, essentially converting the entire event into one enormous wine-pairedaffair.

Also new to the event this year: A stage committed entirely to desserts. Hocker says it will be done upbistro-style, with coffee, cognac and other treats.

Hocker expects this year’s festival to be the biggest and best since organizers moved the event from PalmSprings to Palm Desert four years ago. Last year’s event drew 3,000 guests, he said, and he expects at least thatmany to attend this year.

The weekend kicks off on Friday, March 22, with a sit-down, four-course, wine-paired luncheonhosted by celebrity chefs. That event will set you back $125. Saturday and Sunday are all-out foodieextravaganzas, with cooking demonstrations, wine and liquor tastings, book signings and seminars.Tickets are $75 per day.

A portion of the proceeds from the event benefit the Culinary Institute of America’s EndowedScholarship Fund. Tickets and more information are available at