TV food personality and author Katie Lee plans to geek out this weekend at Taste of Revel. "I really enjoy meeting people who are interested in food –– I'm kind of a food geek," says Lee, who is a regular contributor for CBS' "The Early Show." "The other people who come to events like these are the same. It's really fun to talk to them and hear about what they like to cook.
"It gives me an opportunity to do unscientific research to find out what recipes people want to make at home."
The author of "The Comfort Table" (Simon Spotlight Entertainment) will be part of a lineup showcasing Revel's top culinary talent, including "Iron Chefs" Jose Garces and Marc Forgione, Luke Palladino and Robert Wiedmaier.
Taste of Revel includes plenty of opportunities to indulge, whether you're interested in the hottest summer cocktails, chocolate and wine combinations, beer and cheese pairings or over-the-top chef's meals, as well as chances to recover via special core fitness and yoga classes.
The casino-resort's restaurants also will be featuring special menus on Saturday night to wrap up the Taste of Revel Restaurant Week.
Among Lee's duties will be to host Friday night's "Chefs Kickoff Bash," which will feature her signature deviled eggs and appetizer-sized versions of some of her recipes. The latter items remained undecided at press time, but Lee said she was leaning toward one of her personal favorites: mini chicken pot pies.
"I'm really into comfort food –– it's my favorite kind of food," she says.
Putting her own spin on familiar fare is key to Lee's philosophy of "conscious consumption. It's about being aware of what you're eating –– how it was raised, how it got to your plate, how it affects not only you, but future generations," she says. "I love comfort food, and to be comforted by my food, but I need to know where it comes from."
Her interest in cooking stems from growing up surrounded by extended family in small-town West Virginia.
"I'm fortunate I grew up in an environment like I did," she says. "My grandma was such an amazing cook –– the best cook I know. I was able to grow up with a sense of eating local, seasonal food –– it was farm-to-table before it was even a term."
Having hosted the first season of Bravo's "Top Chef," Lee has witnessed the interest in all things food- and chef-related morph into a major cultural trend.
"None of us had any idea that (the show) would become a phenomenon," Lee says. "We didn't know if it would last for two episodes or the whole season. We didn't think it would be such a hit. It shows how interested people are in food these days."
Although "Top Chef" has become an enduring franchise, the show and Lee were not the best combination, she says. She passed the hosting duties to Padma Lakshmi after the first season, and says she hasn't looked back.
"'Top Chef' wasn't the right fit for me," she says. "Being part of a competition with food, it wasn't the right thing –– it was a mutual break-up."
A more personal break-up –– the end of her marriage to singer-songwriter Billy Joel –– led the former English and Journalism major to fulfill another lifelong dream: to write a novel.
"I was getting divorced, and I wanted to do something out of my comfort zone," she says. "I decided to try surfing, because I was afraid of the ocean. I took my first lesson, and started loving it more and more."
The experience inspired her to write "Groundswell" (Gallery Books), a story about a young woman getting over a divorce who gets her life back by learning to surf in a Mexican beach town.
"I'm so proud it came to fruition," Lee says of her foray into fiction.
If Lee decides to write a fourth book –– she is also the author of "The Comfort Table: Recipes for Everyday Occasions" –– she will probably return to her first love of cooking. Whether buyers actually read her books is a different story, but that doesn't concern Lee, as long as it gets them thinking about food.
"I think people are more interested in cooking, but they might not be able to do it every night because of their jobs," she says. "People tell me, 'I buy cookbooks all the time, but I don't really use them. I like to look at the pictures.' That also gives people inspiration."
Taste of Revel Schedule
Sips at Distrito Cantina: Receive a signed copy of Iron Chef Jose Garces', right, "The Latin Road Home" by ordering any item with Patron tequila. 5 p.m. until late night, Distrito Cantina, prices vary.
Meet the Chefs Kickoff Bash: TV food personality and author Katie Lee hosts this opening event featuring a range of appetizers and specialty cocktails. 7 to 9 p.m.; VIP access starts at 6:30 p.m. O2 Living Rooms. $95; $150 for VIPs.
Sips of Summer with Chef Jose Garces: The Iron Chef offers a demo and tastings of cocktails. 9 to 10 p.m., The Mezz, $65
It's One Sweet Party: Revel pastry chefs offer a dessert reception with Mumm champagne and DJ tunes. 10 to 11:30 p.m., The Row, Champagne Room, $55
Core Fusion Barre to Bar: An outdoor fitness class focused on your core. 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., O2 Outside, $25
Conquer the Steak: Iron Chef Marc Forgione, left, shows how to prep prime cuts. 12:30 to 1:45 p.m., American Cut, $85
For the Love of Chocolate: Chef Luke Palladino leads tastings of handcrafted chocolates with Italian wines. 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m., Luke's Marketplace, $65
Belgian Beer and Cheese Pairing with Chef Robert Wiedmaier: The Mussel Bar chef, left, matches four of his restaurant's most popular cheese with draft beers. 2 to 3:30 p.m., The Mezz, $65
Music & Mixology: Katie Lee hosts this cocktail event featuring live music from gypsy jazz artists The Cook Trio. 3:30 to 5 p.m., Ivory Lounge, $65
Taste at Amada: Chef Garces will serve a special tapas tasting menu. 5 to 7 p.m., Amada, $85
Ready to Rock: ZZ Top VIP Box Hosted by Chef Wiedmaier: Get the star treatment, with VIP seats for ZZ Top and food and drink provided by the Mussel Bar chef. 7:30 to 9 p.m., Ovation Hall, $7,500 for whole box.
Savor at Village Whiskey: Receive a signed copy of Jose Garces' "The Latin Road Home" with purchase of Whiskey King burger and American whiskey flight. 9 to 11 p.m., Village Whiskey, prices vary
Taste of Revel Restaurant Week: Choose among special prix-fixe menus at American Cut, Azure, Village Whiskey, Lugo and Mussel Bar & Grille. Times, prices vary.
Sunrise Salutations & Personal Tea Assessment: Detox with a yoga flow class incorporating healing tea tastings. 10 to 11 a.m., O2 Outside, $25
Mother's Day Brunch with Chef Alain Allegretti: The Azure chef offers a menu with dishes from the French and Italian coasts.11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Azure, $75
Mother's Day Brunch at The Mezz: Enjoy a lavish buffet brunch with mom. 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., The Mezz, $75