At each of 20 cities on the tour, throngs of up to 1,500 passionate fans gather for a glimpse of the cooking network's star chefs, pushing for autographs and taking home unprecedented amounts of Food Network merchandise.
"It's exactly like rock star worship, but the fans are mainly upscale women who cook and the stars are chefs, who have become major personalities on TV," said Joe Allegro, exec VP of Food Network's chef events, who previously served as a concert promoter before joining Food Network in 1996.
The daylong events include three or four 30-minute live cooking shows conducted by Food Network chefs such as Emeril Lagasse, Martin Yan and Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. TV personality Robin Leach hosts each show.
Event tickets cost $40 to $60 each and include food tastings, product sampling and promotion by sponsors plus prizes, contests and giveaways.
Mr. Allegro says 75% of attendees buy merchandise including aprons, chef's jackets, T-shirts and books.
Launched in 1997, this year's expanded tour features a variety of sponsors with several more expected to come aboard this spring, said Food Network Director of Marketing John Dato.
New sponsor Brown-Forman Corp.'s Korbel is using the tour to introduce its new Chardonnay Champagne; Nabisco Biscuit Co.'s Fleishmann's is creating new package graphics to coincide with its on-pack promotion tied to Cooking Across America, with a photo and a special recipe by Food Network chef Curtis Aikens.
Other sponsors include Kitchen
Aid, 3M's Scotch Brite, Borden's ReaLemon and Gourmet, which has partnered with three events. The tour ends in December in Miami.
The events are not televised: "It's a fanfest for our viewers, a way to give people hands-on access to products and to promote Food Network," Mr. Allegro said.