A crowd of about 9,000 people is expected in Midtown next week for the third annual Atlanta Food & Wine Festival. Included will be top culinary talent hailing from Southern locales between Texas and the District of Columbia.
The festival, co-founded by Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter, gathers chefs, mixologists, artisans, industry experts and enthusiasts to experience the food and beverage traditions of the South. Love said she hopes to put the national spotlight on Southern cuisine and establish Atlanta as the gateway.
The four-day event (May 30-June 2) will include a variety of learning experiences, tasting tents and special events. While this culinary journey travels mainly through the American South, the festival also features the flavors of Southern regions around the globe, such as Southern Europe, South Africa, South America and the Southern Hemisphere as well as Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
The festival is settling into a comfortable groove as it prepares for its third run. Each year brings tweaks to refine the experience and accommodate the growth in attendance, up from 5,000 in 2011. According to Love, the biggest challenge is keeping the programming fresh from year to year.
What remains constant is the culinary talent, now numbering almost 250. “In year three,” Love said, “their enthusiasm is just unbelievable.”
The learning experiences are the heart and soul of the festival and extend far beyond what Love calls the typical “dump and stir” chef demos and cooking classes. They are explorations of Southern traditions, culture and history, affording participants the opportunity to join a conversation with industry professionals.
This year seminars held at the Loews Atlanta Hotel will be even more interactive. Kept to 30-40 participants, sessions will be feature round communal tables replacing the theater-style seating of years past. Chefs will move through the room during the discussion rather than address the audience from stage. Tables will contain platters of food for participants to taste.
This year’s festival also will see a focus on Latin influences, with experiences like the one led by Adolfo Garcia and David Guas, who explore their Latin heritage as it melds with the cuisine of their native New Orleans. Local chefs Duane Nutter and Todd Richards also will lead an exploration of the traditions and techniques of the Latin South and how they influence our regional cuisine.
Women’s role as guardians of Southern culinary traditions is featured with sessions led by women brewers, vintners, chocolate makers, gardeners and moonshiners.
A returning theme is the examination of Southern traditions, and the impact of new techniques and ingredients. Cakes & Ale pastry chef Eric Wolitzky will lead the session “Modernizing Mama,” teaching participants how to update but still pay homage to family recipes.
Other experiences focus on pairings, from beer and doughnuts to chocolate with poultry and wild game. And for the practical take-away, you’ll find technique labs teaching participants how to improve vegetable cookery or prepare marshmallows, doughnuts, macaroons, cocktails and boozy breads.
You can taste the handiwork of the culinary talent at three tasting tent events held rain or shine over the course of the weekend. The tents are organized into “trails” that showcase categories, including chicken, pig, lamb, seafood, sweets, Southern snacks, craft beers and Southern wines and spirits.
This year the footprint will be expanded to afford guests more “breathing room.” The layout also has been altered so that wine and spirits will be interspersed with the munchies in each trail.
In its inaugural year, the festival held a number of special ticketed dinners at restaurants around town. Many of those have been eliminated, which lightens the load on the talent and drives visitors to local restaurants.
A few special evening events do remain; many have reached capacity, but you can still purchase tickets for the Pig Out dinner at JCT Kitchen ($65). Atlanta chefs Ford Fry, E.J. Hodgkinson, Chris Hall, Eli Kirshtein, Todd Mussman and Suzanne Vizethann will join a handful of other chefs from across the South to prepare tailgating foods.
Single-day tickets (starting at $185) and three-day passes (starting at $500) are still available for the festival. They can be purchased online in advance or during the event at the welcome center located at the corner of Juniper and 11th streets. Tasting tent tickets ($100) will be available at the venue (11th Street and Peachtree Walk).
–by Jenny Turknett, Food and More blog