Underneath the surface of this elegant, indulgent, fashionable event, there is a fierce undercurrent in the sea of pinstripe and pink.
It becomes most obvious on the dance floor where you find chefs dancing with other chefs, waitresses, bartenders, Islanders and visitors, all moving and grooving to the music of The Sultans of Swing. Because, as much as the Taste of the Vineyard is a social highlight of the summer, what it truly should be described as is a night for the food and beverage industries to lay down their hatchets (and knives) and join in a celebration of their hard work. The overwhelming sense of camaraderie and companionship between chefs, brewers, business-owners, and volunteers is what truly makes the Taste a triumphant night.
Phil and Colleen McAndrews of Offshore Ale and Co. in Oak Bluffs have been coming to the Taste ever since they arrived on the Island five years ago, and both agree the best part of the Taste is seeing everyone from different restaurants all in one place, working together.
“[The Taste of the Vineyard is] one of the few events where everybody who owns a business is actually in one place,” says Mr. McAndrews as he pours beer from his taps for the anxious crowd. “You get to see everybody before we all go back into our caves and start working like crazy for the summer. It’s a nice way to kickoff the season.”
This sense of excitement as a participant is something this writer has been familiar with as a volunteer for the past four years. Although a business owner is not charged a fee to have a table, they must donate enough products to accommodate the number of guests attending. This year 800 tickets were sold. And despite the hard work that goes into each year, more than 60 of the nearly 75 vendors who participated are returning from previous years. So why this insatiable enthusiasm for something that seems like, to put it frankly, a lot of hard work? “It’s worth it,” says chef Douglas Hewson of Mediterranean. “It’s worth it to connect with people, and connect with Islanders, and have a chance to connect with the other people in the industry. You get to see what other people are doing.”
As a volunteer, the true enjoyment comes from sampling other vendors’ products and having them try yours. A glass of Rombauer’s Chardonnay for a sample of the Mediterranean’s pan-fried Haloumi and tomato compote on a crostini. Or how about a quick trade across the table for a glass of Offshore Ale’s Amber Ale to go with some raw oysters from the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group. Guests equally like the wide variety of food and drinks to mix and match. Colin Ruel, who has attended several Tastes, says, “It’s a wonderful opportunity to sample some of the Island’s fine cuisines. There are many fantastic restaurants and it’s a great place to sample them all in one great venue and one great night. It’s the perfect evening.”
For the past 25 years, the Taste has been heralded as an exceptional night. Meg O’Connor, Director of Property Management for the Preservation Trust, described this year “a smashing success.” She agrees that although it’s an event for everyone to enjoy, it truly is a night for Islanders to come together and celebrate the success of their restaurants and businesses. “It’s a night to blow off some steam, have fun, and then get down to business”
Robin Baron of J. Lohr Wines couldn’t agree more. “It’s an unbelievable crowd, it’s a great event, everyone looks forward to it. We were walking around town and everybody was talking about it. Everybody comes out, they enjoy the wines and the food. It’s a great crowd.”
This year, after 10 years of the ticket price remaining at $125, it was raised to $150. Ms. O’Connor explains “all the vendors we work with had raised their prices, so we had to do the same.” She adds, “The price won’t go up for a while.” Guest Nick Catt found the increase in price unfortunate, but countered that at least it goes to a good cause.
This year the 25th anniversary was celebrated at l’etoile’s table, a restaurant that has participated every year since the Taste began. In honor of their longevity, they served the same dish chef Michael Brisson served the first year of the Taste: lobster, salmon, and scallop boudin with a curry lobster sauce.
Guest John Anderson has also attended the Taste for the past 25 years. This year he was most impressed with Right Fork Diner’s sliders, Sidecar Restaurant’s strawberry soup, and Our Market’s Bordeaux, Les Haut de Larrivet Haut Brion 2003.
The Lure Grill at the Winnetu’s crab cakes were phenomenal, with a pickled vegetable salad and a Dijon mustard sauce. Bill Smith’s M.V. Clambake’s clam chowder is a staple of the Taste. Kitchen Porch Catering offered excellent chicken liver mousse and homemade herb mozzarella. Another favorite throughout the crowd was the Uni Broue Brewery from Quebec. Their La Fin Du Monde beer was outstanding and the talk of the evening. Guests were impressed with the wide variety of wine, from French Bordeaux to Italian Prosecco, Californian Chardonnay to Petite Syrah and Pinot Noir. This year 14 new vendors participated, creating a nice blend of new and old favorites.
While the band played into the night, vendors and volunteers packed up their tables, completing another successful year at the Taste. A feeling of accomplishment filled the tent, along with a sigh of relief. All that was left to do was dance, have a good time, and enjoy each other’s company before the full force of summer hits.
So, until next year — when the Island’s restaurant and beverage industry meets again for one momentous night at the Taste of the Vineyard.
Freelance writer and wine enthusiast Anna Ward, of Vineyard Haven, is a 2004 graduate of the M.V. Public Charter School and a 2008 graduate of Marymount Manhattan College.