Eat, drink, learn
No sequined dresses, no 12-piece band doing back-to-back Michael Jackson covers, no wedding-like atmosphere - the focus was clearly on food and wine. The Grand Tasting was one of the many events held from Friday through Sunday as part of the second annual Food and Wine Festival, a three-day epicurean experience that included wine and food celebrities, local venues, and two $500-a-plate gourmet dinners. People came to eat, drink, and socialize, accompanied by a desire to learn about the art of fine cooking, and an awareness of the importance of supporting local farmers, fisherman, and food producers.
Sponsored in great part by Nestle, Christina Gallery, Crane Appliances, the Hob Knob inn, and the Harbor View Hotel, the Grand Tasting was held from 1 to 4 pm under a large white tent on the grounds of the Martha's Vineyard Museum in Edgartown. In the minutes before its scheduled opening, the pace of activity increased - wine keys turned, chopping and dicing approached a seemingly dangerous tempo.
Photos by Lynn Christoffers
By 1:30 the tent was packed. The atmosphere was one of reserved celebration. Lines quickly grew in front of booths offering food, both savory and sweet, mostly from Edgartown restaurants, and wine - the majority coming from Californian producers. Local authors sold their cookbooks, and at a silent auction people bid on art and wine.
Among the booths was that of Chefs Collaborative, a Boston-based organization that works to educate chefs on how to incorporate more sustainable food choices in their menus. "Producers can learn how to market to chefs," explained development associate Elizabeth Kennedy, "and chefs can learn how to work with producers."
Buttons carrying the organization's motto succinctly articulated the theme of the Grand Tasting and perhaps even the festival as a whole: "Local. Sustainable. Delicious."
Apart from eating food, the main attraction of the afternoon was seeing how it was made. A fully equipped demonstration kitchen was set up in the center of the tent, where chefs took turns to teach the audience how to make the food item they were serving at their booth. To a crowd of around 50, each chef imparted bits of wisdom, culinary philosophies, and well-learned techniques.
Levon Wallace, the executive chef at Edgartown's Harbor View Hotel, demonstrated how to make veal and ricotta meatballs. The chef said he preferred to manipulate ingredients as little as possible in order to preserve their inherent beauty and flavor. The veal he prepared came from a northeast producer that is on the forefront of humane animal husbandry, according to the chef. The meatballs were served with mushrooms foraged in Massachusetts.
Having moved from San Francisco to Martha's Vineyard over the summer, Mr. Wallace was impressed by the Martha's Vineyard community's level of commitment to using local food.
"I think the beauty of Martha's Vineyard is that everyone is trying to do farm-to-table, local, sustainable," said Mr. Wallace. "That's sort of the trend right now. But I've never been to a place where it's so apparent as it is on Martha's Vineyard. I really think that this Island is a true backbone in farm-to-table. How could it not be with all the beautiful produce, beautiful people, and farms?"
Also present was Christian Thornton, chef and owner of the Edgartown restaurant Atria, who served rice noodles with roasted duck and shiitake mushrooms in take-out Chinese food containers. He expected a big turnout at the restaurant that night for dinner. "Typically our bar becomes a gathering place for a lot of these folks - big party there," Mr. Thornton said, underscoring the festival's success in increasing activity in Edgartown during a weekend when business would normally have been slow.
The festival, put on by the Edgartown Board of Trade, is also charitable. It raises money for the Martha's Vineyard Museum, which receives all the proceeds from Friday night's opening event, as well as portion of the money raised in the silent auction and cookbook sales.
According to Amy Houghton, the museum's director of development and a member of the Food and Wine Committee, the festival was a success. "We've had a higher attendance at all the events, we have many more participants for today, and from what I've heard from the vendors, they're very pleased and think it's going very smoothly."