The Grand Tasting Tent looms large on the map of the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival's Culinary Village and in the minds of many attendees, but the most rewarding experiences are found in the surrounding tents. Here, a guide to what awaits in the auxiliary areas:
The Celebrity Kitchen: For the first time this year, the festival is charging an additional price for demonstrations (they're throwing in free booze to make the fee go down easier.) Perhaps as a result, the first two sessions Friday morning were only half full. But folks who signed up to learn Gramercy Tavern's chef Michael Anthony review how to make an egg crepe and vegetable salad were rewarded with a passionate sermon on wine's relationship to food, delivered by New York City sommelier Paul Greico (Hearth, Terroir)
"Wine is a conduit to food," Greico said. "Wine is not a luxury. Wine is a grocery."
OpenAir Artisan Market: The marketplace has the usual array of drink mixers, sweets and salad dressings for sampling. Gray Ghost Bakery, which recently signed a lease on a James Island production facility, allowing the company to relocate operations from Columbia, has a new lemon cookie worth seeking out. And alongside the market, in the newly created beer area, don't miss the Bay Street Biergarten pretzels with Lusty Monk mustards.
Lounge: The Virginia Wine Board is in its second year of hosting the lounge, which is housed in the warmest tent on festival grounds. "We just got lucky," board Director Annette Boyd said. Last year, aesthetic signals got crossed, so the tent was done up as a French country estate. This year, the decor clearly conveys Virginia, as do the freely flowing wines from nine producers and snack spread of boiled peanut hummus and sweet potato rolls with ham. Did I mention it's the warmest tent?
SFA Culinary Hub: More beer and cocktails here, but it's the discussion which makes this tent so valuable. One of Friday's panels featured Southern Foodways Alliance Director John T. Edge and Oxford, Miss., restaurateur John Currence in conversation with Bobby and Julia Grant of Bertha's Kitchen.
"Over the last decade, we've seen renewed interest in barbecue," Edge said. "There has not, unfortunately, developed a fan club for meat-and-threes and soul food cooking."
The panel closed with an exchange between Edge and an audience member who challenged Edge's assertion that the Limehouse Produce greens served at Husk and Bertha's were the same food in terms of tradition and aspiration.
"I think we could do a blind taste test and be stumped," Edge said.
The audience member, still skeptical, replied, "I've eaten a lot of greens in my life."
"Well, you need to come eat Bertha's greens," Bobby Grant said decisively.
Reach Hanna Raskin at 937-5560.