The Charleston Wine + Food Festival is overhauling its Culinary Village, the geographic and spiritual center of the yearly festival. With ticket sales set to launch Wednesday, staffers reveal that tasting tents in 2015 will shake off their trade show format in favor of an emphasis on education and interaction.
Tickets for the 10th annual Charleston Wine + Food Festival go on sale Wednesday. To mark the occasion, the festival is throwing a ticket launch party at The Power House. The event begins at 7 p.m.; tickets are priced at $50.
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"We read every little bit of feedback as it related to the Culinary Village," said Executive Director Gillian Zettler, alluding to mounting complaints that the area was difficult to navigate and not representative of the caliber of talent participating in the festival.
In response, the temporary Marion Square settlement has been restructured to feature a concert stage, ongoing demonstrations and more chances to converse with chefs.
"There were a lot less restaurants there over the years," said Patrick Emerson, who's serving as the festival's wine and beverage director.
His Culinary Village responsibilities include an expanded beer garden and a rose-sipping section alongside the grilling area. "We want people to leave full and happy."
A concern for guests' satiety and enjoyment informs the newly released schedule for the festival's 10th edition, which runs March 4-8. Among the notable changes are a downsized opening night gala, the addition of a late-night Waffle House Smackdown preliminary round, and the replacement of a closeout barbecue event with a country-cooking celebration at Harborside East, presumably styled after the successful Sunday Supper at the Euphoria Greenville food event.
The festival also has swapped in a gospel brunch for the jazz brunch traditionally held on Sunday morning; partnered with Pecha Kucha to create a culinary-themed version of the popular PowerPoint-assisted show and tell; and invited the Southern Foodways Alliance to park its oral history bus at Marion Square.
Southern Foodways Alliance will not host a party, as it has in years past, but will screen films in conjunction with Saturday's Southern Betty Brunch. The event, dreamed up by Charleston Grill's Michelle Weaver, will feature an all-female crew of chefs and winemakers.
Celebrating the 10th
Guest chefs committed to the festival include past attendees Hugh Acheson, Steven Satterfield and Linton Hopkins of Atlanta; Houston's Chris Shepherd; and Asheville's John Fleer. Birmingham's Frank Stitt also is set to participate, although Zettler did not reveal in what capacity. On the beverage side, the lineup includes The New York Times' Eric Asimov and sommelier Rajat Parr.
"We asked the (Charleston) chefs who did they want to celebrate the 10-year with," Zettler said.
In recognition of the 10-year anniversary, Emerson said many of the beverage seminars and tastings will focus on 2005 vintages. For the first time, global spirits conglomerate Diageo is serving as a sponsor, so Bulleit 10-year Bourbon and Tanqueray 10 Gin will be featured prominently at the event.
The opening night gala, which will be staged in the Culinary Village's grand tasting tent, also will harken back to Charleston's past with a "Charleston Receipts" theme: Participating chefs have been asked to draw dish inspiration from the iconic cookbook. The chef tally stands at 20, about the same as last year, but fewer tickets will be sold.
Other events with a more intimate feel include a number of interactive workshops, such as a sushi-rolling session at O-Ku; a pizza-making class at DeSano Pizza Bakery; and a "Distiller for a Day" program at High Wire Distilling Co. "We want to talk through the experience of how things are done," festival spokeswoman Cathryn Zommer said, referencing a class covering how to make five classic cocktails.
Three nights of guest chefs
Guest chef dinners also have been recast to play down the herd mentality at odds with $175 meals. Rather than shoehorn all of the meals into a standard banquet setup, in which every guest in a given restaurant is presented the same dish at the same time, the festival is allowing the coupled local and guest chefs to determine the pace and design of their dinners. "So we encourage guests to read the dinner descriptions," Zettler advises.
For instance, a restaurant could organize a family-style feast, or offer separate seatings. That's the plan at The Grocery, where former vegetarian Kevin Johnson is working with Satterfield and Austin's Andrew Wiseheart to prepare a meatless meal.
The Grocery also is hosting a preservation-themed dinner with guest chefs Acheson and Chicago's Paul Virant.
In another departure from previous years, guest chef dinners will now be offered on Thursday, Friday and Saturday - at least a half a dozen each night. With the exception of The Grocery, the restaurants don't repeat. "Now you can go to three major events," Emerson said.
Each restaurant will be paired with a winemaker, a carryover practice from earlier festivals. Emerson said he's helped coordinate the matchups, rather than leave it up to restaurants to locate the right partners.
"I'm trying to really make sure it's a wine and food experience, and not just a food experience," he said.