It’s August, and the 2013 edition of the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival is six months distant, but organizers already are whetting appetites with one-of-a-kind eating and drinking experiences.
Festival tickets go on sale Aug. 30, which will be celebrated with a Launch Party that night, as in years past. The setting will be the Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina at Patriots Point, and the theme will be summery and beachy, something the festival isn’t able to do during its run Feb. 28-March 3.
Organizers also are testing the waters for a new event over the Labor Day holiday weekend. On Sept. 1, they will host a Local Catch Cookout, also at the Charleston Harbor Resort. The Saturday night cookout will be the culmination of an offshore fishing trip the day before involving eight chefs, six local and two guests. The idea is for those chefs to prepare fish and seafood for the crowd from what they reeled in on Friday. (If the trip turns out to be a dud, local catch is still guaranteed at the cookout.)
Then on Oct. 3, the “Ultimate Critics Dinner” will take place at historic Ashem Farm, on Old Towne Road adjacent to Charles Towne Landing. It will be the first time the 55-acre property will be opened to the public, says festival Communications Director Ashley Zink.
Like last year’s dinner within the walls of Fort Sumter, Ashem presents an unusual setting but also logistical challenges for the $250 outdoor fete. Electricity and water are limited.
Six chefs, a pastry chef, sommelier and master of ceremonies for the dinner, in its third year, are chosen by a panel of local food critics and writers via secret ballot. They will be named within the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, the festival is pulling together a number of new events while continuing to tweak some of its older ones. But once again, all signature events will take place in venues away from Marion Square, like the Opening Night Party at the S.C. Aquarium.
“Now that we’ve done it once, we think we’ll be that much better at it for next year,” Zink says.
The park does remain home to the festival’s Culinary Village, Celebrity Kitchen and Grand Tasting Tents, among other attractions.
New plans call for a “This Little Piggy” lunch March 1 at Lowndes Grove, with each chef taking on a different swine. Also new is combining the celebrity author receptions with winemaker receptions in private homes, with the authors serving food samples drawn from recipes in their books.
The Soul Food Shuffle is back with new destinations. So, too, are the popular Perfectly Paired Dinners, aka “dine-arounds,” hosted by local chefs and restaurants with a featured guest chef. Those dinners will be offered on both Friday and Saturday nights for the first time.
Brand-new is a “Waffle House Smackdown” at midday March 2 in the Celebrity Kitchen tent. The event will pit local and guest chefs against each other in a timed competition to re-create iconic Waffle House dishes.
The finale barbecue on March 3 is moving from the Maritime Center to the Mount Pleasant Visitor Center under a new name: Rigs, Pigs and Swigs. The Lowcountry Brunch earlier that Sunday is changing its music format from gospel to jazz.
The festival’s priciest ticket, $1,000 for the private penthouse dinner Wine + Food With a View, will be a tribute affair for the first time. The honoree is acclaimed Southern chef and restaurateur Frank Stitt of Birmingham, Ala., whose flagship is the Highlands Bar and Grill. Stitt has been a regular participant in the festival, and he has hand-picked a group of chefs to be part of the tribute, including Hugh Acheson and Linton Hopkins of Georgia and Ben and Karen Barker of North Carolina. Local chefs in the mix are Sean Brock and Mike Lata.
“Frank and his wife will be very involved in planning it,” Zink says.
This year’s “lucky” seventh festival didn’t turn out to be a total winner. Zink says while overall attendance was up, exceeding 21,000 people, “challenging weather” caused on-site ticket sales to suffer. On Friday, the first full day, the temperature was unseasonably hot. Torrential rains came down most of Saturday and Saturday night, while the weather turned cold and windy Sunday.
Festival Director Angel Postell says a couple of events weren’t as successful as hoped: the Farm Feast Auction and Taco Turf Wars. “We just struggled with those.”
As a result, the 2012 festival ended $12,000 in the red. But the festival also was able to cover the shortfall without tapping into its reserve fund.
Planning for 2013 has been a tad more conservative. While the number of events should remain at about 90, organizers are budgeting for slightly lower attendance, “just to be safe,” Zink says.
Revenues for 2013 are projected at $1.9 million. The 2012 festival ended with revenues of $1.836 million, according to Postell.
Ticket prices should stay fairly steady for next year. Some will go up slightly, such as $10 more to $135 per ticket for the Opening Night Party. But October’s Ultimate Critics Dinner is coming down $50 to $250 per head.