Stars of the culinary industry descend on coastal Georgia this week.
“The level of talent that will be here in Savannah is absolutely amazing,” says President of the Savannah Food & Wine Festival Michael T. Owens. Some of the names he’s referring to include Chris Hastings, Hugh Acheson, Kent Rathbun, The Lee Brothers, Nathalie Dupree and Rob Mondavi Jr. “These are chefs, authors, winemakers and sommeliers that are highly respected in their fields and around the world,” he continues.
The weeklong festival, started 13 years ago as a one-evening event, kicks off tonight, with a Farm to Table Dinner at Bethesda Academy hosted by award-winning Chef Elizabeth Terry, a Georgia native and author of “Savannah Seasons,” and master sommelier Robert Jones. Throughout the week, guests can attend a variety of other dinners and wine tastings hosted by celebrity chefs, including “Top Chef” judge Hugh Acheson (pictured), who operates three restaurants in the state, including Atlanta’s Empire State South.
Wine lovers are welcome to enjoy the luxurious Grand Reserve Wine Tasting to be held on November 14. “If you appreciate good wine, the festival has a multitude of events you can attend,” says tasting committee Chairman Hugh Golden. “If you appreciate great wine, you won’t find a better ticket available in the southeast region to taste extraordinary wine than the Grand Reserve.”
Special VIP guests at the Grand Reserve will include Lydia and Rob Mondavi Jr., master sommeliers Jones, Michael McNeill and Joy Sterling, along with chefs Hastings, Anthony Lamas, Shaun Doty and The Lee Brothers. Wine tastings and dinners continue through the week, but another event that stands out is the Mondavi Family Wine Dinner at The Westin on November 16. Hosted by fourth-generation winemaker Rob Mondavi Jr. (pictured below), this one will feature rare wines and a four-course meal prepared by chefs Hastings and Rathbun.
Learning Experiences events on November 15 and 16 are for those looking for more hands-on participation at this festival. The day includes multiple cooking classes, tastings and seminars, with an All-Day Epicurean Pass available. Friday evening’s Riverboat Wine & Dinner Cruise with Food Network’s Extreme Chef Anthony Lamas is the perfect way to wind down before the main event on Saturday.
The main course of the Savannah Food & Wine Festival, Taste of Savannah in Ellis Square kicks off the afternoon of November 16 in the historic downtown area with hundreds of food booths and wine exhibitors. Guests can enjoy entertainment, cookbook signings and cooking demos all day and on into the evening when the after-party starts. Grilling with the Executive Chef of the Georgia Governor’s Mansion Holly Chute, the Mondavi Family’s Cellar rare wine tasting and a culinary presentation by Savannah Technical College are just a few of the highlights going on during Taste of Savannah.
Historically a one-evening event, the Savannah Food & Wine Festival has grown up and branched out this year. Owens says that he and his team decided during the 2012 festival that their event needed to be bigger, better and more accessible to the public. Jan Gourley was brought on board this year as festival director, and what was once a quick celebration of the city’s epicurean delights has now transformed into a full seven days with more than 300 volunteers and thousands of expected attendees., also putting Savannah on the map as one of the top cultural destinations in the country. “It’s a unique and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet and learn from these professionals up-close in intimate settings,” concludes Owens.
Tickets for each of the Savannah Food & Wine Festival events may be purchased online, and anyone interested in volunteering is encouraged to sign up at any time. The Farm to Table Dinner on November 11 is $150, and tickets for the Riverboat Wine and Dinner Cruise on November 15 start at $89 per person. The main event, Taste of Savannah, starts Saturday afternoon with general admission tickets available for $50, while the other celebrity dinners and wine tastings range from $125 to $275.