If there was a ring announcer for the Savannah Food & Wine Festival, he would say, "And now for the main event!" when the gates opened at the historic Georgia State Railroad Museum on Nov. 12 for Taste of Savannah. The event takes place from 1-5 p.m. and tickets are $65 per person. VIP tickets are already sold out, so be sure to get your tickets online before the event.
Ticketholders will receive a souvenir crystal wine glass with five food coins to purchase small plate offerings from some of the best restaurants in Savannah. Tickets also include limitless wine, beer and spirit tastings.
This year's Taste of Savannah features a record number of exhibitors along with cooking and beverage demonstration stages, including 400 different beverages and more than 20 restaurants. There is also a special Georgia Grown Village that will feature more than 40 booths with food, products and artisan creations.
A very popular part of Taste of Savannah is the stages where some of the biggest names in Southern cuisine present cooking demos. This year's event features a record seven stages. Some of the highlights include "Hunter Cattle Goes Whole Hog" from 2:45-3:45 p.m. at the Big Green Egg Grilling Gurus Stage, where Anthony Ferguson of Hunter Cattle Co. will teach you how to butcher a whole hog. The Georgia Grown Village Stage will feature some of Georgia's brightest culinary stars, including locals David and Carol Legasse from The Salt Table.
And as always, Publix Apron's Kiosk Stage will feature local chefs with their winning menu options: Dusty Grove, executive chef of Pacci Italian Kitchen, will demo his cilantro lime chicken meatballs at 1 p.m.; followed by Brandon Whitestone, executive chef of Cotton & Rye, who will demo his spicy garlic clam fritters at 2:30 p.m.; and Matthew Roher, executive chef of Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island, will present his coriander lime spiced Springer Mountain Farms chicken with coconut-cilantro jasmine rice and fresh mango/tomato salsa. All these ingredients, recipes and spice options are available at Publix so you will be able to go home and make these yourself, too.
If you missed out on tickets for the sold-out Rising Star Chefs Dinner that takes place after Taste of Savannah, you'll want to stop by the Springer Mountain Farms Stage to see demos from these up-and-coming Southern chefs. The event is billed as "This is Not Your Granny's Southern Kitchen" where pairs of chefs will be given Southern favorites like fried chicken and collards, chicken and dumplings and chicken biscuits, and are asked to re-interpret these recipes using new tools, techniques and trends they are already exploring in their own restaurants.
The idea behind the dinner and the chef pairings for the stage comes from Springer Mountain Farms' Celebrate the Chef program. According to Dale Faunce, director of marketing for Springer Mountain Farms, the program is about building relationships with the best chefs in their Southern market.
"This program is about local," he says. "We have a rule: if it's more than a five-hour drive from Springer, then they aren't part of the program."
Springer Mountain Farms is located near Mount Airy, Ga., in the Blue Ridge Mountains and is a family-owned business dedicated to raising chickens with a quality of life and diet that results in a "healthier, more delicious poultry." Their chicken products are 100 percent all natural with no antibiotics and no growth hormones. They are American Humane Certified and the chickens are fed a vegetarian diet.
Faunce said the idea for the Celebrate the Chef program came to him when he realized that he could tell people the Springer Mountain Farms chicken is the best, but they would only really listen if they heard it from their favorite chef and tasted it for themselves. So, Springer began to work one-on-one with these chefs to promote the chef and introduce them to their product.
"It's a whole different approach. It's about building their brand as chefs, and when they build their brand, they help us build ours. We are trying to build a community of chefs throughout the Southeast."
He says the program also helps build a friendship among these chefs as they travel to events like the Savannah Food & Wine Festival, so when they go to these cities, they already have a friend there to support them.
"We've built a good foundation of talented chefs that communicate with other chefs on a regular basis â€¦ And we don't just do a free giveaway to try our products when we do a demonstration. It's important that the chefs educate the community as well.
"We'll have a stage set up â€¦ and when they are preparing the samples, they are also demonstrating how to make the recipe â€¦ so people get a real chance to see that maybe this is what they can do at home. It's entertaining, it's educational and people love it.
"Our goal is to get Americans to eat better â€¦ and these chefs are the ones to do it.
"â€¦ And, I think Savannah has come a long way in the last three years. The talent level is better and people are getting closer to recognizing these talented chefs you have in Savannah. I see it continuing to get better."