In the closing days of May, the city of Atlanta was graced by a slew of hip, smart, and savvy food lovers, chefs, brewers, vintners, and spirit-makers from around the world. This year, nearly 10,000 hungry and thirsty in-and-out-of-towners hit Midtown for the fifth annual Atlanta Food & Wine Festival to experience what more than 250 award-winning talented individuals from Texas to D.C. had to offer. The Festival (its official hashtag is #AFWF) is the brainchild of Atlanta pals, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists Elizabeth Feichter and Dominique Love. The duo have been partners in the paying-it-forward biz for nearly a decade. After an inspirational visit to the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, these fun- and food-loving women decided to tackle the massive undertaking of creating their own food and wine event, and boy, did they nail it. Here is why:
Half of the 14th floor at the Loews Hotel is transformed into a school for the culinary curious. Nearly 100 seminars, demonstrations, and panel discussions are held over this incredible weekend by the region’s culinary leaders — award-winning chefs, mixologists, barbecue pitmasters, sommeliers, and local growers. From stage demonstrations to intimate tasting seminars and technique labs, there is something for everyone. Here’s just a representative nibble of the types of classes offered: All Things Smoked, Moonshine & Medicine, Cocktails Without Tools, Bugs & Chocolate, Strawberry Splendor, and Acid Is Your Friend. The educational component of this festival alone is worth the trip to Atlanta!
A hop, skip, and a jump from the hotel are the “tasting tents,” an expertly arranged outdoor venue where guests can savor the outstanding cuisine of the South and enjoy beer, wine, and spirits from over 120 purveyors. Within the tents there are “tasting trails” with identifying signage that leads guests on a culinary exploration of the best the South has to offer in terms of barbecue, bourbon, chicken, craft beer, seafood, and wine.
Dinners and Events
More fun starts after dark! All weekend long, there are chef dinners and signature parties hosted at private homes, restaurants, and venues all around the city. I attended a few awesome events this year:
Powerful & Delicious
“Powerful and Delicious: A Celebration of the South's Culinary Superstars” focused on untraditional paths into the culinary industry, and highlighted chefs like Sarah Gavigan, who left the music industry in Los Angeles to cook delicious ramen in Nashville, Tennessee, and Chrysta Poulos, a former Air Force fighter pilot who is now a pastry chef for the celebrated Rocket Farms restaurants in Atlanta, Georgia. Click here for a more detailed overview of this event.
Big Bad Pop-Ups
Chef John Currence launched a Big Bad Pop-Up Dinner Series in 2013 that engaged chefs from across the country in high-energy, quick-service dinners while raising money for charity. Big Bad Pop-Ups is now in its third year and the team is traveling to the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival to join forces with chef Shaun Doty and Bantam + Biddy for an amazing night of street food and fantastic cocktails. Proceeds benefit the Giving Kitchen and the Piedmont School of Atlanta.
Rathbuns’ Watch List at ADAC (Atlanta Decorative Arts Center)
Chef bros Kent and Kevin Rathbun, who are from Texas and Georgia, respectively, created this event to introduce food and beverage lovers to Southern chefs and drink professionals who are making their mark in the Southern culinary industry. It is a walk-around tasting during which a dozen or so incredible chefs and mixologists dish out samples from stations that have been decorated by design professionals who pair the culinary creations with beauty.
The Connoisseur Experience
For an additional fee, guests can enjoy the Connoisseur Experience, which allows access to the Connoisseur Lounge. Participants enjoy daily breakfasts, private food and beverage classes, special dinners, a dedicated concierge, dedicated beverage service during class intermissions, access to the VIP tent and much more. The Connoisseur Lounge is absolutely beautiful. Close to 6,000 square feet of meeting space on the other half of the 14th floor is artfully transformed by award-winning Atlanta designer William Peace.
Last, but Definitely not Least… the People
Folks at this festival are awesome, and the vibe is super chill. Everyone is there for the same reason: to have a great time, learn, eat, drink, relax, and connect. If you want to experience the people, food, and beverage scene of the true South, then the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival is a must-visit. Definitely put this one on your culinary calendar for next year!