Asheville tourism officials pledged $75,000 toward a new food festival last week, a culinary event organized by a group of some of the city’s most well-known chefs, food producers and farmers. Here’s a little more detail following up my initial report:
The players: Chef Katie Button of Curate and Jael Rattigan of French Broad Chocolates made the funding pitch. Button and Rattigan serve as president and vice president, respectively, of Asheville Culinary Festival Inc. That entity is applying for 501C3 nonprofit status and will create the branding, and a separate name, for the new event.
Other board members include: Chef Meherwan Irani of Chai Pani; Jess Reiser of Burial Beer; Stephanie Brown and Dodie Stephens of Explore Asheville; Jane Anderson, head of the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association; Chef John Fleer of Rhubarb; Chef Peter Pollay of Posana; Connie Matisse of East Fork Pottery; Kevin Barnes of Ultimate Ice Cream; Aaron Grier of Gaining Ground Farm; and Charlie Hodge of Sovereign Remedies and Ole Shakeys.
Proposed date: Sept. 12-15, 2019.
Festival director: Angel Postal, who directed the Charleston Wine + Food festival for nine years from its start. She’ll be paid $60,000, according to Button.
Initial funding: Button and Rattigan asked for $50,000 in start-up funds from the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, which awarded the festival a total of $75,000 over two years. The money comes from revenue the TDA makes from selling advertising on its ExploreAsheville.com website. The cash is not coming from hotel room occupancy taxes, which has specific restrictions on how it can be spent, restrictions imposed by state law. Button said she would be asking Asheville city officials for funding, as well, and seeking big-name sponsors.
Budget: Taken all together – ticket sales, sponsorships, initial funding grants – the first-year budget will be in the $1 million ballpark, according to Button.
Why now: As I reported back in May, the Asheville Wine & Food Festival didn’t happen this year after running its course; planning for this new event had already begun at that time.
Food festival highlights: The new festival will be designed as a signature culinary event that will feature a grand tasting tent, chef demonstration kitchen and maker’s market. That will be located in Pack Square, and offered at one ticket price. A series of immersive culinary experiences showcasing all aspects of the local food scene, held around Buncombe County, will set the festival apart, according to Button and Rattigan. Those experiences will have separate tickets.
More about the immersive events: Rattigan offered a few specific examples: A Clay Baked experience that would include a tour of East Fork Pottery, a demonstration of making clay cups and a dinner featuring a game hen wrapped in clay and cooked in a pit fire. Guests would get a craft cocktail in the clay cups, which guests would then smash as part of a Bengali tradition to return the artwork back to the earth, Rattigan explained. A Chocolate Flight Night experience would offer visitors the chance to “embrace their inner Willy Wonka” at the new tour-friendly chocolate factory on Riverside Drive that French Broad Chocolates is finishing, Rattigan said. Guests could take the tour, bite into a fresh cacao pod and then try a flight of desserts made with French Broad chocolate, and have that paired with Spanish vermouths selected by Curate, Rattigan said. Final example: a Farmer Feast in the Field experience would allow visitors to walk the field at Gaining Ground Farm with its farmers, harvest vegetables, then have an outdoor dining experience in a garden bed, with the farmers serving the meal.
Festival benefits: This new event will draw national media attention and boost the awareness of Asheville and its food scene, said Button, who added that she was recently on the phone with someone from the popular Garden & Gun magazine, who asked her about the status of the festival and told her they wanted to be involved as a sponsor. Bon Appetite reps have also expressed sponsorship interest, Button said. One other possible benefit: grabbing the attention of judges with the prestigious James Beard Awards, who would take more notice of Asheville’s food scene. (Asheville has yet to nab a James Beard Award.)
Festival demographics: The first-year event could expect 5,000 visitors – “culinary enthusiasts” – with about 60 percent local and 40 percent from out of town, according to Button. A majority would be college educated and have a disposable income of more than $100,000. Button said she talked with Charleston Wine + Food Festival organizers about their event, and reported the following: that event (which is 13 years old and held in March) has a $15 million economic impact, with visitors spending on average $978 per person; some 97 percent stay overnight, with 74 percent using paid accommodations; and the average length of stay was 4.9 days, she said. The Charleston event pulls visitors from New York City, Atlanta, Washington and Boston, she said.
Festival values: This new signature culinary event for Asheville will value diversity, charity and environmental awareness, Rattigan said. The event will be held in September, which is Hunger Action Month, and the organizers have already talked about partnering with nonprofit MANNA Food Bank to benefit that organization.