Diversity Takes the Stage at This Year’s Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

Any real foodie knows that a little rain, or a lot, never stops a delicious show. The rain surely didn’t disappoint as about 10,000 people gathered in Atlanta’s Midtown earlier this month to enjoy four days with 94 food and beverage exhibitors during this’s year’s Atlanta Food & Wine Festival.

Festival founders Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter made headlines prior the festival held May 31 – June 3 for their decision to switch things up and appoint an all-female advisory board with a focus on chefs of color, a commendable move in the world of food and wine festivals.  “For years, we had been focused on being inclusive and prided ourselves on being one of the most inclusive culinary weekends in the country.  Go back to year one and we had a number of programs about the black chef and why there is underrepresentation in the commercial kitchen. In the next year, we focused on Latinos in the industry and then women. We launched a women’s dinner program, Powerful & Delicious, six years ago.  But, what we realized was it still wasn’t enough; we needed to cast a broader spotlight and bring even more stories to light, “says Love. This year’s advisory board included Stephanie Tyson and Vivian Joyner, owners of Sweet Potatoes and Miss Ora’s Kitchen in North Carolina.

Each year, the festival upped the ante with its talent roster as well as the experiences that have captured traditions of the South from Texas to D.C.  From tastings to informative classes, the event had more to offer than just food and wine.  Chef Todd Richards returned to present the class, “Soul: America’s Cuisine” which paired fried chicken with various Champagnes.

Photo: ATL Food & Wine

Joining the festival for the first time was “Top Chef” contestant Gerald Sombright.  The Missouri native runs the dry-aged meat program at the Florida restaurant Ario.  Sombright teamed up with fellow chefs to host Dine by Sign, a fun multi-course dinner that highlighted the 12 zodiac signs in the form of earth, wind, fire, and water to inspire a new way of dining. “I never thought in a million years I would have a career in cooking.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” says Sombright, whose career highlights include a long-term stint with the Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts.  Raised by a single mom, Sombright learned how to cook as a child out of necessity.  That necessity grew into a career that has placed him alongside award-winning chef Michael Minna, as a contestant on one of the top reality culinary shows and appearances at the Charleston Food & Wine Festival and Aspen Food and Wine Classic.

Photo: ATL Food & Wine

Another addition to this year’s festival was a trip to Arkansas with its Connoisseur Breakfast, The Arkansas Way!, sponsored by Visit Bentonville, Little Rock Convention & Visit and Arkansas Tourism. The mid-morning showcase featured millionaire bacon, poached egg with creamy grits and crawfish, potato loaf with ham and buttermilk bread pudding with bourbon sauce. Feel like a taking a trip to Arkansas now?

It is too soon to think about 2019 as Love and Feichter take a well-deserved recovery period having managed 250 chefs and professionals, 10,000 + bottles, thousands of plates, forks and everything else that goes into pulling off such a colossal event. And although the festival experiences and talent may change year after year, Love was very clear that their mission will not. “What makes Southern food and drink so special is the rich history, the people, and the cultures behind each bite.  We’re on a mission to showcase the rich food and beverage traditions of the South from TX – DC in an authentic and meaningful way. With our mission in mind, it is critical that we bring to the table the diverse people and cultures that define and continue to define these traditions.”

For additional 2018 festival highlights as well as 2019 announcements, visit their social media pages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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