By MIKE NORTON
TRAVERSE CITY – Carol Lewis is hoping the Sept. 13-15 Taste of Traverse City Festival will take a little of the “snob factor” out of this Michigan resort town’s new fame as a culinary hotspot.
The three-day festival will include workshops, demonstrations, appearances by local chefs and culinary celebrities, and tastes and sips of the best dishes and libations from area restaurants, caterers, wineries, breweries and other food producers. Highlights of the weekend will include a “Grub Crawl,” a day-long showcase event on the city waterfront, a Sunday Brunch competition, and a Foodie Film Festival of food-themed movies.
But Lewis, an event promoter who has assembled several major Detroit automotive shows and a gubernatorial inauguration, insists that she doesn’t want the new festival to be pigeonholed as an elites-only affair.
“You don’t have to have a lot of money to be a foodie, and that’s not the atmosphere I want to promote,” she said. “Traverse City is already being recognized for wonderful food and drink, and we want to bring that to a wider audience. This won’t be a high-ticket event; you can enjoy yourself all day for $20, or have a more intense experience for $50 or $60, but either way you’ll get value.”
Long known for its scenic beauty and recreational bounty, Traverse City has also been attracting attention as one of America’s most unique culinary destinations (thanks to fans like celebrity chef Mario Batali) and was named one of the country’s Top Five Foodie Towns by Bon Appetit. But that fame can also be intimidating, and Lewis doesn’t want people to lose the sense of playfulness and fun that should be part of the food experience.
“We’re making this as reasonable as we possibly can, because we want people to come,” she says. “And we’re not letting everything out of the bag yet because we want to preserve a certain element of surprise. People should be a little adventurous when it comes to food and wine.”
The new event is not entirely without precedent, since Traverse City’s reputation as a food destination began to spread during the heyday of an earlier culinary festival, the Traverse Epicurean Classic. Lewis says the Epicurean Classic, which folded in 2012, involved a great many big-ticket events, celebrity chefs and book signings, while the Taste of Traverse City will be much more intensely focused on local cuisine.
She chose the date after consulting with local restaurateurs, winemakers and hoteliers, who convinced her that mid-September was a “sweet spot” between the end of the summer tourism season and the start of fall color touring and the annual wine harvest . “We didn’t want to compete with anybody else,” she says.
The festival will open Friday evening with a “Downtown Grub Crawl” where attendees receive “tasting punches” that can be used for special food and beverage samples at downtown restaurants and bars. The festival’s signature “Taste of Traverse City” event will be held Saturday afternoon on the city’s waterfront Open Space Park, featuring multiple pavilions and stages dedicated to a diverse selection of culinary fields (plus a “grilling & chilling zone” with live music and local chefs grilling tasty treats.)
Sunday’s offering is a “Best of the Brunch” culinary throwdown – a competition in which teams of chefs, farm suppliers and beverage creators vie to create and serve the “perfect brunch” to a small crowd of advance-ticket participants at the city’s waterfront Hagerty Center. And on all three days, the Foodie Film Festival will be showing such culinary movies as “Mostly Martha,” “Big Night,” “Ramen Girl” and “Ratatouille” in venues around the dining area.
Tickets to all events are available a la carte or as part of a weekend all-access festival pass at www.tasteoftraversecity.com, and there is special pricing available for orders placed in advance. (For instance: they’re offering a $10 discount per ticket during July for the Grub Crawl and the Best of the Brunch; the promo code for the Grub Crawl is GC10 and the Brunch is BB10.)
To purchase tickets and for more information, visit www.tasteoftraversecity.com. For information about other events and attractions in the Traverse City area, contact the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau at www.traversecity.com.
Content sponsored by the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau.