American gourmets have an insatiable appetite for the country’s patchwork of regional food festivals celebrating authentic, indigenous flavors and honoring U.S. culinary niches. But chasing down new ones takes time that some foodies would rather spend dining. So, when the country’s premier food enthusiast organization, the James Beard Foundation, announced its Taste America national traveling food festival, the culinary cognoscenti took notice. With weekend events in eight cities left through October 19, the festival, covering “local flavor from coast to coast,” hits Washington D.C. on September 27 with a boldface-name-packed dinner and auction at the Italian Embassy — but the evening’s real spotlight will be on dishes showcasing the mid-Atlantic’s culinary bounty.
Friday’s gala will also honor Ambassador Capricia Marshall, former U.S. Chief of Protocol. Marshall spearheaded the creation of Chef Corps, a State Department initiative supported by the Beard Foundation that elevates the role of chefs in America’s public and private diplomatic efforts. Some Chef Corps members, including Top Chef star Mike Isabella and Todd Gray of Salamander Resort & Spa, will grace the kitchen. And where else can a $500 ticket purchase ensure that those chefs and other James Beard Award winners — such as Sean Brock — prepare an unannounced menu for you? On top of that, a portion of your ticket price goes to FRESHFARM Markets, organizers of D.C.’s premier farmers’ markets.
The foodie fun continues Saturday, September 28 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Sur La Table in Alexandria, Virginia, with cooking demonstrations by chefs Brock and Scott Drewno, and tastings of locally made artisanal food. The events are free, but you must get tickets to the cooking demos at Sur La Table’s website.
“[Chef James] Beard lived in a very different food environment,” says the James Beard Foundation’s executive vice president, Mitchell Davis, “but believed in American cuisine, in the greatness of our bakers and cheesemakers. It’s a great time for food and we are so fortunate to be living and eating right now.”
In the next few weeks, Taste America will serve patrons in Las Vegas (September 27 to 28), San Francisco (October 4 to 5), Philadelphia (October 4 to 5), Los Angeles (October 11 to 12), New York (October 11 to 12), Phoenix (October 18 to 19) and Boston (October 18 to 19). “At our event in Chicago last weekend,” says Davis, “I sat with guests who traveled from Indianapolis and Toledo, just to have the memorable experience of dining with the producers of the products they were eating.” The menu included duck-fat-poached ivory char and pumpkin gnocchi. Highlights from last week’s other tasting in Miami were items such as creamy Key West chowder and braised short ribs with potato croquette.
Although seven years lapsed between the first Taste America and this year’s festival, Mitchell says, “It’s a great way to celebrate our mission to nurture America’s culinary history. There’s so much momentum and our supporters are excited to keep Taste America going next year.” James Beard Foundation’s Taste America: Local Flavor from Coast to Coast is presented by Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa Signature.
Tickets to events outside of D.C. range from $65 to $1,500, depending on the location and level of luxe, and support Beard Foundation programs such as culinary school scholarships, food policy thought leader summits and Chef Boot Camp, a place where chefs learn about sustainable food systems.
Photos Courtesy of Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images for Chase Sapphire Preferred® Visa Signature® and Galdones Photography