The Atlanta Food & Wine Festival is but an infant on the culinary festival scene, but it has all the grown-up style to compete with more established gatherings. Some of the biggest names in Atlanta’s culinary community (including Restaurant Eugene’s Linton Hopkins, The Optimist’s Ford Fry and Bacchanalia’s Anne Quatrano) will be out in full force to show foodies their skills and their Southern hospitality from May 30 through June 2. Read on for insider tips from the festival’s co-founder, Dominique Love, on how to make the most of your time at the appetizing event.
What to Know
The Atlanta Food & Wine Festival is a celebration of the very best in Southern food, beverages and traditions. The four-day festival began in 2011 and will be held May 30 through June 2 in Midtown Atlanta. Last year, more than 7,000 visitors attended the weekend raising more than $100,000 for charity.
And this year proves to be even better: About 9,000 attendees are expected to wine and dine with some of the most respected chefs and mixologists from the South who will be hosting cooking and cocktail demos, seminars, tasting tents and panel discussions. Among them will be Chris Hastings and Frank Stitt of Birmingham, Ala.; John Besh of New Orleans; Mike Lata and The Lee Bros. of Charleston; Ashley Christensen and Scott Crawford from North Carolina; and a slew of Atlanta talent—Asha Gomez, Duane Nutter, Gerry Klaskala, Greg Best, Kevin Gillespie, Shaun Doty and Steven Satterfield, just to name a few.
“We really take cues from our council,” says Dominique Love, co-founder and CEO of the festival. “There’s a lot more influence on vegetables and our Latin roots this year. The South is so broad and rich with stories and traditions that each year we take a portion of it and really dive in deep.”
What to Do
One of the best things about the AFWF is there are tons of events and classes during the weekend so you’re sure to find plenty to fill your dance card. Thursday night, check out the PIG OUT: Tailgate Style Party at JCT. Kitchen — it’s the AFWF’s signature party featuring — what else? — some of the South’s best tailgating foods from chefs Ford Fry, Derek Emerson, Brandon McGlamery, Kelly English and Chris Shepherd. $65, May 30, 7 p.m., 1198 Howell Mill Road.
The special About South Dinner at the Atlanta History Center is one AFWF co-founder Dominique Love told us she’s most excited to attend. Chefs from 10 Southern states, including Chris Hastings and Frank Stitt of Alabama; Linton Hopkins, Gerry Klaskala, Anne Quatrano and Steven Satterfield from Georgia; John Besh and Adolfo Garcia from Louisiana; Mike Lata and Frank Lee from South Carolina; and Andrea Reusing of North Carolina. The evening starts with an interactive cocktail hour and ends with music and storytelling by Julian Van Winkle. $225, May 31, 7:30 p.m., 130 West Paces Ferry Road.
That’s where the demos, tasting seminars and panel discussions come in — they’re included when you purchase one of the festival’s day passes. The three-day pass is $500 and includes nine (three per day) classes and three tasting tent sessions (chef lineups change daily). Plus, you get entry into the Thursday night opening dinner at JCT. Kitchen (more on that in a minute). A one-day pass is $185 and includes three classes and a trip to the Tasting Tents.
Up the ante with a three-day Connoisseur Pass and for $2,000 you’ll get all the same perks as the standard three-day pass, as well as three VIP breakfasts and invites to the About South Dinner on Friday and the Blackberry Farm Tribute dinner Saturday night. Plus, you get access to the festival’s “Connoisseur Lounge” created by award-winning Atlanta designer William Peace, where you can escape the crowds and chill out with a glass of vino with other Southern foodies. Single day tickets and Tasting Tent only tickets also are available, as are tickets to the dinners.
You don’t want to miss the Blackberry Farm: Second Annual Tribute Dinner to Southern Farmers. This elaborate evening hosted by Blackberry Farm’s Sam Beall is held at a private home in Atlanta and features cuisine from chef Josh Feathers with wine pairings by sommelier Andy Chabot. $250, June 1, 7:30 p.m., private home.
If you’d rather be somewhere with a party atmosphere, head to the Rathbun’s Watch List Party hosted by chef brothers Kent and Kevin Rathbun. They’ll be hosting 12 star Southern chefs and two mixologists “to watch” who’ll be serving tasty treats and cocktails. These are the chefs the Rathbun brothers consider some of their favorite up and comers, so you know this is going to be a good time. $75, June 1, 7:30 p.m., 112 Krog Street.
If you have to choose just one event to attend, make it the Tasting Tents. These are where you can wine and dine your way through more than 70 culinary stations from restaurants, chefs and mixologists throughout the South — all rotating daily. Themed tasting “trails” ensure you’ll fill up on Southern favorites like fried chicken, craft beer, barbecue, pork and bourbon.
Classes to Take
As we mentioned, classes, seminars and labs are available only with day passes and are not for sale individually. But the lineup is pretty stellar and we think they’re totally worth it. “All of our classes are very interactive,” Love says. “The chefs are very engaging with the guests. And what you learn is something you can definitely replicate at home.” If you’re a fan of the oyster, check out The Optimist’s Adam Evans’ Shucked Over — he’ll be giving a grilling demo and explaining the tricks to roasting oysters over an open flame (aka backyard grill). May 31, 1:30 p.m.
Adolfo Garcia and David Guas take a deep dive into the South’s Latin roots in their cooking demo Latin Influences. Both chefs have Latino parents but were born in the South and will explore their heritage in classic New Orleans and Latin American cuisine. June 1, 11:30 a.m.
Can’t seem to get enough bacon in your diet? Then sign up for Ford Fry and Joe Schaefer’s Makin’ Bacon class, and they’ll show you everything you need to know about this Southern staple. June 1, 11:30 a.m.
If you belong to a CSA (community supported agriculture), the CSA Box CPR class is for you. Chef Tyler Brown of Nashville’s Capitol Grille restaurant will show you how to take your weekly CSA delivery and turn it into a healthy home-cooked meal using tips from chef Nathan Lyon’s new book Great Food Starts Fresh. June 1, 1 p.m.
It doesn’t get much more Southern than tailgating and chefs Kelly English and Chris Shepherd are here to tell you how to do it right. In the grilling demo Foods of the Southern Tailgate, they’ll be teaching the history (yes, history) and techniques our favorite tailgating foods. June 1-2, 1 p.m.
Where to Stay
You can’t get much closer to all of the activities than Loews Atlanta Hotel — it’s the official AFWF hotel and is centrally located in the heart of everything. It’s steps from the welcome center where you pick up tickets and badges, and all classes and the Connoisseur Lounge are located here, as well.
If you want to stay in the lap of luxury in Midtown, book a room at Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta. It’s the city’s only Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star hotel and is located just a few blocks from all of the AFWF activities. And after you’ve wined and dined your way through the day, you can unwind at the hotel’s spa with a relaxing massage or body treatment like the Piedmont Park Polish, which includes a full-body citrus grass scrub, followed by a warm shower and moisturizer with honeysuckle and blood oranges.
If you’d prefer to stay in Buckhead, Atlanta’s toniest neighborhood, there are several luxe hotels to consider. The Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead is top dog here, and has been since opening in 1984. But this is no old space — the hotel completed a multi-million dollar renovation in 2008, and also just debuted a new dedicated spa level in February. The Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star St. Regis Atlanta opened in 2009 and is definitely one of the new kids on the block in Buckhead. It’s a stunning hotel and includes the renowned St. Regis Butlers that cater to guests’ every whim. Also in the ritzy neighborhood is the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta. This sleek hotel’s English garden is a lush oasis in the middle of bustling Buckhead — it includes a stone path blooming with flowers, arches, a chef’s herb garden and a reflection pool.
Photos Courtesy of AFWF, Raftermen and Loews Hotels