Working in the restaurant industry for six years has taught me a few things. And I must admit, I know more about food and wine than I had ever planned to (or even cared to) know.
This has led to my taste being tainted by knowledge. But there are still people who work in food and spirit distribution who aren't too critical of what's in their glass or on their plate.
Take Jan Gourley, Savannah Food & Wine Festival's director, for example. After I share my taste in food and wine pairings (which are above my pay grade) she humbly responds with, "OK, I'm going to out myself! I'm not a complicated, or expensive wine drinker. It would be Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, any vintage, and ahi tuna sushi!"
You don't have to be a connoisseur to appreciate wine and food. Eating is something every human being has in common, after all. But, luckily, we live in a city that is beginning to host more and more culinary expertise.
Savannah's palette is becoming more refined and adventurous each day. With an environment becoming more cultivated toward culinary arts, it's no wonder that the Savannah Food & Wine Festival has grown into a nationally notable event.
"You know that old Field of Dreams saying, 'Build it and they will come?' It is so very true! I think many other southern cities have done a better job of paying attention to their innovative, culinary scenes and have reaped major economic benefits from doing so," says Gourley.
"The Festival is the vehicle for Savannah to ramp up its culinary scene with heightened awareness on our local chefs and restaurants. It's just such a natural, cyclical spiral," Gourley adds.
"The festival helps create more awareness for our excellent local chefs and cuisine. The buzz starts to swirl on the city, the restaurants, local economy, and of course our festival. Everybody wins and everybody steps up their game to learn, create and compete on a national and international culinary level."
The first Savannah Food & Wine Festival is off to an impeccable start. Guests include Chefs Hugh Acheson, Chris Hastings, Steven Satterfield, Elizabeth Terry and 700 Drayton Restaurant's own Geir Kilen.
Many of these events are sold out, but before you let that information kill your buzz, know that the Taste of Savannah will be open to the public in Ellis Square on Saturday.
"I'm excited to finally see it all come together just as we had planned — but that plan was for year three! Our year one vision was to expand on the Tourism Leadership Council's already existing Taste of Savannah, with a food and wine festival that would possibly be a long weekend event. Needless to say those plans quickly changed," says Gourley. "I think it's a testament to the strength of the Savannah food and wine community."
There is no doubt at this stage that things have been brought to the next level. Our city may be new to a food and wine festival, but Gourley points out that this event is something that Savannah has prepped for.
"I think the culinary schools, Savannah Technical College and Culinard at Virginia College have also really helped accelerate the process of better training for the back of the house — really providing standards for culinary excellence," Gourley says.
Savannah has a reputation for keeping it local, and the festivities reflect those rumors.
"Sourcing local product for fresh ingredients is extremely important to our local restaurants and chefs and avails more menu creativity. With the abundance of farmer's markets, farms and the brand new Sysco Fresh division, [more are] sourcing products from local producers and some of the country's most outstanding purveyors," Gourley says.
The creative standard for Savannah is set high, with artisanship being featured in public places, in galleries, and on your plate. And no matter the extent of your culinary knowledge, food is for everyone.
So eat and drink to the health of Savannah's growing restaurant scene. Even my years of being in the restaurant industry will never take away the simple pleasures of good food and good wine.
Savannah Food & Wine Festival
What: A week-long celebration of fine wine and cuisine. Appearances by Robert Mondavi, Jr. and other food and wine celebrities. See website for details.
When: Nov. 11-17