In its eighth year, the four-day Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, May 31-June 3, has become a major showcase for exploring Southern culture through its cuisine.
It boasts a convivial atmosphere described as “one-part conference and one-part party.”
And it gives festivalgoers the opportunity to rub elbows with many of the South’s best chefs, who come to cook, teach and talk, then hang out to enjoy the food, drink and camaraderie.
The June 1-2 learning experiences on the schedule at the Loews Atlanta Hotel in Midtown (1065 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta) include interactive cooking and cocktail classes, tasting seminars and panel discussions.
From June 1-3, Piedmont Park’s Greensward Promenade is the leafy backdrop for the ever-popular tasting tents, where guests can sample “all-you-can-indulge” food and beverages from around the region.
Look for nearly 100 exhibitor booths featuring food producers, wine, spirit and beer brands, and a rotating lineup of 35 different chefs each day.
The new layout also includes wine pop-up stations, a cocktail garden, live music, and interactive food and beverage pairing areas.
Launched in 2010 by Atlanta entrepreneurs Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter, this year’s Food & Wine Festival is notable for the move the founders took in appointing an all-female Advisory Council, which includes 60 award-winning food and beverage professionals from 13 Southern states and the District of Columbia.
“The most bold element of the weekend is that you’ll see a lot of new faces,” Love said during a recent conversation about this year’s festival. “That’s something we came up with last year, pre the Harvey Weinstein and Me Too movement.
“Really, it came down to seeing that women and chefs of color are underrepresented in the media and at festivals and we wanted to do more about that. Also, it’s about our mission. If we’re going to tell the very best story about what’s going on in the South, we have to have more voices at the table.”
Another change this year is the addition of the hands-on Master Studio Experience presented by Southern Living on June 1.
“Our goal is to constantly take people deeper into our Southern food and drink traditions,” Love said. “And while we love our classes, on Friday we wanted to do something different to kick it off, especially for people who were coming in for the full weekend; something where they could roll up their sleeves and have a more in-depth class, so we came up with the Master Studio concept.
“They’re all curated and they have very specific topics. There’s a whole series focused on international influences on Southern cooking. You’ll basically be able to go into that class, and for two hours, you’ll be interacting and moving around with the instructors, and having this really immersive food and beverage experience.”
Of course, Love noted, the tasting tents are in some ways the most immersive experience, and perhaps the biggest bargain of the weekend.
“I think people sometimes underestimate the experience in the tents, if they haven’t been before,” Love said. “This is not an event where you put in your RFID tag and you pay for each sample. Once you’re in, you’re enjoying an all-you-can-indulge experience, being responsible, of course.
“We have several things this year that are new and exciting in the tents. The Ingredient Spotlight tent highlights the flavor profile of a specific Southern ingredient, like Vidalia onions. The Improbable Pairs puts together things like hot dogs and sparkling wine or beer and doughnuts. The Wine Riot tent is a preview of a sister event that we will be bringing to Atlanta in the fall.”
If you’re really looking for bang for your buck, though, Love suggests making it to the May 31 kickoff party, Destination Delicious.
“It’s $55, there are 50 destinations, and it’s such a cool way to introduce yourself to the festival,” she said.
Two must-try Atlanta Food & Wine Festival events
Destination Delicious presented by The Local Palate — “Come along on the ultimate Southern road trip with delicious chef creations, fantastic libations, live music and our favorite Southern destinations. AF&WF’s annual, opening night event will take attendees on a tasting journey through the South.” 7:30 p.m. May 31. $55. The Stave Room at American Spirit Works, 199 Armour Drive NE, Atlanta. 404-962-8702.
Friday Day Pass with the new Master Studios — “The AF&WF Master Studios, The New Way to Workshop Presented by Southern Living, are immersive, hands-on experiences led by award-winning food and beverage talent. Each studio will dig deep into a topic, creating and tasting food and/or drink elements along the way. At the end of the studios, Master Studio participants will come together for a cocktail reception and a chance to explore what each studio created.” June 1 at various times. Included with $160 day pass, registration required.
Tickets and pricing
Individual tasting tent pass — The “all-you-can-indulge” layout allows guests the opportunity to eat, drink and explore the South’s top food and drink products and chef creations while also celebrating international influences that have shaped the region. $100 per day.
Day pass — On Friday (June 1), pass holders will experience the new Master Studio format with a cocktail event and the tasting tents. Saturday (June 2) pass holders will enjoy learning experiences, the festival tasting tents, and class intermission sips and snacks. Friday, $160; Saturday, $175; two-day passes, $350.
Weekend pass — Weekend pass holders will experience the Destination Delicious kickoff party on Thursday evening (May 31); Master Studios and the tasting tents on Friday (June 1); learning experiences with class intermission sips and snacks, the ADAC: Ingredients of Taste event on Saturday (June 2); Sunday brunch and tasting tents on Sunday (June 3). $475.
Connoisseur Experience — Connoisseur pass holders have access to the exclusive Connoisseur Lounge, which features breakfast, food and beverage service throughout the day curated by award-winning chefs and beverage pros. The Experience also includes access to Connoisseur-only classes; access to Dinner Series events; fast-track entrance into the festival tasting tents, and a Connoisseur hospitality area in the tents. $600-$1,800.
Dinners and events — The festival experience continues into the evenings as chefs, sommeliers and mixologists come together to curate dinners and signature parties for guests at private homes, restaurants and Atlanta venues, all designed to showcase the South. $55-$250 per person, per dinner/event.
2018 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, May 31-June 3. 404-474-7330, atlfoodandwinefestival.com.