Take luminaries of the Memphis dining scene, pair them with superstar visiting chefs from across the South and the nation, add in three dozen wineries and two blues bands and what do you get?
“Memphis has become such a culinary destination, a handful of us decided it was time that we showcased our culinary talents in true Memphis fashion and invite award-winning chefs, near and far, to join in our celebration of food, wine and Memphis music,” says Sherry Chiminti, who is handling the marketing and advertising for the festival. The evening benefits the FedExFamilyHouse at LeBonheur Children’s Hospital, which just makes the event that much sweeter of a lure for foodies across the region.
The organizers — including José Gutierrez of River Oaks Restaurant, and Al LaRocca, of Star Distributors (now a part of Glazer) — wanted to create a festival that brings more attention to the Memphis culinary scene, as well as showcases Southern chefs. José and Al teamed up with foodies Sherry and Bob Chimenti and Nancy Kistler, who handles events for José, to work out the details for the festival.
It took the team two years of planning and strategy to come up with the perfect recipe for the evening and the result is worth the wait: The festival’s 75 food and wine tents feature the likes of Jose and Memphis colleagues Erling Jensen of Erling Jensen, Wally Joe of Acre, Andreas Kistler and Konrad Spitzbart of The Peabody, chocolatier Phillip Ashley Rix, Tsunami’s Ben Smith, Ryan Trimm of Sweet Grass and Next Door, Nick Vergos of the Rendezvous, and Logan Guleff, the adorable teen who won “Master Chef Jr.” in 2014. (And that’s just a partial list! Click here for the full list of local chefs.)
Joining the locals are chef/global restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten of New York’s Jean-Georges, among many others; Ken Frank of Le Toque and Dominic Orsini of Silver Oak winery, both in Napa, California; and a gathering of Southern culinary stars, including North Carolina’s Vivian Howard of the PBS series “A Chef’s Life,” and native Memphian Shelley Cooper, executive chef of the Dancing Bear Lodge and Appalachian Bistro in East Tennessee. Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, South Carolina and Mississippi all will be represented at the festival. (See a complete list of visiting chefs here).
If the food wasn’t tempting enough, the wines chosen by Al and his team are. Guests will enjoy wines and champagnes from Caymus, Pol Roger, Seghesio, Roderer, Banfi and Rombauer. In all, 36 wineries will bring a huge variety of wines to sample throughout the evening.
“Some incredible wines are being poured,” says Nancy, who calls herself the cat herder of MFWF. “Guests will be able to enjoy almost 100 top-tiered wines. The vintners are not just showing up with wines, they are showing off by pouring their very best.”
While the Memphis culinary scene has been the darling of the national media lately, Al says it was “with the influx of corporate entities — Fed Ex, International Paper and others — the demand for a variety of foods developed,” which he says goes back to people moving to the city in the 1980s.
“The fact that we have attracted well-known chefs such as Jean-Georges, Ken Frank, Nico Romo and more,” says Sherry, “is affirmation that Memphis is, without a doubt, recognized as a culinary hot spot and they are excited to be a part of it.”
Throughout the evening, guests can enjoy the music of the Royal Blues Band and the Ghost Town Blues Band. The goal audience for this inaugural event is 2,000 guests, which the organizers feel is the perfect size for the number of participating chefs and wineries. “Although we have close to 30 chefs and over 30 wineries participating, we have limited our attendance to 2,000 to make sure we maximize the festival-goers experience at the chef and wine tents,” says Sherry. “We have designed the festival to attract those that are acquiring or have acquired a true taste for exceptional cuisine and are eager to enhance it with complementing wine selections.”
While the goal of the festival is to promote Memphis chefs and their cuisine, as well as celebrate chefs and wineries from across the country, the goal of the organizers is two-fold: create a multi-day annual event and raise a heck of a lot of money for the FedExFamilyHouse at LeBonheur, which is the home-away-from-home for families of children from across the region seeking medical care at LeBonheur. “They are an incredible entity in our city and, hopefully, we will make many more people aware of their facility and their compassion,” says Sherry.
The Memphis Food & Wine Festival is October 15, 2016, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Live Garden in the Memphis Botanic Garden, 750 Cherry Road, Memphis, TN 38117. Tickets are $200 per person, with a reserved table for eight priced at $2,000. Tickets for individuals who want to reserve a seat are $250 and must be bought at the Memphis Botanic Garden; individual tickets and tables of eight are available for purchase online.
Thanks to Micki Martin for her photos of the MFWF committee!
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