Epicurean Classic in Michigan
The event that first put Traverse City in the national “foodie” spotlight returns to its native shores this fall with some new innovations – including a culinary cycling adventure called the “Tour de Terroir.”
The Epicurean Classic, a three-day food festival that features dinners, tastings and classes taught by top-level chefs from across the country and around the world, will be held September 8 through 11, 2011, at a sprawling indoor/outdoor venue in Traverse City’s bayfront Warehouse District.
As before, it will include classes and talks by celebrity chefs like Ted Reader, Jennifer McLagan, Maxime Bilet, and Martha Hall Foose (chef and author Mario Batali is pictured at a previous Epicurean Classic). But the most intriguing new event is the Tour de Terroir, which will combine eating and drinking with bicycle touring.
The word may look ominous, but there’s nothing at all frightening about terroir. Pronounced “tehr-wahr,” it means the qualities in a landscape – its geology, topography, weather and even its spiritual ethos – that contribute to the taste of its food, wine and beer. Epicurean Classic promoter Mark Dressler thinks the terroir of the Traverse City area is some of the best in the world, and he wants more of his guests to experience it up-close.
Dressler, an avid cyclist, describes the Sunday tour as “a day-long terroir-infused epicurean exploration and celebration.” It will begin with a leisurely ride through the woodlands, fields, farms, vineyards, orchards and coastlines of the scenic Leelanau Peninsula, followed by an informal barbecue featuring food and drink that was grown and created in that same landscape.
“It’s educational, but it’s also fun,” he says. “The idea is to get people out into the land, to see the vineyards and orchards and farms where this food comes from, then get back and have some great eats and some good fellowship,” he says. “This is very old idea in places like France and Italy, but a relatively new concept in the U.S.”
Epicurean Classic events begin Thursday evening with a talk by Gretchen Holt Wittt (The Bake Sale Cookbooks) at Traverse City’s historic Opera House. Friday’s agenda will feature demonstrations, classes and book-signings from local and national chefs followed by evening “chef/author dinners” where visiting chefs take over the cooking at selected local restaurants. Saturday’s menu of classes and demos ends with an evening Grand Gala reception.
On both days, continuous food and drink tastings will be held in the afternoon at an outdoor tasting pavilion. Sunday, of course, will be devoted entirely to the Tour de Terroir (though Dressler is quick to reassure non-cycling foodies that they can buy tickets to the barbecue even if they didn’t feel up to the pedaling).
The Epicurean Classic began eight years ago as a spotlight event for Traverse City’s own Great Lakes Culinary Institute, and is credited with bringing the community to the attention of food superstars like chef Mario Batali, who eventually bought a summer home nearby.
Since then, food writers and lovers of tasty food have been flocking here to sample and praise the local cuisine. For two years in a row, Midwest Living magazine has listed Traverse City among its Five Top Food Towns — and last year Bon Appetit magazine named it one of the Top Five Foodie towns in the US.
The Epicurean Classic was briefly moved to St. Joseph in 2009, but Dressler said he and his colleagues knew almost immediately that leaving Traverse City had been a mistake.
“This is the place where it all began,” said Dressler. “As soon as we left it became apparent why this was where it was supposed to be.”
Presenters at this year’s Epicurean Classic include Maxime Bilet, co-author of Modernist Cuisine; Pamela Sheldon Johns, author of 14 cookbooks including Parmigiano!, 50 Great Appetizers, and 50 Great Pasta Sauces; Roberto Santibañez, chef/owner of Fonda in Brooklyn and author of Truly Mexican; Martha Foose, whose first cookbook, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea, won a James Beard Award; Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo (known as “The Frankies”) authors of The Frankies’ Spuntino Kitchen Companion and Cooking Manual; Lisa Fain, author of The Homesick Texan Cookbook.
The list also includes “serial entrepreneur, connoisseur, grape grower and hotelier” Roger Scommegna; award-winning chef, food entertainer and author Ted Reader; Gretchen Holt-Witt, founder of Cookies for Kids’ Cancer and one of Women’s Day magazine’s 50 “Women Who Are Changing the World,” and and Jennifer McLagan, author of FAT and ODD BITS.
The lineup also includes some of the Traverse City area’s most outstanding chefs, including advanced sommelier Amanda Danielson, co-owner of Trattoria Stella, and executive chef Myles Anton (two-time James Beard semifinalist), Eric Patterson and Jennifer Blakeslee of The Cook’s House, and James Beard Award nominee Guillaume Hazael-Massieux, executive chef and co-owner of La Becasse.
(Photo courtesy of Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau)