Getting better with age!
Katherine Noll, photos by Brian Shaud and Randy Monceaux,
They say wine gets better with age, and the same can be said of the Lehigh Valley Food & Wine Festival. Two thousand people would agree. They flocked to the Sands Event Center for the 6th annual event which took place from May 29-31. There they sampled food from some of the finest chefs in the Lehigh Valley and experienced fine wines, sumptuous spirits, and seminars and demonstrations.
"We came all the way from New York to be here," one couple enthused. "We are definitely coming back next year!"
The love of food and fine wine caused camaraderie among total strangers in the Grand Tasting room. "You've got to try the ravioli." "This pork belly is delicious." "Don't miss the shrimp and grits." Happy patrons exchanged tips as they ate and drank. Equally happy chefs chatted with the crowds, joking and entertaining while cooking, and even sharing some recipes. All this happened to a lively soundtrack provided by The Craig Thatcher Band and The Maybabies.
"We opened last summer," Executive Chef Drew Stark said of his restaurant, Hamilton Kitchen and Bar. "Being here is a great way to let another thousand people who might not have known about us do so."
As busy chefs sautéed, plated, chopped and grilled, many were utilizing a brand new ingredient: Northampton Community College (NCC) culinary and hospitality students. Students were paired with different restaurants to help as needed.
"The festival provides a unique opportunity for our students to network and work with some of the top chefs and restaurants in the Lehigh Valley," said Chef Sue Roth, NCC culinary instructor and owner of Mitzi's Table. "With thousands of people in attendance, our students also see what they can work towards and one day accomplish with hard work, a great work ethic, and dedication to the food service industry."
Chef Palmer has been participating in Food & Wine since it began in 2010.
"I learned early on that you have to keep it fresh," he shared. "When I did the same dish two years in a row, people remembered. They came back and told me 'You did this last year!' I was impressed with how much it stuck with them. Now I always change it up."
Sherri and Steve Kershner, owners of the Twisted Olive, also enjoy working with students. "We're in a field we are so passionate about, it's great to give back and spend time with the students."
Someone who has experienced what it's like to be both a student and a participating restaurant chef at Food & Wine is Chef Tyler Baxter of The Bayou. Baxter trained at NCC's culinary arts program and was one of the inaugural winners of the Food & Wine internship opportunity in Emeril Lagasse's New Orleans restaurants, which helped launch him into his current position.
"Four out of six cooks in my kitchen are NCC grads," Baxter enthused. "The NCC program is just amazing: amazing instructors, amazing courses, amazing outcomes!"
The students working the festival couldn't agree more.
"I love it! It's been such a great experience. I'm getting to network and work with small, family-owned restaurants. It builds us [the students] and it builds the community," Carly Yiaski, a hospitality management major, said.
Max Martrich, a culinary major, said, "I worked with 187 Rue Principale who did a lot with molecular gastronomy. I saw some things I never saw before and learned a lot."
Culinary major Alexander Krebs got to learn from his successes as well as his mistakes during the festival.
"I worked with McCoole's on Saturday and learned how to be fast on your feet, get into the flow and make up stuff as you go. The compliments from the guests motivated me to achieve more and go faster," he shared. "On the second day I worked with 3rd and Ferry Fish Market. I made some errors early on but I learned from them that I needed to practice my recall and know what the ingredients are."
It's not only NCC culinary students who received hands-on experience at the festival.
Hospitality grad Sharon Arnold is currently employed at Hampton Inn Easton. "I got my job because of NCC . They love NCC students!" she said. Arnold is currently furthering her education by taking NCC's meeting and event planning certificate course.
"It's a huge event. Yet it seems like it went off seamlessly. That's what we are taught in class is the goal, that the event should appear seamless, no matter what is happening behind the scenes. I give a lot of credit to the event planner," Arnold said.
NCC's director of special events, Caroline Clifford, would be the first to point out that an event like this doesn't happen without dedicated partners and sponsors who want to give back to the community.
Allentown Beverage has been a sponsor of Food and Wine since its debut. "The Sands and Northampton Community College are both great organizations to be affiliated with. The festival continues to grow and gets better every year," Suzanne Simon, executive director, said.
"Sands Bethlehem is pleased to once again partner with Northampton Community College on an event that has grown into a tradition for guests to look forward to every year," Mark Juliano, president of Sands Bethlehem, said. "The 2015 Lehigh Valley Food and Wine Festival was the most successful year yet, earning more money than any previous year. We are not only excited to host an event for the community to enjoy, but also for the opportunities it creates for the culinary and hospitality students at NCC."
The Festival got its start thanks to an idea from Mike Molewski, co-chairman of the Food and Wine Festival and partner and CEO of MFP Strategies.
"It's an idea I had to highlight the culinary and hospitality components of Northampton Community College. It's grown and succeeded so much since then, a lot more than any of us envisioned at the start. The number of restaurants involved, all the volunteers who make it happen, but most importantly the fact that it has raised 1.2 million since its inception for the College."
A portion of the funds raised from the festival are used to send culinary arts and hospitality management students to New Orleans to work alongside chefs, sommeliers and restaurant managers in three of Emeril Lagasse's restaurants. Chef Chris Wilson of Emeril's Homebase kicked off the festival Friday with a cooking demonstration and by announcing the six student winners of the competition. They are: Robert van Thiel, Sean O'Donnell, John Abela, Katie Morris, Kyle Lewis and Billy Mushock. Read more at lehighvalleylilve.com.
Funds raised by the festival benefit the Northampton Community College Foundation, a non-profit, public 501 (c) (3) organization that provides funding for scholarships, academic programs and building projects that serve local students. Northampton Community College students have access to one of the largest private scholarship programs at any community college in the country.
"It's a great event that everyone enjoys," Chef Roth added. "It's a lot of work, but it's fun work!"
The 6th Annual Lehigh Valley Food and Wine Festival featured:
Demonstrations and Seminars by:
A very special thank you to the festival sponsors, without whom this event would not be possible.
View more Food & Wine Photos in this photo gallery.