MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival offers tastes, courses for the curious

Date Published: 
May 9, 2014

Calling all foodies: The MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival is coming to Delaware next week, with four days of events at more than 40 venues stretching from the Main Line of Pennsylvania to the Delaware beaches.

“It came out of being that there are some major wine and food festivals in the country. There’s one in New York, Miami, one in Charleston, S.C., which I have attended,” said Ajit George, the festival’s founder and president.

“The festival in Charleston, it grew into this full way to attract people from all over the country to come to the city,” he noted. “In its ninth year, they had 24,000 people who attended — 30 percent were from over 50 miles away. This was a way to showcase the area. People came, stayed in hotel rooms. They promoted their local areas…

“I looked at that and saw the opportunity,” he explained, “because we are in the Mid-Atlantic, halfway between New York and Washington.”

George saw the potential for such a festival in the Mid-Atlantic.

“I know a lot of chefs and winemakers from all around the world, because I enjoy food and wine. I invited chefs and winemakers that I knew from outside the area and invited chefs from this area, as well,” he said. “Our goal is to bring the world to the Mid-Atlantic, and then introduce the Mid-Atlantic to the world.”

The MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival began as an independent festival in 2013. The nonprofit’s purpose is to be the premier food and wine event of the Mid-Atlantic, featuring international vintners and chefs in collaboration with local talent, to bring tourism to Delaware and to increase awareness of its cultural assets.

“We are lost in the Mid-Atlantic. People don’t even know where Delaware is. That’s one of the challenges. We are a lovely state, particularly in May. We have everything from the beaches to great museums to great cultural attractions. The challenge is how to get people to come here.

“People know where Philadelphia is,” he continued. “People know where Baltimore is, Washington, New York. But when I say I’m from Wilmington, Del., most people say, ‘Where is that?’

“What we’re trying to do is use food and wine, and spirits and beer to put Delaware on the map as part of the Mid-Atlantic,” he added.

The festival’s inaugural year included 42 events, chefs and winemakers from five continents, and attracted more than 4,000 people from 16 states and nine countries. This year, the festival boasts 90 chefs and 20 winemakers from six continents.

“I am used to begging. If I don’t know somebody, I ask other people,” George said. “I am a professional beggar. I basically said, ‘Who knows somebody in Thailand?’ or ‘Who knows somebody in India?’ or ‘Who knows somebody from here?’ What you find is people who have a passion for food and wine know other people who have the same passion… That’s how we connected.”

George said that once the chefs and winemakers were on board, festival organizers went to work to create unique events to showcase each participant.

“We created 50 events — 11 in Sussex. That’s a very significant amount of events in Sussex, and half of them have already sold out,” he said. “We try to be as different as possible. We never repeat a course during the entire five days.

“The idea is to be as different and as unique as we can. The idea is to brainstorm and be creative. We want to create a tapestry of food and wine that is diverse, interesting and appeals to some people. That is the key element of the festival — we are trying to have fun with food, wine, beer and spirits.”

Tickets to attend festival events range from $55, for an event such as the Winemakers Lunch in Rehoboth Beach, featuring a three-course meal and wine tasting, to $500 for the American Express 1000 Point Wine Tasting event in Rehoboth.

George added that the festival isn’t solely about food and wine — spirits and brews also make an appearance.

“In some cases, we do nothing but beer pairings. We’re doing a game dinner in Smyrna, which is completely about the beer,” explained George. “We have a bacon and bourbon event where it’s all bourbon we’re doing. It’s not all wine — although wine is a focus — but we have some lovely spirits, as well.”

Along with the tasting events, attendees may also enjoy 23 educational courses led by chefs, winemakers and experts from around the globe. All of those courses will take place Saturday, May 17, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. in the Capital One Festival Marketplace, in the Double Tree Downtown in Wilmington. Courses range in price from $20 to $55 and in topic from “The Art of Preservation” to “Wine 101” to “Mastering #FoodPorn.”

“I take a lot of food pictures and put them on Facebook but am not very good at it,” he said with a laugh. “So we have two classes on mastering the art of food porn. We jokingly say ‘food porn,’ because that’s what it is — taking great pictures of food. How do you take great pictures of food without a flash?” explained George.

“We have a course on honey. I learned last year that honey is very localized, that the bees — the taste of the honey completely changes every six months because they have a range of six miles. Most people have no clue that it makes a big difference where the honey comes from.”

A designated portion of the net 2014 festival proceeds will benefit five community organizations in Delaware. The beneficiaries in Sussex County are the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation and CAMP Rehoboth.

“We sent out a request to a lot of nonprofits that we thought would be interested. They had to fill out an application. We were delighted they were one of the ones that responded,” explained George of the Freeman Foundation.

“We picked them because what they do is remarkable. Most people in Delaware — particularly northern Delaware — are not entirely familiar with where Selbyville is. Our goal is to say, ‘Hey, look at this incredible place that hosts amazing stuff that’s part of the Delaware fabric.’

“In this particular case, we had a two-part agenda: We wanted to help the Freeman Stage but also have more people be aware of the Freeman Stage, so they can take advantage of the programming.”

Only those who are curious about food and drink should attend, said George.

“People who are curious about food, wine, beer and spirits. You must be curious, and you must be willing to try things that you would not normally try. Because, if you only want predictable food, you should not come to our festival. What you should be is a curious person — it’s the curiosity that we hope to feed.”

George said he hopes that those who did not attend any of the festival’s events last year will consider attending one, and learning about and enjoying some good food and wine.

“I would encourage people to try at least try one event this year, so they can experience something that they would not normally experience in Delaware.”

For more information on the MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival, a complete listing of scheduled events or to purchase tickets, visit www.mawff.org.