Photos by Matthew J. Campbell and Arthur Gonick
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The festival continued on Saturday, September 9th for its signature Grand Tasting and Concours D’Elegance event featuring unparalleled wines, spirits, local foods, and the region’s top restaurants. In addition, The Saratoga Automobile Museum presented a show of luxury collector cars including classes of Shelby Cobra, Porsche, Lancia, Maserati, Ferrari, Lamborghini, among others. A special highlight of the festival included the Home Rangers Cooking Competition, where amateur chef and Stillwater resident, Craig Couture, a teacher at Schalmont High School in Rotterdam, defeated Melissa Doney, executive chef of Brown’s Brewing in Troy.
— Source: Kristy Godette | Director of Communications
Saratoga Performing Arts Center
Greater Than Grand
Carrie Rowlands Johnson
SARATOGA SPRINGS – The crisp, cold bubbles tickle my lips, my tongue, and then the back of my throat as I tip back my souvenir plastic wine goblet. This is the third brand of sparkling wine/Champagne/Prosecco I’ve tasted, and by far my favorite. Plus, I dig the pretty blue color on the bottle. It sparkles in the sun as I reach for it, a peek at the label revealing it is the Blue Nun Sparkling Wine.
Nursing the two of four total sips remaining in my tasting cup, I catch up with besties and blogging partners Mandy Mittler and Matt Campbell. (Shout out to Lisa Champagne, who was noticeably absent from our group, especially noteworthy given the appropriateness of her last name to the event, and to our summer drink of choice.)
They are standing in one of the dozens of lines formed inside two separate tents on the grounds of The Saratoga Performing Arts Center, best known to anyone who has ever visited as simply… SPAC. I glance at the sign teetering on the edge of the booth and make an immediate decision to skip this one. It is some sort of pork dish and while I’d be willing to bet it’s prepared quite nicely, I try desperately to avoid pork (Except bacon. Bacon is one of life’s panaceas and almost always worth every single fat-laden bite.)
It’s the first year in more than a dozen I’ve visited The Saratoga Wine and Food Festival, a two-day event held every year at the beginning of September. It’s a sort of farewell to summer tradition here, and SPAC’s primary fundraiser for its educational programming, including Classic Kids, a collaborative program in which SPAC works with local schools to teach elementary and middle school aged children about the classical performing arts.
The festival showcases several celebrities, of both the cooking and non-cooking varieties, including baseball legend David Ortiz (aka “Big Papi”) and Top Chef Master Suvir Saran, who Mandy and I borrowed for a brief photo sesh.
Mandy was super excited for the photo as her 9-year old daughter is an aspiring chef herself. While my 11-year old twin Jordan can hold his own in the kitchen, he doesn’t carry a passion for creating dishes nor does he follow celebrity chefs on television like McKenzie.
I’m astute enough to know Saran was executive chef/owner at Devi in New York City, the first Indian restaurant in the United States to earn a Michelin Star (Ok, I admit, I’m actually only astute enough to do my homework – and read Arthur’s preview posts… like this profile of Suvir HERE).
My knowledge of Michelin Stars is descended from watching the movie Burnt, information I remember primarily because Bradley Cooper just so happens to be my dream boyfriend. (Don’t judge. There’s a giggly girl in all of us.)
With nearly 100 booths lining the Grand Tasting tent, and more in the second tent, there was no way we were stopping at every single one— there’s only so much room in our bellies. (Or more accurately, only so far we’re willing to stretch out a cheat day.) My favorite creation: the beet and goat cheese salad, expertly prepared by Chef Mark Graham for Campagna.
While we did wander into the second area, we found ourselves frequently returning to the Grand Tasting tent, mostly because the band Bad Chaperones was phenomenal. Seriously. By the end of the event, the makeshift dance floor was jammed. The dancing and walking back and forth was also a great way to burn off a few of the calories earned over the course of the event.
Aside from the obvious food and wine and aforementioned dancing, my favorite part of this event was the people. It was a reunion of every face from every summer gala and the track combined – a “Who’s Who” of Saratoga, dressed in jeans instead of cocktail attire.
The band stops playing. The booths start breaking down. Our trio walks onto the lawn, where dozens of picnic tables look out over a display of luxury collector cars courtesy of The Saratoga Auto Museum.
We wave farewell to familiar faces, scattered across the tables, farewell to this Saratoga summer, confident our fabulous city will present us with seasonably suited fall and winter versions of the charity galas and events we’ve had the grand pleasure of promoting. (See you soon, Joe Putrock 😉 )
Rapping About Wrapping
SARATOGA SPRINGS – It’s now ten days later. And I’m still full!
In years past, the Saratoga Wine and Food Festival was the end. The summer season is ending, and SPAC takes a traditional bow before the first leaf falls. But this year, this is not the case.
SPAC announced a breakthrough concert event – the appearance of Pakistan’s Sachal Ensemble on their first US tour on Oct 30 (see the post HERE), and my reporter’s instincts tell me that there will be more. Those same instincts tell me to keep my mouth shut until the timing is right, so I shall say no more at this time. Watch this space though….
In the meantime, I’d love to thank my team of merry gala-goers and the great work that they did – and you enjoyed – all summer.
I could gush, gush, gush forever about you all – individually and collectively – and. while I will do so a bit here… remember that I deliver my best compliments One-on-One… Eye-to-Eye – and I look forward to that immensely.
But, for the moment, let me officially say: From left to right: I proudly present the team:
Carrie Rowlands Johnson, Matthew J. Campbell, Lisa Champagne, Mandy Mittler.
And an unabashed – and cyber-public – display of thankful affection for each of you…
Carrie – You remain the undisputed master of the first-sentence-scene-setter. Whether you attended, or missed that party – you know Carrie will put you there, in the sweet spot.
A+ – as usual.
But, I must also acknowledge that you introduced me to all the gush-ees that are to follow shortly. Which makes you an A++ talent scout. Quality recognizing Quality, is what I see at work here.
Thank you, Carrie.
Matthew – Anyone who can keep me calm and composed in mid-event gets a big shout from me.
But your greatest gift to me is that you provided needed shots of testosterone perspective and humor, in an estrogen-laden world.
Not that we don’t appreciate said estrogen-laden world, mind you…
No, we don’t mind it at all – not one bit.
Thank you, Matt.
Lisa – Well, you certainly had a big-time year. I recall two moments, out of many, prominently:
1) At the White Party – where I fully expected you to go all Gal Godot on me – lifting me over your head and heaving me into some water hazard at Saratoga National LOL; and
2) The ‘Aha!’ moment when you realized you were going to be a-OK walking the runway
Before, in between and after – there were great moments and outfits galore. Your concentration on fashion added an important dimension to our coverage, and you showed the versatility to articulate the overall feel of an event when called upon. Bravo!
Thank you, Lisa.
Mandy – Like a baseball team destined for great things, you were the major mid-season free-agent pickup that sealed the deal.
The August reader stats are out from Mannix Marketing – the owners of saratoga,com and the host of this blog. The number one-read piece was about the Saratoga Hospital Gala – a collaborative 2-post effort which everyone took a part in (see the posts HERE and HERE) – but lookie, lookie at who wrote a piece that clocked in at a strong number two on August’s hit parade all by herself:
Yup. The Country Girl slugged it out of the park at the Pitney Meadows Fire Feast, while rocking the overalls like none other… This was her first real piece for us – read it HERE, and created such a buzz; a swarm of compliments and good will, that I had to tell her “It’s not usually like this!”
But, then I realized: Maybe it is – for you…
I look forward to exploring further, beginning with your coverage of The Feast of the Fields this Thursday. I guess it’s a good time to let everyone know that, shortly after the Pitney Mania receded somewhat, I appointed you to be Feast Editor – so this is your baby, Mandy – enjoy!
And thank you, Mandy.
With the coming fall, my teammates – all of whom are single parents, BTW, will have shifts in their responsibilities. You might see them less often here, but none of them are going to disappear. But the time they gave on this crazy, busy summer – to bring you what objectively was the best event coverage in this market – will long be gratefully cherished by me here at Mission Control.
When you see them out and about, please give them your own thank you. It is richly deserved.
September 19, 2017