Cheers Y'all! Memphis Food & Wine Festival Is Back!
By Sandi Butler
Photo by Mark Ramirez
Since its founding in 2016, Memphis Food & Wine Festival has become one of the premiere festivals in Memphis and the Mid-South - and it is back and better than ever before for 2021! This year’s event will feature James Beard award-winning chefs, world-renowned vintners, and live music from local favorite bands. Get ready because October 16 promises to be one of the best come-back parties of the year! While 2020 hit everyone hard, the food and wine industries were hit especially hard. The wine industry alone reportedly lost $1.4B last year. The Memphis Food & Wine Festival (MFWF) is built on the generosity of these industries to be successful and fulfill their non-profit mission of fundraising for the FedExFamilyHouse. The challenges faced by festival leadership were significant: industry financial hardship, ever-evolving health department regulations, staffing shortages, and logistical issues. In the spring of 2021, when a festival of this size has to be organized, the combination of all of these challenges might seem too much to overcome. But MFWF Chef co-chairs Wally Joe (Acre Restaurant) and Jose Gutierrez (River Oaks Restaurant) felt strongly that chefs would once again support the festival - and they were correct. “There was a real feeling of ‘let’s get back, let’s make things normal.’ Almost immediately they signed on a list of 37 chefs,” said Howard Stovall, Festival Producer of MFWF and Managing Partner of Resource Entertainment Group.
For returning MFWF attendees, one of the most striking changes for 2021 will be the redesign of the festival grounds at the Radians Amphitheater at Memphis Botanic Garden. “That was going to be the big thing we had to deal with for the event scheduled in 2020,” laughed Howard. The new festival layout will be presented under the oak trees and twinkle lights, including the bands. The reason for the redesign was two-fold: the large stage dwarfed a local band and the energy dissipated in the open area. “Plus, by turning the festival toward the lake, we stay on high ground in case of rain. Jamison Todden (Co-Director of Live at the Garden) told me that one of those oak trees can suck up to 200 gallons of water a day, so we’re going to stay dry up there,” Howard explained. “We’re going to bring in a stage that is much more appropriately sized to the music in this event. It will be a cozy stage and much more integrated with the festival. We will have roughly the same acts, but I think the feel will be extremely different.”
At press time, some of the notables in the culinary lineup include Nicolas Costagliola, Executive Chef of Restaurant Guy Savoy in Las Vegas and Michael Smith of Farina and Extra Virgin in Kansas City and previous winner of the James Beard Best Chef Midwest Award. The collection of local chefs participating is a who’s-who of the Memphis culinary scene. A very exciting addition this year is local favorite Kelly English of Restaurant Iris, Second Line, and Fino’s from the Hill fame. Other local favorites include Ben Smith of Tsunami, Ryan Trimm of Nextdoor, Sunrise Memphis, 117 Prime, Sweet Grass, and 3rd & Court, and Patrick Reilly of Majestic Grille. In addition to samplings of delish cuisine, over 100 wine samples will be poured from some of the finest vineyards and winemakers from around the world including Frank Family Vineyards, Cornerstone Cellars, and Twomey.
The VIP experience kicks off the festival on Friday evening with a Preview Night Party. This year’s event will be held at the new Hyatt Centric in downtown Memphis. Guests will have tastes from participating chefs paired with magnificent wine selections, all while watching a beautiful sunset from the rooftop. While festival guests enjoy all the delectable foods and wines, it is guests who stay at the FedExFamilyHouse at Le Bonheur that reap the reward from MFWF. The four previous festivals have resulted in over $325,000 being donated to the home-away-from-home for families traveling to Le Bonheur Children's Hospital for treatment. Raise a glass to 2021 and to the dedication of the chefs, vintners, and sponsors who are making the 5th installment of the MFWF possible. Memphis foodies could not be more ready to sample and sip the wonderful taste of normalcy along with incredible cuisine and fine wine.
For ticket information, visit memphisfoodwinefestival.org.