Taste of Atlanta is about more than just tasting

Founder Dale DeSena wants people to know that, in its 11th year, Taste of Atlanta has grown into much more than a tasting event — though more than 90 Atlanta restaurants will offer samples Saturday and Sunday, including 4th & Swift, The Optimist, and Seed Kitchen and Bar.

“I think people have this perception that we’re just like the typical ‘taste of’ festival, and we’re not,” DeSena said. “We support local chefs and local restaurants. And our mission continues after 11 years, which is turning tasters into diners.

“But the festival has gotten more sophisticated about food, just as our patrons have gotten more sophisticated. We’re providing the information and the experience that people are requesting. We offer all kinds of educational seminars, cooking demos, hands-on cooking classes, wine and beer tastings, and a cocktail competition where you can be the judge.”

Jay Swift, the chef/owner of 4th & Swift in the Old Fourth Ward, is a Taste of Atlanta veteran who will be part of the Big Grill party Friday evening. Swift also will present a cooking demo Sunday with his son Jeb Aldrich, dubbed All in the Family, on the Home Plate Main Stage.

“It’s a nice mix of events — really a bunch of events squeezed into one,” Swift said of Taste of Atlanta. “You can try food from dozens of restaurants, or you can go to a cooking demo or any number of other things. It’s pretty representative across the board of the Atlanta food scene.

“For our demo, we’ll be making lamb and ricotta meatballs with polenta mousseline,” he said. “It will be fun doing something like this together with my son, who is chef de cuisine at 4th & Swift.”

It won’t be chef Doug Turbush’s first year at Taste of Atlanta. But it will be the debut for his Marietta restaurant, Seed Kitchen & Bar. Turbush will join an Inside the Food Studio presentation Saturday called Condiments of the Chef, which explores a variety of sauces, gravies, dressings and condiments.

“I’ll be doing a roasted lemon vinaigrette with Scottish salmon and field peas,” Turbush said. “It’s a super versatile sauce for seafood.”

Speaking of seafood, chef Adam Evans of The Optimist in West Midtown will share his knowledge Saturday at the The Kitchen Workshop, a hands-on cooking class for VIP ticket holders. Evans will lead participants in preparing Georgia white shrimp with parsnip fennel puree.

“I’m going to talk about buying, cleaning and using head-on shrimp, which I think many people are afraid of,” Evans said. “We’ll make a shrimp stock that will be part of the dish. I’m also going to talk about other types of fish, and sourcing and sustainability, which is really important and something I’m passionate about.”

Along with sustainable seafood, one of the hottest topics at Atlanta restaurants right now is craft cocktails.

Kellie Thorn, the bar manager at Empire State South in Midtown, became one of four female semifinalists in this year’s VIP Barcraft competition with her riff on the classic Chilean Terremoto cocktail.

Joining Thorn in the competition Saturday are Jenny Watts and Shanna Mayo of Leon’s Full Service and Paige Lane of Lure. The lone male is Bradford Tolleson of Pura Vida.

“There are so many really talented bartenders coming together, sharing ideas and progressing together,” Thorn said. “The great thing about Atlanta right now is that there’s suddenly a lot of good places to go get a great cocktail. We’re all just thrilled that there are so many women representing that.”

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