By Carey Restino
A note to the wise: Next year, when you go to the Taste of Homer (for after this year’s turnout of some 200 people, it is sure to be repeated) do not walk past the desserts on your first pass saying to yourself that you will come back for that chocolate mouse later.
It won’t be there.
That’s not to say there wasn’t plenty of fine food to be had at Homer’s first year celebrating the culinary and beverage arts in this new format. Enter Wasabi’s Restaurant last Saturday and a table featuring a bounty of oysters courtesy of Jakolof Bay Oysters greeted newcomers. With a thick French accent, Brittany-born Frank Reveil encourages guests to try another, shucking shells as fast as foodies slurp them.
Around the corner, people lined up for a crash course in Thai food from Vida Bunchim herself.
“You like spicy food?” she asks, thrusting ramekins filled with tongue-tingling garlic chicken, peanut and cilantro into eager hands. “You will like this.”
Further on through the thicket of people, wine was flowing freely from the Bear Creek Winery table. With the younger crowd, blueberry smoothies had almost the same draw.
“She’s been back six or seven times,” said Sage Dance-Wright, owner of The Cool Juicy Bus of one young smoothie-lover, whose head barely skimmed the top of the juice bar table.
“Taste of Homer” was the brainchild of Amy Martin, owner and operator of Vagabond Café. But to be fair, she said, such tastings are fairly common in the Lower 48. Homer has only dabbled with the idea of gathering as much of Homer’s tasty talent into one room — offering event-goers a chance to sample wares of restaurateurs, dessert makers, wineries, breweries, coffee and tea connoisseurs; even a smoothie-maker in one place.
“Homer has a huge number of great restaurants and beverage establishments and they are all dedicating a lot of love and hard work into their products,” Martin said. “The idea is to show ourselves off in one event and really spotlight Homer.”
Martin said planning for the event started long before the busy summer season got underway. The idea was simple. Vendors bring their food and pass it out to people to give customers a taste of what their restaurant or beverage establishments are all about. There’s no cost to the vendors, except the expense of the food they are serving. And for many vendors, this was a chance to visit and enjoy food and beverages with their customers.
Darrel Oliver, a well-known face at Land’s End Resort, was passing out smaller versions of the Chart Room’s elk meatloaf with a mushroom sauce served on a freshly made potato pancake.
“The summer’s over and we are all beat up,” said Oliver. “But this event is just for us, to get together and take care of each other. It’s great.”
On the opposite corner of the restaurant, Carri Thurman was explaining to some guests from Wasilla that Two Sisters Bakery – long a mainstay of the breakfast and lunch crowd in Homer – is open for dinner, too.
Thurman said the Taste of Homer event was more than just getting the word out about her business. It was also fun.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie here,” Thurman said, adding that it was fun to visit with other restaurant and beverage business owners as well as the many locals and visitors who came. “We don’t get to get out that much because we’re too busy working.”
Zen Kelly, who helped coordinate the event, said overcoming the logistics of starting an event for the first time were challenging — do you hold it before Labor Day when everyone is still working and too busy to participate, or later when many businesses are closed or have a skeleton staff and can’t take time to do a special event, for example.
But looking around the room filled with people, he said it look like it all worked out well.
“I would deem it an incredible success,” he said.
The Taste of Homer coincided with the weekend when the state bed and breakfast association held its annual meeting in Homer, and many of the participants from around the state came to sample the event’s wares.
The event also tied in with the final weeks of the Homer Farmers Market, and a fundraising silent and live auction raised some $2,000 for the market with donated items ranging from a pumpkin to a year’s supply of beer from the Homer Brewing Company. Los Holy Santos Gang played to cap off the evening.
A portion of the revenue from the event will be used to support a restaurant guide publication for Homer, organizers say, with the help of the Homer Chamber of Commerce.
Martin said she is thrilled with how the event evolved and the team effort it took to organize and promote the obviously popular concept.
“It wouldn’t have launched without everyone’s help,” she said. “It all just flowed. Everybody who’s here made it happen.”
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