Epicurean Classic more seasoned in fourth year

TRAVERSE CITY – For three days on the shores of West Grand Traverse Bay, some of the country's hottest chefs and renowned wine experts will gather to cook, pour, and share their passions for food and drink.

The fourth annual Epicurean Classic will be held Sept. 13-15 on the waterfront grounds of the Great Lakes Culinary Institute at Northwestern Michigan College (Great Lakes Campus), and will showcase some of the best things happening in the world of food and wine.

Some 80 events, including food and wine classes, demonstrations, tastings, and dinners, will span the three days and invite enthusiasts to immerse themselves in this gathering celebrating "epicurean" delights.

Some names to whet your appetite include Takashi Yagihashi, past winner of the James Beard Foundation's "Best Chef Midwest," Don Yamauchi of Tribute in Detroit, Roberto Santibanez, a Mexico City native and current culinary director of Rosa Mexicano in New York City, and Alice Medrich, recognized for her baking and pastry arts, specifically her chocolate creations.

More than 20 wine experts will join the culinary line-up, including Brian Smith, professor of Wine Studies at the Culinary Institute of America and wine author, and Bob Paulinski, a former TC wine shop owner and Master of Wine (one of only 22 in the entire country) and now the chief wine and spirits merchant for Sam's Club.

The event's local flavor will come from executive chefs from many of the region's fine dining establishments, including Myles Anton of Trattoria Stella, Greg Murphy of North, and Harlan "Pete" Peterson of Tapawingo. Add in food purveyors from the Grand Traverse Pie Company, Food for Thought, Cherry Republic, and more and you've got three days to taste, learn and expand your culinary horizons.

The chefs, wine experts and some food purveyors will be conducting specialty classes and each of the chefs will contribute a dish to the Grand Reception dinner that closes the three-day event on Saturday night.

This year's Classic is expected to attract upwards of 4,000 attendees, said Mark Dressler, co-founder of the event with Matt Sutherland. Since the inaugural event in 2004, the Classic has grown by some 35 percent annually with over half of the attendees coming from downstate, Chicago and other parts of the Midwest.

"There's no other event like it in the country," said Dressler, though it has been compared to the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, events linked to Food & Wine magazine and the Food Network. "Where it differs is that it's a book industry effort," he said, in which culinary artisans are getting exposure for their new releases. Padma Lakshmi, most recognizable perhaps as host of television's Top Chef, will be showcasing her soon-to-be-released title "Tangy, Tart, Hot and Sweet." Other highlights are Rosa's "New Mexican Table" by Santibanez, Laura Werlin's "Cheese Essentials" and a new edition of "The Silver Palate Cookbook" as it celebrates 25 years in publication.

It was five or six years ago when Dressler and Sutherland felt TC was ripe for a major food and wine event. They took their love of fine food and wine and mixed that with years of experience in the publishing industry, event planning know-how, and connections with local beverage wholesalers and distributors.

They called Fred Laughlin, director of the Great Lakes Culinary Institute and he eagerly signed on as host, and every year the event produces a check to the Institute for scholarships. In addition, the publicity surrounding the Epicurean Classic raises the Institute's profile in the food and wine community, Dressler added, which was one of their goals with the event. Plus, the Institute's students get the opportunity to do all the food prep work alongside these industry stars and land a few gigs in the process.

For $50, you can wile away an afternoon in the Grand Tasting Pavilion enjoying cooking and wine demos, food and wine tastings and informal chats with some of the finest artisans in the business. As in previous years, attendees can also choose to go "a la carte" and select from a series of classes running throughout the event. There will also be several Great Chefs dinners based on the cookbooks of celebrity chefs, who will be paired with their counterparts at area restaurants to create original menus.

The Epicurean Classic has received increasing national exposure and last year enjoyed coverage in Cooking Light, Midwest Living, the Chicago Tribune and the Detroit Free Press among many other publications.

"There has been a total change in momentum in this event as far as sponsors," Dressler said, with companies that understand their philosophy and the type of event they are committed to creating. Also, the involvement from the wine and spirits industry continues to be a driving force of the event, Sutherland noted.

For a complete event schedule, listing of classes and registration, visit www.epicureanclassic.com.