From lamb chops to caviar and from beer to wine, the 4th Annual Embers Wood Grill Wine and Food Festival will serve it all. The three-day festival explores the finer side of the palate while benefitting scholarships for students attending the Institute of Culinary Arts at Eastside High School in Gainesville, Florida.
Every year before the festival begins, a dessert competition is held at Eastside High School for junior and senior students to compete for a scholarship. The winning dessert is then presented at the festival where the winner can showcase their work and meet with culinary experts.
Peyton Agliata, 20, received the first scholarship four years ago with her winning chocolate caramel dessert. Since then, Agliata has completed culinary school and, for the past six months, worked as the head chef on a ship in the Pacific Ocean for National Geographic serving about 80 guests.
“We just hired her to come back to Gainesville and work for us,” said Ryan Todd, president of Embers Wood Grill. “We are extremely excited because she’s very talented and will be a big asset to our kitchen.”
The Embers Wood Grill Wine and Food Festival started as an opportunity to bring an eclectic selection of food, wine and expertise to the Gainesville community, but the more rewarding aspect is its continued commitment to the Eastside Institute of Culinary Arts.
“Whether most people realize it or not, the Eastside Culinary program affects us all, here, in Alachua County,” said Embers owner June Allen. “Whether you have friends staying in a hotel for a football game or you go out to eat at any restaurant, there are students and graduates from that culinary program working there.”
As one of the top culinary programs in the country, the program serves as a great source for the community, Allen said. Students like Agliata enter the workforce either in the kitchen as chefs or in hospitality management positions.
Students in the culinary program can earn college credit once they meet academic standards and complete at least 400 hours of work experience, which awards them the Pro Start National Certificate of Achievement.
“They are our culinary future here in Gainesville,” Todd said. “Our hope is that they all get a good education, go to culinary school and become great chefs, then come back to Gainesville.”
The festival begins Friday, March 22, with a multi-course wine maker’s dinner that includes a representative from a featured vineyard who pairs a wine with each course. The representative is present during the dinner to explain the flavors behind each pairing.
The Bourbon Bash will be the following day, Saturday, March 23, in the restaurant’s private dining room. Embers Wood Grill is recognized as one of the top bourbon bars in the country with more than 60 bourbons in stock.
“When the bourbons came in, our sommeliers (wine stewards) got so excited because one of the bourbons were one of only three bottles in the state of Florida,” Allen said. “If you are really into bourbon, [the festival] is one of the few things you can go to and taste some of the more exclusive bourbons available.”
The wine festival will be on the final day, Sunday, March 24, where Greater Gainesville residents can sample a variety of food, wine and spirits from the designated rooms, patio or outdoor tent at the restaurant. Samples will include seafood, grilled meats, cheese, sweets and more.
One of the most popular aspects of the festival is the cheese room, where a variety of cheeses from around the world are available for attendees to sample. The display of these cheeses will extend up to 40 feet in length. For Gouda sake!
Attendees can expect to meet and talk with experts from around the world and with various culinary backgrounds during the festival as well.
“For the first time anywhere in central Florida, Michael Mondavi, who is heir to the Robert Mondavi wine empire, will be here in town,” Todd said. “He’s going to bring his wines and share his personal experiences with us on Saturday and Sunday.”
The Robert Mondavi Winery was established in 1966 in Oakville, California, but was sold to Constellation Brands in 2004 for $1 billion. The company’s signature white wine, Fumé Blanc, is one of the most recognizable wines to this day.
Over the past four years, the anticipation for the festival and all it entails each year has grown immensely, Todd said.
“The first year was a lot of begging,” Todd said. “We went around to a lot of people in the state saying, ‘please come to our event’ or ‘please support our event.’ The first year ended up being such a success that by the second year, people were coming to us.”
When the festival started in 2015, about 250 to 300 wines were offered to showcase and sample throughout the event. Now, about 1,600 wines are presented to Todd and his team for selection each year and only 400 make the cut.
“Before, we were seeing ticket sales a month to two weeks ahead of the event,” Todd said. “Now, people are getting on board and ordering the first day so that they don’t sell out on them.”
Tickets for the 4th Annual Embers Wood Grill Wine and Food Festival went on sale December 1 and are expected to sell out soon.
Apart from showcasing fine wines to the Gainesville community, Todd looks for the festival to provide an opportunity for residents to interact more with fresh, local food and drinks.
“We’ve become a society of people who just eat processed foods, fast food and things out of a microwave versus cooking our own whole foods,” Todd said. “It’s nice to see younger generations getting interested in what it takes to be a chef, cook food, and farm these foods or wines.”
The festival reflects the quality and standards the restaurant itself tries to maintain, which is a compete dining experience with beverage, food and service, Todd said.
“Outside of Gainesville, I would like people to know that we do offer a great food and wine scene here in Gainesville, so come and visit us to see what we are capable of,” Todd said.
CALENDAR OF EVENTS
Friday, March 22nd 6:30 p.m.
Start the weekend on Friday with Ember’s Second Annual Winemaker’s Dinner. Award winning and talented Executive Chef Briton Dumas will marvel you with a magnificent multi-course dinner complimented by the legendary wines of Napa Valley.
Bourbon Bash 2019
Saturday, March 23rd 6:00 p.m.
On Saturday, Embers and Spark will host events for the second time in North Central Florida, featuring Bourbons of Pappy Van Winkle. The Bourbon Bash sold out months in advance last year.
Sunday, March 24th
2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Embers Wine and Food Festival on Sunday offers guests the rare opportunity to sample more than 200 wines, champagne and liquors that have been personally selected by our certified in-house Sommeliers Ryan Todd and Justin Hall.
These events help provide students from the Eastside Culinary Program with scholarships.
For more info, visit: emberswineandfoodfestival.com.