I am covering this event on Friday, but it appears the tickets may be already 100% gone. Go immediately to the Festival website and scoop up any sessions that may still be available. If tickets are sold out, and you can’t bribe or beg a friend to part with one, then mark your calendar to try earlier next year (it’s on MLK weekend, as always).
I spoke with Donna Purmono, president of the Festival, asking what makes this event so special and wildly popular. It started 5 years ago with a dream of her husband Yono to recognize that the Albany arts and restaurant scene is every bit as vibrant as Boston, Manhattan or Toronto. Good friends pitched in with the idea they’d raise a few dollars with a food event and donate it to a local arts organization. $39K later an institution had been established.
The founders and supporters (too numerous to name here, but I’ll talk about them in a longer article before the 2015 event) worked from the principle that “there is no more parsimonious group than ours,” according to Donna. Participants donate their time, food, serving setups and the space itself (while the main events are at the Albany Hilton, it’s expanded to other facilities for some sessions) so every dollar raised—nearly $300K through the first four years—can go to the arts organizations it supports.
This also means that attendees are guaranteed a quality experience with the tastings capped at 850 tickets and the chefs asked to prepare 900 servings (which is far more than adequate since no way you are going to make it around to every station). “We don’t want to turn away dollars that could go to the arts,” says Donna, “but we also don’t want you to be an arm thrusting through other arms with your wineglass at the end of it, and no conversation with the chef. We want you to have a great experience so you’ll come back next year and bring five friends.”
That means extremely attractive pricing (the $60 price for the grand tasting is all-inclusive and includes wine/beer and all seminars and judgings that happen during your session). The event is chef-driven and chefs have free rein in presenting dishes that showcase their talents and that of their institutions. There are 70 total, including six “Rising Star” chefs who were selected through a competition managed by the Albany Times-Union’s Steve Barnes.
I will be attending the Grand Tasting on Friday and will report back on the experience. But if you’re interested, don’t wait. Grab those tickets and Wine & Dine for the Arts.