I got to attend the Charleston Wine and Food Festival for the first time a few weeks ago. It’s typically in the same month as the Southeastern Wildlife Expo and Charleston Fashion Week, so it’s a busy season for the city.
Marion Square is transformed into the Culinary Village, complete with full kitchen setups, booths, and swanky VIP lounges. This year the festival teamed up with the James Beard Foundation to announce the nominees of their awards at one of the events.
1. Make a plan. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the events going on, so be sure to check the schedule before you go. You don’t want to miss a demonstration or signing because you were too busy trying to find it. The Charleston City Paper made an app for this year’s event and the festival prints a guide beforehand.
2. Spend at least one day at the tents. If you don’t do anything else, spend one afternoon exploring the JetBlue and Piggly Wiggly tents at the Culinary Village. The city’s best restaurants, as well as vendors from throughout the country, bring their best dishes for you to try.
3. Eat more than you drink. With wine, beer, and cocktails lurking around every corner, you can go from zero to drunk in a short amount of time. Be sure to indulge in as many food samples as possible.
But if you’re going to imbibe, many companies use the festival as an opportunity to test new products, like Firefly’s forthcoming moonshine.
4. Use it as an opportunity to try new things. I’m not the most adventurous eater, but if I’m not paying for it, I don’t have to worry about not liking it. Also, check out food from restaurants you’ve never been to or haven’t dared to try.
5. Enjoy the swag. There are lots of great giveaways, from snacks to t-shirts to bottle openers and everything in between. Who doesn’t love free stuff?
6. Stalk out the chefs. Maybe this one is just for me, particularly someone addicted to Top Chef and the like. I saw Hugh Acheson casually strolling down Market Street on his way to the festival and had myself a girly fit. Well-known local chefs Sean Brock and Mike Lata always make appearances, so it’s a great place to spot them if you can’t wait a year for a reservation at their restaurants.
The tickets are on the expensive side, with the $75 Culinary Village tickets being one of the cheapest to come by. Other events, like a private harbor cruise with the city’s top culinary bigwigs for $500.
You can walk around the square for free and shop in the book and wine tents, but won’t be able to enter any other areas without a wristband. You will, of course, get what you paid for when it comes to these events, as you can stuff yourself silly with gourmet cuisine.