Friday, May 4, 2012


52 Years of Celebrating

Despite the terrible press
In the year 1947, a famous travel writer called Knoxville, Tennessee “the ugliest place I ever saw in America.”  Still smarting from such an insulting description, the Chamber of Commerce in 1955 organized an auto tour in some of Knoxville’s most elegant neighborhoods. The idea was to view the area’s beautiful spring flowers, especially the gorgeous Dogwood blossoms. In 1961 the event grew into a real downtown festival with special events, food and music illustrating to the world that our community had vision, that we were creative, we were progressive and we were beautiful (despite the terrible press).

Radio personality Paul Harvey
Many celebrity guests have enjoyed the festival over the years but few expressed their delight as eloquently as did radio personality Paul Harvey in his 1996 Commentary on the Dogwood Arts Festival.  “There’s something about the soul and the climate between the placid lakes and the sloping meadows and the stone bluffs of the Smokies.  There’s something about Knoxville that makes dogwood trees grow taller.  Blossoms are giant-sized.  Pink hybrids are a translucent pink.  On shady slopes you’ll see wild dogwood branches creating a fountain from the top of a limbless trunk, and then drooping gracefully down in a waterfall of white blossoms.  And in residential streets, the nurtured dogwoods are resplendent by day and moonlighted by night.”

Grand garden party
“It was their Dogwood Arts Festival I attended in early April.  Over 35 years, that Festival has grown to where it hosts a quarter-million visitors for its grand garden party.  There are violets and iris, many apples carpeting the woodland floors, May apples.  There are lilacs and narcissus, and a rainbow of flowering fruit trees, but mostly along half a hundred miles of trails, into and through and around the city is a springtime blizzard of blossoms of dogwood.”

The natural beauty of our region
In 1978 The House and Garden Show was established, followed by A Very Special Arts Show in 1979 and Bazillion Blooms, the Chalk Walk, and Rhythm N' Blooms in 2009. Fast forward to 2012 and “Dogwood Arts is now a widely respected not-for-profit organization whose mission is to support arts, education, promote the visual and performing arts, and to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of our region.” 2012 celebrates the 52nd anniversary of the Dogwood Arts Festival and 58th anniversary of the Dogwood Trails.  The 2012 Festival also marked the inauguration of a new feature, the Culinary Arts Stage.

10 different demonstrations

The Culinary Arts Stage at Market Square Art Fair was situated at the edge of Krutch Park under a canopy of beautiful trees.  Thousands of visitors strolled through the Art Fair over the three day weekend and many of them visited the free admission Culinary Stage.  The culinary event offered ten different demonstrations and tastings by five chefs and culinary professionals and required the chefs to prepare 120 portions of their dish for sampling that was separate from their actual demonstration food. 

“Elevate life with every glass raised”

Constellations Wines and local wholesaler Triple C Distributor offered a daily tasting of five different Robert Mondavi Wines as well as matching wine with each demonstration.  Darrell Freeze, Field Sales Manager for Constellations Wines presented a program that included Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Fume Blanc, and Chardonnay.  Darrell stressed that his company is actively engaged in “balancing the art and business of making wine”.  He also encouraged tasters to “elevate life with every glass raised”.  The wine tastings were indeed very well attended and made more enjoyable with the battery of real glassware provided by All Occasion Rental.

Sequoyah Grille
The first dish of the event was Risotto Italiano prepared by Chef Kirk Emory of Knoxville’s Sequoyah Grille Restaurant.  The concept behind the Sequoyah Grille is to utilize the freshest seasonal ingredients available, using classic culinary techniques and presenting the dishes with creative, artistic flair.  Chef Emory described their restaurant as a “neighborhood grille” and their cuisine as “right out of the ground fresh”.  The chef’s wife, Amy is also the business’ General Manager as well as the restaurants wine expert.

Nori Modern Noodle & Sushi Bar
Vietnamese/Thai fusion cuisine was represented by another local restaurant, Nori Modern Noodle & Sushi Bar.  The restaurant’s Sushi Chef, Justin Holleman demonstrated Vietnamese Shrimp and Basil Rice Paper Rolls as well as California Rolls.  The chef also noted that his restaurant prides itself on fresh vegetables and herbs and especially their freshly made home style broths.

Tupelo Honey Cafe
Asheville, North Carolina’s popular Tupelo Honey Café  was in charge of the next presentation.  Tupelo Honey Café currently has two locations in the Asheville area but will be expanding to Knoxville later this summer where they will be serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Chef Brian Sonoskos attributes their success to “a great following and a passionate staff”.  Their goal is “to provide a fine dinning experience at everyday low prices.” New Pimento Cheese is a trademark of the restaurant (they even have a Pimento Cheese of the Month Club) and was the dish that the chef chose for his demonstration.  Chef Sonoskos and the Café have just published their first cookbook, Tupelo Honey Café: Spirited Recipes from Asheville’s New South Kitchen

Cake of Knoxville
Heather Grubb is a stay at home mom with two young daughters and the owner of a small business – Cake of Knoxville and the veteran of 8 episodes of The Learning Channel’s reality competition, Next Great Baker.  She was also an entertaining demonstrator on our Culinary Stage. Heather regaled the audience with her behind the scenes stories of a TV reality show while whipping up a batch of her Lemon Yogurt Cupcakes.  The audience was charmed as much by her effusive personality as by her tangy cupcakes.

Avanti Savoia Imports
Avanti Savoia  was represented by our culinary team of Chefs Joseph Lowery and Karen Crumley.  Our offering was a dish that we have had great success with each time that we have served it; Radiatore Pasta con Salsa Fresca.  It is an easy and quick dish to prepare, although one that is always full of flavor.  Simply put, it is hot pasta served with an uncooked sauce of fresh vegetables, herbs and feta cheese served with a tangy dressing of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Essentially a “warm” pasta salad, the key is good produce and (of course) the best oil and vinegar.  We’ve printed the recipe below for your convenience.

Blogger Alan Sims
One of the nicer compliments that we received was from blogger Alan Sims. He tells us that he enjoyed the dish so much that he visited Avanti Savoia’s booth and purchased the necessary ingredients so as to be able to recreate the dish for his own Sunday dinner.  Check out Alan’s blog and pictures covering the festival.  This blogger also writes about the Chalk Walk with lots of fantastic pictures on the same site.
Complicated and challenging
Besides our cooking demonstration we also had the privilege of sharing the 3 day hosting duties with our good friend and preeminent food stylist, Linda Ullian Schmid.  The logistical organization (complicated and challenging) was handled brilliantly by Chris Kahn, which meant that she not only spent untold hours planning the event but also working hard in the trenches doing everything from clearing tables to pouring wine.

Presenting sponsor
Avanti Savoia is an enthusiastic believer in the mission of the Dogwood Arts Festival and we had the distinction of being the Presenting Sponsor of both the Culinary Stage and the Chalk Walk. No event of this magnitude happens without the efforts of an army of volunteers and we sincerely thank each and everyone who helped especially the staff of The Dogwoods Arts Festival and the Culinary Stage committee. A very special thank you to Publix, the event’s sponsor.  The appliances were provided by Quinn Appliances and Viking.  Acme Block and Brick built our magnificent outdoor kitchen set and Regions Bank gave up their parking lot for our event tent.

50,000 people
An estimated 50,000 people visited downtown Knoxville that sunny beautiful weekend and we think a good many of them left as our friends.  As this was the festival’s first year offering the Culinary and Wine Stage we all learned a lot and all we can really say is – “just wait until next year and Bon Appetit Y’all”!