Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic: New event aims to celebrate Cincinnati's thriving foodie scene

To be held Sept. 12-13 in Washington Park

CINCINNATI – Attention Tri-State foodies: Donna Covrett and Courtney Tsitouris have cooked up a new event to please your palates.

Their inaugural Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic is designed to celebrate Greater Cincinnati’s thriving food, wine and brewing scene. It will take place Sept. 12-13 in Over-the-Rhine’s Washington Park and feature grand tastings, chef competitions, culinary demonstrations, panel discussions and VIP after-parties at downtown venues.

In other words, this isn’t another Taste of Cincinnati.

“Greater Cincinnati already has food events. We were very conscious of that,” said Covrett, the former food editor of Cincinnati Magazine who partners with Tsitouris in the media company City Stories. “We’ve been very conscious of how we wanted to create something different.”

‘Time, Moxie And Passion’

Not that it has been easy. Planning a new event as complex as the Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic requires time, attention to detail, the right relationships and lots of money.

But when Covrett and Tsitouris started planning more than eight months ago, all they had was a big vision, a six-figure budget and a passion for food.

“A friend of mine the other night described it as we jumped into an open sea without a rudder,” Covrett said. “Most startup businesses have capital to start with. We basically had time, moxie and passion.”

Still, those who have watched Tsitouris and Covrett work to create the event said they wouldn’t bet against them.

“They have the attitude and the energy to get it done,” said Willie Carden, director of the Cincinnati Parks Department. “If you’ve met these two ladies, I wouldn’t get in their way.”

Early on in their planning, Covrett and Tsitouris sized up their strengths and weaknesses. They found other event staffers with expertise in event planning, sponsorship sales and managing kitchen requirements.

The event’s executive committee includes some of the region’s hottest and best known chefs, such as: Daniel Wright, the chef/owner of Senate and Abigail Street; Jean-Robert de Cavel, the chef/owner of Jean-Robert’s Table; and Michael Paley, executive chef of Metropole at 21c Museum Hotel.

Those same chefs will be participating in the classic along with chefs from around the country, several of whom got their start here in Cincinnati.

And the event has national food writers Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appétit and Keith Pandolfi of Saveur and Top Chef Masters Judge Francis Lam on board to judge its Friday night culinary competition.

“Cincinnati’s culinary scene has been a bit of a flyover zone in the national press,” Covrett said. “We really wanted to shine a spotlight on it.”

That should help spread the word that Cincinnati’s vibrant food scene is another good reason to visit the Tri-State, said Julie Calvert, interim executive director of Source Cincinnati, a new central point of contact for media interested in telling the region’s story.

“We think the potential is huge for it as yet another opportunity to say what we are known for nationally,” Calvert said. “The chili, ribs and ice cream are always things we will be known for. We want to expand that circle.”

Celebrating Porkopolis

Other cities have food and wine festivals that have served as models for the event here, Tsitouris said.

“But we’re sort of tailoring it to Cincinnati,” she added.

Friday’s schedule, for example, will celebrate Cincinnati’s Porkopolis heritage while Saturday’s will be focused on the city’s fine-dining traditions.

A centerpiece of each day will be a grand tasting. Patrons will be able to purchase a ticket to a grand tasting and sample many food, wine and beer selections. Tickets for each grand tasting will be $125, Tsitouris said. Other ticket packages will be available when tickets go on sale July 1 at http://www.cincinnatifoodandwineclassic.com/tickets.

Covrett and Tsitouris hope to attract 3,000 visitors to this year’s event and then grow it in 2015.

Suzanne Schindler said she thinks the Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic has the kind of staying power to continue for years to come.

“One thing they have that’s special to them is their credibility with the food world – with chefs locally, regionally and nationally,” said Schindler, an experienced local event planner who is serving as the classic’s event manager. “I certainly think it could continue and thrive.”

Covrett and Tsitouris said they hope so. Their budget would allow them to break even or make a very small profit for this first event with bigger and broader plans in years to come.

“We want to prove and create a great experience this year,” Tsitouris said. “The money will come. The business will come.”

And if 3,000 people come to the inaugural Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic, Covrett said she and Tsitouris will be “happy as pigs in sunshine.”

For more information about the Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic, go to http://www.cincinnatifoodandwineclassic.com.

For more stories by Lucy May, go to www.wcpo.com/may. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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