Highlands Food and Wine opens with Grand Tasting, a culinary compilation of local cuisines

Hundreds showed up to the sold-out Grand Tasting event on Thursday as part of the Highlands Food and Wine series of events throughout the weekend. Festival-goers feasted on delights from a number of local restaurants, breweries and vineyards; all while listening to the funky sounds of Lyric up on stage.

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Lyric performed at Grand Tasting, part of Highlands Food and Wine, on Thursday evening at Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park.

“It’s a different event in a really unique location,” said Jessica Gumbert, Festival Producer at Eleven Events. “The Town of Highlands keeps people coming back every year. You get a little piece of almost every restaurant in this town. They have fun for a weekend and then they come back, that’s the whole point of the festival.”

Attendees strolled around a larger tent this year compared to last year noshing on delights from restaurants like 4118, Lakeside Restaurant, Ristorante Paoletti, Kilwin’s Chocolates and Ice Creams, the Ugly Dog Public House, Wolfgang’s Restaurant and Wine Bistro, Canyon Kitchen, Dinner with Duffy, and Cyprus, to name a few.

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Party-goers spent most of the time after dinner out on the dance floor cutting a rug to the funky jams of Lyric.

But chowing down on BBQ seared scallops or Hawaiian ahi poke can work up a thirst. Beverage partners included Highlands Wine Shoppe, Schug Winery, Satulah Mountain Brewing Company and Wagner Family Wines that were among the plethora of options to choose from.

Creator of the Hawaiian ahi poke, Chris Duffy, owner of Dinner with Duffy, wanted to bring something that people probably don’t see every day.

“I wanted to do something that no one else would do,” said Duffy, who’s other options included Tahitian Poisson Cru and a Peruvian Ceviche. “I’m kind of taking you on a trip along the Pacific Rim as three cultures migrated across.”

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Many of Highlands most popular restaurants, breweries and vineyards participated in Highlands Food and Wine Grand Tasting event.

He added that events like Grand Tasting are great for highlighting some of the exceptional delights that Highlands has to offer.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Duffy. “It gives someone who is in town for the weekend the chance to try every restaurant in town and hopefully they come back again.”

Lakeside Restaurant’s Head Chef Jordan Brown brought BBQ scallops, which is one of the most popular appetizers on their menu and it gives him a chance to spotlight their specialty in seafood. Owners Laura and Chris Huerta said not only is the event great for guests, but it’s also a chance for different dining establishments to get together and show off their latest creations with others in the trade.

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Chris Duffy talks up his Hawaiian ahi poke at Grand Tasting, part of Highlands Food and Wine.

“It’s the camaraderie of this event,” said Laura.  “We all do our own thing throughout the season, but once a year we all get together, it’s a lot of fun. Plus, this event draws a lot of people to the area, especially younger people.”

Jerry Moore, owner of Kilwin’s brought his fall staples of caramel apples, pecan pralines and dark chocolates with sea salt.

“They’re our more popular items and people love them,” said Moore. “Plus, they’re perfect for fall. Actually, we always bring the same thing every year, we don’t deviate at all,”

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Lyric made the trip from Asheville to perform at Grand Tasting on Thursday evening.

Moore added that he looks forward to HFW each time fall comes around.

“It’s a lot of fun and it highlights everything that Highlands has to offer,” he said.

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Vendors from all over the area participated in Grand Tasting to give attendees a taste of what Highlands has to offer.

Owner and Brewer of Satulah Mountain Brewing, Dale Heinlein, has been participating in HFW every year since its inception, before it was called Highlands Food and Wine. He was also the first brewer to participate in the multi-day festival. He brought a collection of craft beers to give guests a variety to choose from including a hazy IPA, graham cracker nut brown, an amber, a golden and a Saison.

“I wanted to give people a little bit of everything,” said Heinlein. “And the people here get to try all the food and then attend what the restaurants are doing over the weekend outside of Food and Wine. It’s a great mesh that brings the true flavor of Highlands out.”

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Spencer Ford (right) said it’s always worth it to attend the events from Highlands Food and Wine.

Highlands resident Spencer Ford is no stranger to HFW having attended it for several years.

“What can I say, it keeps getting better and better,” said Ford.

The band Lyric made their way from Asheville to perform at Grand Tasting and lead singer Leeda Lyric Jones said they always enjoy making the journey up the mountain for gigs.

“Every time we come up here the scenery along the drive is amazing,” said Jones. “And the crowds are always great with such a good vibe.”

Today from noon until 4 p.m. is the sold-out Truckin’ event at The Bascom.

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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