Food Chatter: Q&A with Atlanta Food & Wine Festival’s Dominique Love


The second annual Atlanta Food & Wine Festival takes place Thursday, May 10 through Sunday, May 13, in and near the Lowes Hotel Atlanta. The major themes for this year’s festival, according to co-founder Dominique Love, are sourcing, Southern heritage, seafood, cocktails, and “farm fresh.”

Love, co-founder Elizabeth Feichter, and their team are creating a dynamic program that includes more of the South’s premiere culinary talents, an exciting array of Southern cocktail experts, and expanded breadth of food and drink in the popular Tasting Tents. (Full disclosure: I will be moderating a panel at the festival entitled Soul Food, exploring expressions of comfort foods in different cultures.)

I interviewed Love via email while she was attending the Charleston Wine & Food Festival a couple weekends ago.

Q:  What is your vision for the 2012 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, and what makes it unique among the growing number of local and national food festivals?
DL:  Our vision remains the same as in year one: We want to shine a national spotlight on the food and beverage traditions of our region in a meaningful and educational way while also positioning Atlanta as the gateway to the culinary South. We’re unique because our weekend is the first in the country to focus exclusively on the South. We explore the food and beverage traditions of our region (Texas to Washington D.C.) and other Southern regions around the globe like Southern Europe, South Africa, and South America, whose wines, spirits and flavors are favorites in the Southern kitchen.

We’re also unique in that all of our classes, events, and tasting tents are designed by our talent—award-winning chefs, mixologists, sommeliers, brewers and distillers. These amazing superstars are all rolling up their sleeves to make sure our guests eat, drink and indulge in the South like never before.

Q:  How will the 2012 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival be different from the 2011 event?

DL:  We had an amazing debut event and now we’re all about refining our successes to give our guests and talent an even better experience. A few differences are that we had one hundred and thirty four award-winning talents with us, and this year we’re up to two hundred and twenty and counting!

Our classes have been streamlined a bit because a lot of the talent is teaming up for their demonstrations, classes and tastings. A great example is Matt Lee and Ted Lee (aka the Lee Bros.) are doing a fun demonstration on stage that will engage four chefs—Sean Brock (SC), Ashley Christensen (NC), Ford Fry (GA) and Andrea Reusing (NC) and a mixologist (Greg Best, GA)—as “mad scientists” doing a series of culinary experiments to reveal the secrets of great Southern cooking. 

Guests will also find the Southern cocktail culture playing a big role. We’re not just shaking and stirring but we’ve got incredible mixologists like Bobby Heugel (TX) who have provided a lot of input into shaping this piece of the program, including an entire program dedicated to the “Southern Cocktail Hour.” Also joining us is Dave Wondrich, a cocktail historian who the New York Times once called “a living iPod of drink lore and recipes.” 

We’ve also expanded both the footprint of our tasting tents and increased the time frame to three hours from two. We’ll continue featuring our “culinary trails” in the tasting tents but are engaging more talent, which means a new line-up of great chefs each day. 

Q:  Who are some of the new chefs/ mixologists who are participating this year?

DL:  I thought our line-up last year was incredible but this year it is even better! New to the mix, among others, are Laura Catena from the illustrious Argentinean winemaking family; Drew Hendricks and James Tidwell, Master Sommeliers and co-founders of TEXSOM; Sam Beall, the proprietor of Blackberry Farm; Chefs Anthony Lamas (KY), Alon Shaya (LA), Tandy Wilson (TN), and our old Atlanta friend Dean Max (FL).

Q:  What does the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival bring to Atlanta beyond the attention to our culinary scene?

DL:  Our weekend positions Atlanta as the gateway to the culinary South. Last year, we drew close to 6,000 visitors with almost thirty percent coming from thirty-three states outside of Georgia and six international countries. These visitors get to experience Atlanta from the heart of Midtown and to see our city opening its doors for the region’s best culinary talents.

Obviously, whenever someone visits our city, it also means they spend money in our city. Our informal conversations with our restaurant partners indicated on average a 25 percent increase in business over the course of the weekend. We also generate more than 1,000 room nights in hotels across Midtown and Downtown. But what I loved the most was hearing from our out-of-town guests is that they felt welcome and the streets of Midtown were abuzz with energy and excitement. My favorite quote was from chef John Besh, who said the only thing he didn’t like about the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival was that it wasn’t in New Orleans! 

Editor’s note: Creative Loafing, my former employer, laid off food critic Besha Rodell today along with three other staffers: Scott Henry, Curt Holman, and Chanté LaGon. My heart goes out to all of them. In her seven years at CL, Besha has proven herself one of the finest food writers in the country. I’m not at all worried about her continued success in the field.—B.A.

Hotel Restaurant Week returns to Atlanta Saturday, March 31 to Saturday, April 7, 2012. This year’s event features a three-course dinner, priced at $30 per person, at an Atlanta area hotel restaurant. Participating hotel restaurants include Southern Art, Livingston Restaurant, Park 75 Restaurant, BLT Steak, The Cafe at The Mansion on Peachtree, Spice Market, Lobby, Room, Eleven, and Paces 88.

The AJC reported that Atlanta chef and cookbook author Virginia Willis has joined the Southern Living team to provide recipes for the magazine’s What To Eat Now feature.

Atlantic Station. The Atlanta Nosh, offering both ready-to-eat food and drinks and take-home items from more than 100 vendors, will open in Atlantic Station each Sunday beginning April 15. Admission fee is $5; sign up for free membership before you go.

Buckhead. Creative Loafing got the scoop that chef Drew Van Leuvan is departing from One Midtown Kitchen to open a restaurant named Seven Lamps in the Shops Around Lenox, slated to open in June.
Decatur. Look for Revolution Doughnuts, featuring coffee and artisan doughnuts from the owner of the Little Red Hen Bakeshop, to open next to Ale Yeah this spring.

Decatur Metro reports that the Decatur Kitchen Garden will break ground this week. Produce from the one-acre community garden will be distributed directly to DeKalb County residents through local markets, restaurant liaisons, community food co-ops, and a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
Morningside. On Saturday, March 31 from 3 to 6 p.m., Atlanta chefs will fire up the fryers and present their best work with the yard bird in a tented lot next to Rosebud  at the Mother Clucker Fried Chicken Festival, featuring live music, bourbon, and beer. Among those frying chicken are Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene and Asha Gomez of Cardamom Hill.

The Amateur Gastronomer is reporting that Nick Salpekar, formerly of Murphy’s, has taken over Highland Wine & Crystal at 1402 North Highland.

Old Fourth Ward. TV’s Dinners, a meals on wheels concept that delivers cooked to order, home style comfort food within a three-mile radius of the Irwin Street Market, is now available, reports Thrillist. The meals come in microwaveable containers, and include entrees such as slow-roasted beef brisket on carrots and onions, Caribbean grilled chicken, Mediterranean herbed roast pork tenderloin, and meatloaf with mushrooms and brown gravy.

Westside. Teriyaki Experience has closed.  

Question of the Week: What produce market has operated in downtown Atlanta for almost 20 years?
PS. The answer to last week’s QOTW—Question of the Week: What Atlanta restaurant company has opened a new venture in Montgomery, Alabama?—is Concentrics opened Central in downtown Montgomery.

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Do you have restaurant openings, closings, or other news to share? Email James Oxendine at