Jacksonville’s newest nonprofit-in-the-making, GastroJax, Inc., recently announced that their signature event, GastroFest, a comprehensive, totally local festival celebrating the food culture of Northeast Florida and those involved in it, will take place in Hemming Park, formerly Hemming Plaza, during the weekend of March 21, 2015. It’s been a long summer, so here’s the scoop in case you missed it.
The concept was born in the fall of 2013, when its creator, Erin Thursby, suddenly realized that Jacksonville doen’t have a food festival that brought together all of the gastronomic traditions and experiences available in the area. “We’ve got some great festivals in and around Jacksonville, but nothing that just focuses on celebrating our food culture. GastroFest aims to change that. We’re bringing together restaurants, food suppliers, growers, and educators. We eat every day. It’s part of our cultural experience, and if we don’t pay attention to it, some of the best parts of that experience can disappear,” explains Thursby. GastroFest co-creator, finance whiz, and community organizer Kamron Perry, agrees. “I feel we are really developing a sophisticated, yet accessible, culinary personality of our own that is uniquely sexy and worth shouting about.” Thursby put together a dynamic team that includes a creative director, a green living consultant, a restaurant business insider, and a local beverage and cultural events blogger, foodies all, who share the dream.
The next step was to prove to themselves that the concept had legs. One Spark 2014 was just the ticket. The GastroJax team worked hard to put on a mini-GastroFest of sorts. Local restaurants and chefs, farms, food-related nonprofits, a local cookbook author, and other foodie personalities offered demos, samples, mini-seminars, and giveaways. The booth was hopping at all times as the team kept the focus on variety and on local food. The community response was overwhelming. “Once we started working the booth at One Spark, we could tell that GastroFest is something everyone’s excited about,” Thursby says.
But the positive response from One Spark didn’t stop there. Out of 610 projects, GastroFest was in the top 25 in terms of money earned and in the top 11 in terms of percentage of overall votes. The project also won the Golden Ticket prize from Void magazine and ad agency Adjective & Co. The prize, intended for the project likely to have the most positive impact on Jacksonville, will be of tremendous help to GastroFest in advertising and branding services. With such a dynamic vision “to foster a thriving local food scene in Jacksonville and put the region on the map as a culinary destination,” it’s easy to imagine the positive impact GastroFest and its parent organization, GastroJax Inc., will have.
In keeping with the goal of promoting and educating people about the area’s gastronomic culture, GastroJax partnered in June with Chef Dennis Chan of Blue Bamboo for their first culinary event, the Damn Good Dim Sum Dinner. Chan already holds a monthly dim sum brunch and was interested in introducing a wider audience to the traditional meal. The event was a success, to say the least. It quickly sold out, as did the small number of seats Chan was able to add later. Melissa Morgan, who attended the dinner with her husband, says, “It was an evening full of great company and delicious food. The vegan options were as delicious as the omnivore ones. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and would love to attend other events just like it.”
GastroJax will be presenting more events, both culinary and educational, in the months leading up to the big festival. They will be spreading the word at Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens’ EnviroFest on August 9th, at the U.S. Green Building Council North Florida’s Green Social at Aardwolf Brewery on August 12th, and at the Green Lion Festival on October 4th. Upcoming culinary events include a decadent dinner at Restaurant Orsay on August 27th and a farm-to-table dinner, presented in partnership with the San Marco Preservation Society, on October 25th.
Subscribe to the GastroFest newsletter at www.gastrofest.com, like them at facebook.com/gastrojax, and follow @GastrofestJax on Twitter to keep abreast of all the developments and news of this exciting Jacksonville initiative. GastroJax is still adding sponsors, including corporate sponsors, and is still looking for volunteers for both the festival and for other projects, so contact them at [email protected] regarding those opportunities.