GastroFest 2015 in Hemming Park

GastroFest Brings Thousands of Diners Downtown

Foodies Unite

Cook it, brew it, bake it, and they will come. During our first annual GastroFest, held March 21st in Hemming Park, Jacksonville came hungry and left happy.

First, we’d like to thank all of our wonderful sponsors and people who donated to our initial Indiegogo campaign; without you there would not have been an event. We want to extend our thanks and appreciation to every single attendee, vendor, venue, and volunteer who helped make this dream a reality.

Our goal at GastroJax is to put Jacksonville on the culinary map, all while educating people on food history and culture, and GastroFest accomplishes this mission. Every single person who showed up to GastroFest made a statement about how much we care about our local growers, bakers, brewers and chefs. Simultaneously, we showcased the resources Jacksonville has to offer for all who are interested in learning more about growing and making their own food.

“One of the things that set us apart from typical fests is that we had workshops and food education programming all day,” says GastroJax Executive Director Erin Thursby. “Thanks to MOCA Jacksonville we had talks, a panel, films on food and local beverages in their theatre space. We had workshops on beer and bread-making at Down the Rabbit Hole, and on the Sea Best Cooking Stage, there were demos all day.”

GastroFest 2015 in Hemming Park, Downtown Jacksonville

The turnout was impressive. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office reported that over 30,000 people attended, and Jacksonville Transportation Authority is reporting over 4,000 passengers on the Skyway.

We couldn’t be happier with the way the inaugural GastroFest unfolded this year. We can’t wait to improve next year. We are excited to tackle those challenges, so rest easy knowing that we’ll be back with even bigger, and better, things for next year!

GastroFest Judge’s Choice Tasting Winners

Our GastroFest Tasting Judges were: Nancy White, food writer at the Florida Times-Union; Kerry Speckman of The Specktator blog; Chef Amadeus, host of the Southern Passion Lounge podcast; Jessica Campbell of Jax Vegan Love; Shannon Blankinship, Associate Director of Girls Gone Green

Our GastroFest Judge’s Choice Winners were: 29 South | Blue Bamboo | Blue Fish | Corner Taco | Funkadelic Food Truck | Ibex Ethiopian Kitchen | Jalapeño Truck | Perard’s Pizza | The Patio at Pastiche | Tapa That | Taverna

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The GastroJax Craft Cocktail Contest

The Craft Cocktail contest was held at The Candy Apple Cafe just outside of Hemming Park. It was hosted by the inimitable Kerry Speckman, with live music from Shawn Lightfoot. Guests enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and cocktails as they gathered to judge cocktails made with award-winning Palm Ridge Reserve Florida Whiskey.

The competitors were: Michael Everett from Bistro Aix; Blair Redington from The Grape and Grain Exchange;Kinsey Griesemer Crook from bb’s restaurant and bar; Dan Calkins from Sidecar Jax; Marlon Hall from The Candy Apple Cafe & Cocktails

Judges: Jessica Fields, Director of Libations for GastroJax, Inc. and The Liquid Extrovert blog; John Langley, long-time wine and spirits industry insider and local social media phenomenon drinkjax; Brian Binniker, Managing Partner/General Manager of Taverna; and Dick Waters, Owner/Distiller of Florida Farm Distillery/Palm Ridge Reserve Florida Whiskey. There was also a people’s choice prize that was chosen by the crowd.

After each bartender presented their respective cocktails, the judges panel convened and judged each on the following criteria: taste, mixology, and presentation. Then each guest was given a chance to cast a ballot for their favorite cocktail. All of the competitors’ cocktails were tasty and beautiful examples of what can be accomplished using Palm Ridge Reserve Florida whiskeys.

In a surprise twist, one bartender swept both the Juried Prize and the People’s Choice Prize. Dan Calkins from Sidecar was the big winner with his cocktail “The Slow Boat to China.” By combining Palm Ridge Reserve Whiskey, Bonal, Lemon, Chinese Bitters and Local Honey, Dan concocted a cocktail that was a unique and aromatic delight that was as popular with the judges as it was with the crowd.

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Beer:30 Homebrew Contest, Hosted by The Beer Apostle

Judges: James Moriarty, head brewer of Veterans United Craft Brewery; Brian Little, Beer Apostle; Carolyn Graham, Brown Distributing; Glen Wieger, Green Lion Festival; Kevin Burns, Beer:30; Marc Wisdom, Jax Beer Guy; Preben Olsen, Aardwolf Brewing Co.; Steve Halford, Pinglehead Brewing Co.

Winners: Eric and Ed Washington won the people’s choice with Muddy Water Brown Ale. John Harris won the judge’s award with the Key Lime Pie Mead.