Imagine, if your taste buds are up to it, gorging on the offerings of 40 local restaurants and bars, all on one night and all in one place. That’s what happened May 22 at the Omni Hotel when Taste of the Nation rolled into town. The annual event is put on by the non-profit Share Our Strength: No Kid Hungry, and raises money to fight hunger in the Greater New Haven area and in many other communities across the country. Local beneficiaries of the fund-raiser include the Connecticut Food Bank, End Hunger Connecticut, and Christian Community Action.
Event chair Tim Cipriano, director of food services for the Guilford public school system, asked me to be one of the evening’s three judges. At the entrance I met up with my fellow judges: baker, chef and writer Priscilla Martel (former owner of DuVillage in Chester) https://twitter.com/priscillamartel and Connecticut Public Radio host and journalist extraordinaire Colin McEnroe http://www.cpbn.org/program/colin-mcenroe-show. Our mission, should we decide to accept it, was to sample everything in sight and somehow give awards in three categories: Best Savory, Best Sweet, and Best Tablescape.
Tim handed us our clipboards, we threw open the doors to the large Omni meeting room, and my jaw dropped. Every manner of food and drink spilled off dozens of tables and it was my job to taste everything! Table after table of delicious, colorful food awaited and I began to doubt I had enough room in my digestive system. It all seemed so easy when Tim had asked me weeks before. What fun, I thought, who doesn’t love to eat great food? Now, if I weren’t careful, I’d be so full halfway through I’d never finish. Everyone in charge that evening smiled sweetly and repeated the mantra: “Take small bites.”
Luckily, I had a secret weapon with me, my husband Hayne Bayless who acted as a voracious finisher of what I’d begun. I would take a tiny bite of some to-die-for morsel and hand the remnant to Hayne, who was happy to devour my leftovers. Our clever teamwork let me taste every one of the amazing and delicious offerings.
As we moved around the room, Priscilla, Colin and I would rendezvous, checking to see how each other was making out. Surprisingly, we found we were nearly always on the same page, sampling at pretty much the same rate and noting which caught our eye, or tongue. All the food was really good, but we agreed pretty quickly on the standouts. Best Savory went to a a chef unknown to me, executive chef Wayne Kregling, club manager of Brownson Country Club of Shelton. http://www.brownsoncc.com/ His lobster and scallop appetizer knocked our socks off. Best Sweet ended in a tie between local favorite Gelato Giuliana http://www.gelatogiuliana.com/ and the Sono Baking Company & Cafe http://sonobaking.com/ with a stellar selection of macaroons. Best Tablescape went to Geronimo http://www.geronimobarandgrill.com/ with Tim Scott’s little friends, Emperor scorpions, in a terrarium with a tequila bottle.
With so many local libations available, I made a beeline for 116 Crown and owner/mixologist John Ginnetti. I was fortunate to have photographed John several times for New Haven Register articles and to have learned just how fabulous his cocktails are. It was a cinch to find room for more than one of his gin and blackberry brambles.
I look forward to Share Our Stregnth’s Taste of the Nation New Haven 2014. I hope you will be there to raise money, a glass, and a laden plate to fight childhood hunger.
Event Website: http://ce.strength.org/events/taste-nation-new-haven
• The Detes: The Omni Hotel, 155 Temple St. New Haven, Wednesday May 22, 2013 5-9 P.M.
• Price Range: VIP admission $150, general admission $85.
• Style of Food: every
• Favorite dishes: Brownson Country Club lobster and scallop appetizer, Sono Baking Company & Cafe macaroons, Gelato Giuliana gelato, eating alongside Geronimo’s scorpions, anything Prasad Chirnomula of Thali, ThaliToo and Oaxaca Kitchen makes, Chocopologie’s to-die-for chocolates, Claire’s Corner Copia’s morsels made with love.
• Drinks: Local libations such as Onyx, moonshine made in Wallingford, and any drink devised by John Ginnetti of 116 Crown.
• Vegetarian/Gluten Free available: Yes
• Atmosphere: Party with a decidedly do-gooder feel to it.