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Savor's Second Year Features Rare Whiskey, Fine Food, Celebrities

“Canned tuna” took on a whole new meaning at this weekend’s Savor event, thanks to the team from Elm in New Canaan.

Executive chef Luke Venner presented his take on the pantry staple, with bites of tuna cured with bergamot and Meyer lemon, preserved tomato, basil seeds, basil sauce, dehydrated black olives and fennel pollen nestled into individual tin cans. The preparation was a surprise to many guests, he said.

“It’s very unassuming,” he said. “Once you get them over here and pop the lid, they say ‘Oh, I get it.’”

Savor, presented by Foxwoods in its second year at the Connecticut Convention Center, featured two weekend grand tasting sessions with high-end cuisine, wine, craft beer and cocktails. The events spotlighted local and regional restaurants, caterers and vendors, with demonstrations and cookbook signings by several nationally recognized chefs.

Food offerings showcased talent from Connecticut chefs, like a poached pear and Cremont  cheese tartine by Hartford’s ON20, chicken liver mousse with golden raisins on baguette from Barcelona Wine Bar, and paprika-charred Spanish octopus with poached fingerling potatoes from Carbone’s Kitchen in Bloomfield. Dish Bar and Grill of Hartford offered a whimsical lobster “pop tart” with black truffle sauce, and New Canaan’s South End served an oyster pan roast with Tasso ham and crawfish, followed by a lobster “lollipop” with chili lime butter.

Franck Iglesias, the executive pastry chef at Foxwoods, showcased sweets like a tiramisu truffle and "pop rocks" pralines. His new boutique pastry shop, Cake By Franck, opened in early March at the resort casino. "I'm very happy with it," he said. "We've had some good feedback so far and we'll keep working on it."

Rooster Company of Newington, which opened in February 2015, prepared poultry dishes best chosen to represent its locally-focused comfort food, including a curried chicken salad with ground pistachios and Ekonk Hill turkey chili with rattlesnake beans from Young Farms in East Granby. Chef-owner KC Ward, a first-timer at Savor, said he welcomed the opportunity to introduce the Rooster Company brand to a new audience.

“It’s been great to interact with so many people who otherwise didn’t know I was in Newington, for them to see the face behind the business,” he said.

Prasad Chirnomula, owner of the Thali and Oaxaca Kitchen restaurants in New Haven and Fairfield County (and the newly-opened India in New Canaan) served South Indian crab puffs with pickled vegetables. He said he’d spoken to numerous event guests who were excited for his next venture: a Thali planned for West Hartford’s Blue Back Square this fall.

Thali will move into a space next door to Cook and the Bear, the anticipated collaboration restaurant between Tyler Anderson of Millwright’s and Jamie McDonald of Bear’s Smokehouse. Millwright’s and Bear’s shared table space at Savor, offering three barbecue-influenced plates: BBQ carrots with herbed farro and seeds from the Simsbury restaurant, pastrami with smoked garlic mashed potatoes from the Kansas City-style smokehouse and a preview of the new “craft barbecue” menu in West Hartford: a kimchi pancake topped with pulled pork and a gochujang BBQ sauce.

Celebrity chefs performed stage demonstrations, including headliner Robert Irvine of Food Network’s “Restaurant: Impossible,” Mary Ann Esposito of PBS' “Ciao Italia,” Elizabeth Falkner of “Iron Chef” and “Top Chef Masters” and Zac Young of “Top Chef: Just Desserts,” who’s the executive pastry chef for the David Burke Group. 

Hartford whiskey lovers also sampled rare Pappy Van Winkle bourbon at "Savor the Legends" Thursday, a special tasting event that served as a kickoff to the weekend. Guests tasted five limited Pappy batches, aged for 10, 12, 15, 20 and 23 years, and enjoyed Kentucky-inspired food from b restaurants.

Irvine mingled with the bourbon fans all evening, and did the same at Saturday night's Savor in Style Charity Gala, a unique walk-around tasting featuring a wine or beverage pairing with each lavish dish. Guests stood in a long line to get a photo with the charismatic personality and a taste of his merguez-spiced slow-roasted chicken with zucchini baba ghanoush, lemon ricotta and arugula pesto. 

A portion of proceeds from the Savor events will go to the Robert Irvine Foundation, which supports active and retired military personnel and veterans. savorct.com.

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