Local Chefs, Celebrities Highlight Hartford's Savor Food & Wine Festival

See what local and celebrity chefs served up at @Savor_CT this weekend

Ryan and Kelleanne Jones needed to figure out a way to replicate the Mill at 2T's fried chicken and Brussels sprouts for a crowd of 1,500. Then it came to them: Turn the dish into an ice cream cone. 

For Savor, Hartford's newest food and wine festival, the Joneses turned the favorite from their Tariffville restaurant into a portable take on chicken and waffles. They layered shaved sprouts, bacon buttermilk ice cream and crispy chicken into made-to-order fresh miniature waffle cones and finished the creation with a drizzle of hot pepper honey. "Everyone was taking pictures and going crazy for it," Kelleanne said. 

The inaugural event presented by Foxwoods, held at the Connecticut Convention Center over the course of two days, featured tastings of high-end cuisine, wine, craft beer and cocktails. While Savor welcomed several household names in the celebrity food world, it also spotlighted Connecticut's homegrown culinary talent, with representation from many of the state's finest restaurants. An estimated 1,200 guests attended Friday night's tasting, with another 1,500 expected at Saturday's daytime event and 600 for an evening gala. 

"I think it’s great for the city," said Scott Miller, managing partner of Max Catering and Events, who served spring lamb tartare with horseradish pudding and whipped salt cod with shaved breakfast radish and edible flowers. "All the chefs and the restaurateurs have definitely brought their top game. I’ve seen some really, really cool food and presentations."

"[Savor] is awesome. It’s really well-organized and done on a high level. This could be [an event] in New York right now," said Tyler Anderson, chef-owner of Millwright's in Simsbury. Anderson, who was recently nominated for a James Beard Award in the Best Chef: Northeast category, presented smoked farro "risotto" with wild mushrooms and crispy chicken cracklings at Friday and Saturday's grand tastings. For Saturday's evening gala, he planned to serve a unique soy-brined foie gras dish with rice, he said. 

The food offerings ranged from the comfortable and familiar (Plan B Burger Bar's miniature cheeseburgers, served with a boozy bourbon iced tea cocktail) to deeply decadent (Bella Bella Gourmet's foie gras and pork bratwurst with foie gras-laced onions; ON20's turducken pate.) At First & Last Tavern's table, partner Russell Nemarich said he welcomed the chance to serve something fancier, a step beyond the Italian restaurant's usual menu. 

"This is a little more of a departure for us - it's a chance to make food like chicken confit, " he said, gesturing to the meat served with polenta and Romesco sauce. "We don’t normally make things like that, but [guests] appreciate it and they know we can cook."

Elizabeth Brownell and Jeff Armstead of Bloomfield, who attended both Friday and Saturday's grand tastings, said their favorite dishes were the key lime guacamole from Prasad Chirnomula's Oaxaca Kitchen and the oxtail croquettes with piquillo aioli from Barcelona Wine Bar - where chef Eric Stagl from the West Hartford location was also serving aged Iberico ham sliced from an 18-pound leg. 

On a main stage, celebrity chefs Mary Ann Esposito and Ming Tsai joined headliner Robert Irvine for enthusiastic cooking demonstrations, then signed books and posed for photos with excited fans. A portion of proceeds from Savor will benefit the Robert Irvine Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports military personnel (active, retired and veterans). Irvine's foundation supports Helmets to Hardhats, a group that promotes careers in the construction industry to veterans.

Another famous face among the crowd was Marc Summers, the TV personality known for his hosting role on Nickelodeon's "Double Dare" and more recently, his work on Food Network's "Unwrapped" and "Restaurant Impossible." Summers said Irvine invited him to join the event.

"The thing I love about this place - it’s a really upscale crowd, people understand food…they’re here to learn and be educated and be entertained," Summers said. "That's what we're trying to do with guys like Ming Tsai and Robert. We've got book signings, demonstrations, a big gala tonight."

Summers began his weekend in Hartford with lunch Friday at Bear's Smokehouse on Arch Street. "It was unbelievable," he said of the smoked turkey and brisket he sampled. "I was actually thinking of sneaking over there again today."

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