Can it be that Monday, April 26, will see the 18th annual Taste of the Nation event in Princeton? That is an amazing run for a food and wine benefit event, and I think I know why it has stood the test of time, drawing, as it does, hundreds of guests year in and year out. Above all, it is fiercely local. Some of the 40 or so restaurants and food outlets that will donate their time, talent, and materials to produce exquisite tastes of their wares have been participating for years. These include the Alchemist & Barrister, Anton’s at the Swan, The Frog and The Peach, Tre Piani, Triumph Brewing, the restaurants of the Terra Momo Restaurant Group (this year represented by Eno Terra), and Brothers Moon, whose chef/owner Will Mooney is serving as honorary chair. At the same time, the mix of restaurants is never the same twice, which makes it possible for those who pony up the $85 ticket price to sample several new places in one night — without having to commit to a meal at an untested venue. Among this year’s newbie restaurants are Emily’s Cafe, Hanami Princeton, the Palace at Somerset, and the Rocky Hill Inn.
Filling out every available table in the room are top-notch food retailers such as Bon Appetit, Griggstown Farm, McCaffrey’s, and Olsson’s Fine Foods, as well as non-profit food organizations such as Slow Food and the Princeton School Garden Cooperative.
But it’s not just the donors who are local: a goodly portion of the proceeds of the evening benefits community-based organizations that support the mission of Share Our Strength, the national entity behind Taste of the Nation. One-hundred percent of the ticket price goes toward ending childhood hunger — sadly, on the rise — locally and nationally. Area non-profits that will share in the proceeds are HomeFront, Isles, Mercer Street Friends Food Cooperative, and Food Bank of South Jersey. I could not put together a more worthy list if I were given carte blanche.
Plus, the cadre of all-volunteer organizers who mount the Princeton event comprises area chefs and restaurateurs, of course, but also a wide spectrum of corporate executives, public relations professionals, and food journalists, all of whom give what in total amounts to hundreds of hours of their time. In the past this group has included me. Which brings me to another component where Taste has always shone: the live and silent auctions, which I co-chaired for two years. To me, the items that make the local connection particularly special are those that provide interaction with chefs and wine makers.
This year high bidders will get to do things like spend a Saturday cooking alongside chef Chris Albrecht at Eno Terra, followed by a wine dinner for four, or treat themselves and nine of their closest buddies to a private tour and tasting of Princeton’s Triumph Brewery, led by the brew master himself.
In the past, I have contributed to the auction collections of new cookbooks from my shelves but this year I am doing something different. One brave diner — perhaps an aspiring restaurant critic (and admit it: you know you are one) — will accompany me on a dinner that I will be writing up for my blog at www.newjerseylife.com.
I even have advice on how to be high bidder on any item that captures your fancy. As a veteran bidder myself I have developed a strategy that seems to improve my odds immensely. For a long time I would simply raise the last bid by the minimum amount, say $5, and keep revisiting the bid sheet throughout the evening. Invariably, either the bids would exceed what I could pay or I would lose out at the last minute to someone who was monitoring the process better than I. These days I simply enter the top bid I am willing to pay from the very start. This is not only fair to the donor, but I have the satisfaction of contributing a respectable amount to the evening’s good cause.
Among the many things this canny strategy has netted me in the past (not at Taste of the Nation but at a similar event) were two excellent seats at a Giants game, including “executive” parking and a football signed by the team — all for the bargain price of $200. I’m just saying…
Taste of the Nation Princeton, Monday, April 26, 6 to 9 p.m., the Westin Princeton at Forrestal Village, 201 Village Boulevard. $85; $95 at the door. 877-26-TASTE or www.TasteOfTheNation.org/princeton.