A royal invitation

Published 12:27 am Sunday, June 3, 2007

NATCHEZ — New celebrity guests and new events point to an exciting food festival in early August, said Regina Charboneau, one of the organizers of the Natchez Food and Wine Festival.

Scheduled for Aug. 3 and 4, a Friday and a Saturday, the festival will feature Paul Burrell, butler to Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana, who will speak on wines and English tea time.

Burrell was involved in making a film during the past week and was not available for comment, but his publicist Abigail Adams said the famous butler is excited about coming to Natchez and has the festival listed on his Web sites.

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Adams predicted that Burrell will win new fans at the Natchez event with his easy-going and down-to-earth personality.

“This is what he is amazing about,” Adams said. “He came from a very humble background. He grew up in a coal-mining town in a house with no running water.”

For all the good fortune he has had in his life, Burrell does not forget his roots, she said.

“He is grateful for every day. He loves meeting people and is very accessible,” she said.

Burrell will introduce and lead “A Royal Wine and Cheese Tasting” during the festival Aug. 4, 2 to 3:30 p.m., at the Natchez Convention Center. Tickets are $25.

The tasting will introduce guests to Burrell’s own line of wines, Royal Butler Wines.

Charboneau said the festival has become more exciting and appealing every year.

“This year I can honestly say that there is something for everyone,” she said.

Eugenie Cates, who has been among insiders planning the festival in past years, is on the sidelines this year and very excited about attending the festival, she said.

However, she is involved in the festival through her position at Natchez Pilgrimage Tours, where tickets to the food festival are sold exclusively.

“I can tell you that we’re already getting lots of phone calls,” she said. “There is lots of interest in the events. It would be good for people to call and make reservations for the festival now.”

Reservations are available by calling NPT at 601-446-6631.

Another exciting feature of the festival is the involvement of the Mississippi Film Commission, Charboneau said.

“A young filmmaker named Joe York will be here to show his food films free to the public. He’ll make comments afterwards,” she said.

That event is Aug. 4, 1 to 4 p.m., at the Natchez Convention Center.

In addition to the free film event, another, at $25 per person, will be offered at the convention center 3 to 5 p.m., also on Aug. 4.

That will be the showing of “Big Night,” with Stanley Tucci.

“After the movie, I’ll demonstrate how to make timpano, a wonderful Italian dish that is featured in the film,” Charboneau said.

The festival will open at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 3 with the traditional “Tasting Along the River,” said Rene Adams, another organizer of the event.

“This popular, upscale event offers scrumptious food tasting from local and regional restaurants as well as premium wine tasting from around the world,” Adams said.

Tickets to the tasting event are $40 in advance and $50 at the door of the Natchez Convention Center.

Another traditional event will return to Marketplace Café at 8 a.m. on Aug. 4. That is the biscuit cook-off, which includes three categories of cooks and two types of biscuits in which to enter, Charboneau said.

“The three divisions are professional, home cooks and children,” she said. “There are $100 prizes in each categories.”

There is no entry fee in the contest, which is sponsored by Martha White flours.

Cooks may enter breakfast biscuits or entrée biscuits. “The entrée biscuits allow for a little creativity,” Charboneau said.

Another new celebrity in the festival lineup is Denise Gee, who will create popular cocktails from her new book, “Southern Cocktails.” Copies of the book will be available for purchase.

The mixology class with Gee will be 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 4 at $25 per person.

The popular “Invitation to the Natchez Table,” 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 4, will feature dinners prepared in five famous Natchez houses, where regional and local chefs will prepare and serve four-course dinners with fine wine.

Houses where dinners will be hosted are Monmouth, Twin Oaks, Magnolia Hall, Pleasant Hill and Oak Hill. Tickets are $75 each.