Home-brewed tastes fill night

Published 12:02 am Saturday, July 30, 2011

ERIC SHELTON/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Chef David Leathers creates a rabbit out of cantaloupe and cauliflower during the Natchez Food and Wine Festival Friday night at the Natchez Convention Center.

NATCHEZ — The two young men who received the prize for best beer in show at the Natchez Food and Wine Festival’s “Tasting on the River” Friday night were brewed right here in Natchez.

Natchez natives Charles Caldwell, 28, and William McGehee, 29, started forming their Baton Rouge-based brewing company, Tin Roof, in April of last year and opened up shop in November.

The team was one of four breweries vying for the most emptied cups from more than 600 tasters and attention from secret judges at their station during the event at the Natchez Convention Center.

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Caldwell said participating in the Food and Wine Festival gave some of his family and friends their first chance to taste the Voodoo Bengal Pale Ale or Perfect Tin Amber Ale that their company brews.

“It’s been awesome,” Caldwell said. “It’s a great event.

The amber version is a medium body session beer, Caldwell said.

“So you can drink several of them — it’s on the lighter side,” he said.

The pale ale is made with Louisiana cane syrup.

“It’s hoppier, but the sweetness cuts the bitterness,” Caldwell said.

ERIC SHELTON/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Julie Bellard gives MacKenzie Standford, 8, a bite of her cupcake during the Natchez Food and Wine Show Friday night at the Natchez Convention Center.

Food and Wine co-chair Stratton Hall said this year has been the best year so far, in terms of ticket sales.

Volunteer René Adams said 600 tickets were sold out and approximately 100 volunteers packed the event Friday night.

The event was also a highlight for those who attended.

“This is the best event (in Natchez) all year,” said Richard Hess, who especially enjoyed his first soft-shell crawfish.

“You eat the whole crawfish,” he said, holding an empty plate and glass of red wine.

Hall said “Tasting on the River” had more vendors than ever before, with 25 restaurants, six wine makers and four beer breweries.

Even governor candidate Bill Luckett made time in his busy campaign schedule to sip some wine and fork some food at the Natchez festival.

“This is a premier event,” Luckett said.

Luckett’s wife, Francine, said the couple enjoyed the festival last year, as well.

And while her husband was still on the campaign trail Friday night, she said the event scheduled for him in Natchez was a treat for them to attend.

“We’re shaking hands and wearing (campaign) stickers, but we love being in Natchez,” Francine said. “It’s just a jewel.”

Tourism Director Connie Taunton, who had just enjoyed an ossabuco-stuffed ravioli sampler from the Pearl Street Pasta station, said the Food and Wine Festival is great for Natchez tourism, especially in the traditionally slower tourism month of July.

Ryan Trimm, the chef and owner of Sweet Grass restaurant in Memphis, Tenn., said the festival was worth the drive down.

Trimm, who was one of 10 nominated as best new chef by Food and Wine Magazine served Carolina barbecue duck confit with pickled okra and goat cheese.

“It’s a nice little drive down, but I’m glad I came,” Trimm said of the festival. “The people are so nice. I’m definitely coming back.”

Tickets for the Champagne Jazz Brunch, Brews, Blues and Burgers, Wine and Cheese Tasting, Food is Art and Mint julep tours and calliope concert today are not yet sold out, Hall said.

Other winners from Friday’s event included:

4 Best in show for food — Broussard’s of New Orleans, which served Louisiana Shrimp and Corn Bisque; second place — Galatoires of New Orleans, which served Crawfish Maison; third place — Fat Cow, which served Foie Gras Burgers.

4 Best in show for breweries — Tin Roof; second place — Southwest Distributors; third place — Bayou Teche.

4 Best in show for wine makers — E. and J. Gallo; second place — R.N.D.C. Vintage; third place — Southern Wine and Spirits.