The Taste of Orange County will return in June after a more than 15-year hiatus, an event producer confirmed this week.
Not only is the countywide, five-star culinary festival emerging from retirement, but artisan cocktails, locally brewed beer, sommeliers, cooking demonstrations, celebrity chefs, arts and musical entertainment are in the festival’s corner this time around.
“With the explosion of restaurants and chefs and food and wine, we do [festivals] all over the country in individual cities,” said Judy Gray, one of the event’s producers. “But we really need to do something all together. The time has come again. I think this is going to shine a light on how the culinary scene has grown and what it has to offer.”
The two-day festival will be held June 16 to 17 at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine.
It previously was held in an industrial complex’s parking lot near the Irvine Spectrum Center, Gray said.
While it’s not clear why past festival organizers hung up their aprons, Gray said the new organizers have a comeback in the works, with plans extending five years out.
“We’ve already gotten the response from the restaurants and the chefs,” Gray said. “Now it’s just if we get the response from the community that we’re looking for. We want everyone to come out and explore.”
About 30 restaurants and chefs countywide will be represented at the festival, she said.
Among those are A Restaurant (Newport Beach), Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine & Cocktails (Irvine), Katsuya (Laguna Beach), Montage (Laguna Beach), Red Table (Huntington Beach), Haven Gastropub (Orange), Pascal Restaurants (Newport Beach and Costa Mesa), Sundried Tomato Café (San Juan Capistrano and Laguna Beach), the Cellar (San Clemente) and the Ranch Restaurant (Anaheim).
“Orange County has a great culinary scene,” said Anita Vanaman, executive director of the Orange County Tourism Council. “It’s just a great way to showcase the O.C. brand.”
Foodies represent a new wave of culinary tourism and are among the many who come to Orange County annually for a multitude of reasons, she said.
“Our brand, as the OC Forever Summer, we are a fabulous, world-class destination for visitors,” Vanaman said. “We have the best of the best in O.C. You have everything right here: theme parks, world-renowned shopping and dining, miles of beaches — everything.”
“What we do know is that people travel for unique experiences,” she continued, “whether that be for a culinary experience or something else. Foodies, they come for that special dining experience.”
With the emergence of food-focused “restaurant week” events in Costa Mesa, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Anaheim and other cities, travelers certainly have a lot of destination options out there. For this reason, adding yet another food festival to the mix might not be the best thing for the local culinary scene, said Pamela Waitt, president of the O.C. Restaurant Assn.
"[City] taste festivals are very nichey,” Waitt said. “You can swoop in on one day and sample a city. It’s nice to be able sample a city in one place in a day.
“But, obviously, anything that makes the O.C. dining scene shine is always a good thing, just as long as it’s managed well. When it’s overdone, it dilutes the dining scene.”
A different countywide culinary festival, the OC TasteFest, was held May 4 to 5 at the O.C. Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa. That event, which cost $20 for a general admission ticket, drew more than 10,000 visitors, said spokeswoman Ashley Eckenweiler.
Tickets to the Taste of OC, available at tasteofoc.com, start at $25 for general admission and go up to $179 for VIP access to culinary demonstrations with celebrity chefs and reserved seating.
“We want people to know that we are a five-star culinary festival,” Gray said. “We’re really representative of a lot of different cuisines and different cultures, from really casual bistros to elegant fine dining. And we really want that mix.
“It’s all about the food. It really is just about the food.”