In more than 10 years, the Taste of Huntington Beach festival has become one of the city's most successful — and satisfying — traditions.
Last year, I was asked to be a tasting judge at the festival, and it was one of the most fulfilling experiences I've had since I lived here, both figuratively and literally.
The cause is great, the food is great, and the people behind the idea are as tireless and dedicated as it gets.
Some background: The Taste of Huntington Beach is sponsored by the Huntington Beach Restaurant Assn. and benefits the Children's Department of the Huntington Beach Public Library by providing funds for books and learning enrichment programs. The event is cosponsored by the nonprofit Friends of the Children's Library.
First held in 1999 at the Huntington Beach Public Library with about five restaurants participating, the event soon grew and was moved to the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort, then the new Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa, the largest indoor space in the city. Since 2008, the event has been at the Huntington Central Park Sports Complex to accommodate the demand. More than 3,000 people are expected to attend.
"The Taste of Huntington Beach is unique in several ways," said Dan Page, one of the event organizers. "Unlike most similar 'Taste of' events, customers pay a single flat entry fee and then are able to sample as much food and drink as they wish, without further charge. This creates a festive party atmosphere that reminds guests of Huntington Beach's 'Surf City' lifestyle. Live entertainment and auctions add to the fun."
And this year, Dean Torrence and his Surf City All-Stars will be performing.
Dan's wife, Gail Page, is also one of the chairs of the event and has been for years. I interviewed her about the event, coming up May 1, for this week's column.
What is it about the event that inspires you to put so much into it?
The short version that's more about the library than the Taste: When I was younger, I loved to read. Back in the days before we had 500 channels on the TV and four computers in our house, books were the only way to learn about interesting people and discover exciting new worlds. I would open a book — and I'd become Nancy Drew or one of Victoria Holt's heroines. Sometimes my "character" would rewrite the ending to match my moods, or I'd plan a sequel in my mind. Those books became a part of me, and I loved not only what I learned from reading, but also how those books made me feel.
I hope that the HB Children's Library, and its branches, can spark the imagination of today's young readers like it did for me!
What can people expect this year at the event?
I'd say "new tastes" sums it up best. After a quick count, I found 16 restaurants coming that weren't here in 2010, and most of those restaurants are new to H.B. We have 17 new wineries — nine are from the De Portola Wine Trail in Temecula — and six breweries we didn't have last year.
Talk about the value proposition — how much you get for your money.
Tickets were only $50 through Feb. 28, but even at $65, our guests get:
•Four hours to sample all the food and drinks they'd like;
The opportunity to check out several restaurants new to the area and to see menu updates from their favorite eateries;
To party to the music celebrating our Surf City heritage as we stroll down memory lane with the Surf City All-Stars and HB's own Dean Torrence; and
To spend a fun, relaxing afternoon enjoying good friends, great tastes, entertainment that's a "blast from the past" and, of course, our beautiful weather!
Did you ever imagine the event getting this big?
The answer is a short and sweet no. I never thought we'd outgrow the Hyatt Regency. The one thing we heard most often before the first Taste at the Sports Complex was, "Why did you have to leave the Hyatt? That was such a beautiful place for the Taste!" That was certainly true, but after we had our first outdoor event, so many people told us they were pleasantly surprised and even amazed at how great it was to have the Taste outdoors. And there's still room to grow; we could add another tent, maybe 20 or 25 additional restaurants, and 500 more satisfied guests — the possibilities are endless!
I will be judging again this year and will be signing books to benefit the Friends of the Children's Library. I look forward to seeing you there.
For more information and to buy tickets, visit hbrestaurants.com/taste/.
Last year, I started the first annual In The Pipeline student journalism competition, and it's time again for entries. If you're a Huntington Beach or Fountain Valley high school student, e-mail me a story about a person, place or thing in your city that you'd like us to know about — reveal something special in 500 words or less using interviews, photography or whatever it takes to bring your story to life. Deadline is April 30 and the winner will be featured in this column, receive a signed copy of one of my books and appear with me on PBS SoCal during an edition of "Real Orange."
Good luck! Any questions, write to firstname.lastname@example.org, which is where the entries get sent to as well.
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at email@example.com.