The eighth annual West Alabama Food and Wine Festival not only marks a return to the beloved event after two years stalled by a pandemic, but the April 7 event will prominently honor two of its most prominent supporters.
To commemorate young chef Fuller Goldsmith, who died in October just days short of his 18th birthday following a nearly lifelong battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a private chef-catered dinner for six will be raffled, with all proceeds going to Fuller’s Fund, which supports the families of other kids fighting cancer.
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In memory of Bill Buchanan, the raconteur, businessman, tourism supporter, and guy who really tied the room together, there will be a whiskey toast at 6. The festival, held at the River Market, 1900 Jack Warner Parkway, will also rename its Best in Show award, voted on by guests, as the Bill Buchanan Best in Show Award, for this year and moving forward.
Buchanan, 67, died Dec. 22, of complications unrelated to the cancer he’d successfully fought off for more than six years.
The toast will be relatively early in the event, which begins at 5:30 p.m., because Buchanan is also being feted at that night’s Druid Arts Awards, which is giving his employer, Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports, its patron of the year award, in his name.
“Fuller was a part of the festival for many years,” said Amy Martin, co-chair of the 2022 festival. “He did a couple of competitions for us, and his family is friends with some of our board members.”
Despite going up against nationally renowned Chef Chris Hastings of Birmingham’s Hot & Hot Fish Club, Fuller prevailed in the festival’s 2018 Battle of the Shrimp & Grits.
He had previously won the “Chopped Junior” competition, competed on “Top Chef Jr.,” and met hero Guy Fieri and other celebrities. People, Entertainment Weekly and others wrote about Tuscaloosa’s young star chef, reveling in his victories, and commiserating on his passing.
“In 2020 and 2021, we were going to have (Fuller) be in the VIP area, cooking up a special something,” Martin said, “and we wanted him there this year.”
All the $25 raffle monies will support Fuller’s Fund, which the family created to bolster the Hope and Cope Program in the Division of Hematology and Pediatric Oncology at Children’s of Alabama hospital, where Fuller spent long hours watching Food Network shows, developing his passion for cuisine, and studying to hone his skills as a chef.
Winner of the raffle will enjoy a six-person private meal crafted by Alison Hudnall, who will perform the magic either at her own home, or the victor’s. The winner can choose not just the location, but the menu items.
Buchanan, director of community development for Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports, had served on the food and wine festival’s committee for many years. He and his wife Ava were well known as connoisseurs of fine food and drink.
“He was such a great guy. He supported so many people and events; he brought people to our table,” Martin said. “He was so inclusive. He tried to bring everybody together.
“And he loved some whiskey,” she said, laughing.
The toast will be at the Clyde May’s whiskey table.
“We felt like that was one way we could really honor him,” Martin said.
Also new for 2022 will be a Wine Pull, sponsored by The Wine Market. Guests can join in for a $20 ticket, which allows the purchaser to pull a wrapped wine bottle from the lot. Retail value of wrapped bottles will range from $20 to $100.
Participating will be 23 restaurants and food vendors, including three wine vendors, four beer vendors, and Alabama-born Clyde May’s.
Proceeds from festival tickets will benefit the West Alabama Food Bank.
“We are delighted to be selected as the beneficiary of the festival,” said Jean Rykaczewski, executive director of the service organization, in a written release.
“Not only do we receive much-needed funds to help distribute food throughout West Alabama, but we also have the opportunity to introduce our mission and show what services we provide to this large audience.”
In addition to food and drinks served, many of them dishes cooked up as unique to that event, patrons can enjoy live music by Chase Evans on the River Market’s patio, and take home a signature wine glass. VIP ticketholders will also experience a private tent with extra furnishing and seating, a private wine bar, and giant charcuterie display by Sweet Olive East. General admission tickets are $50. VIP tickets cost $75 .
The vendors will include The 205, Five, A Tasty Treat, Avenue Pub, Central Mesa, Chuck’s Fish, Crunch Time, Decades Pub & Grub, Dillard’s Chophouse, Evangeline’s, Gourmade Kitchen, Hotel Capstone’s Legends Bistro, Jalapeno’s Mexican Grill, Nothing Bundt Cakes, River, Rolf’s Deli & Sausages, Sage Juice Bar, Southern Ale House, Sweet Olive Eats, Urban Cookhouse, Urban Bar & Kitchen, The Wine Market, World of Beer Bar & Kitchen, Black Warrior Brewing Co., Tallulah Brewing, Twisted Barley, United Johnson Brothers of Alabama, Crown International Wines and Clyde May’s.
“For me, 23 is a perfect number (of vendors), because of the way we do the layout,” Martin said.
“We’ve got a little half over half of our tickets sold,” Martin said, which is not unusual, considering the event typically sells out over the last 10 days leading up to the night. “If we top out at 700, that’ll be good.”
In recent years, coordinators have discussed moving to a larger location, as demand has often exceeded supply, or the River Market’s capacity, even with the bay doors rolled up to let in pleasant spring weather. They’re looking at the River District Park, currently under construction adjacent to the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, for possible future festivals.
“We’ve always wanted to do an outdoor thing, but there’s never been the space for it,” Martin said.
She’s talked with Stacy Vaughn, director of public services for the city of Tuscaloosa, about utilizing the park, an outdoor component to the upcoming Saban Center, for 2023. If construction’s completed by fall of this year, as planned, that could allow for coming food and wine festivals to add on even more vendors, and space them out more comfortably.
“It could be perfect,” Martin said.
For more, see www.westalabamafoodandwine.org.