Taste test: Peninsula offers home cooking

Posted: Thursday, May 13, 2004

If you're hungry for something different this weekend, you may want to swing by the Soldotna Sports Center for the kick off of Taste of the Kenai. The event, which is being held for the first time, will showcase food and beverages produced on the Kenai Peninsula.

Some 60 vendors will offer samples of their products at booths set up inside and outside the sports center. The event promises a festival environment with live music, indoor and outdoor cooking demonstrations, hourly raffles and a wine and beer garden.

"We're kind of patterning it after the food show they've done in Anchorage for years," said Jack Brown, business development manager for the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Many of the vendors at the show are small businesses with low profiles. One of the purposes of the show, besides providing a little diversion for those who attend, is to familiarize peninsula residents with the food and beverages being produced by area businesses, which may translate into sales.

"It's going to increase consumer demand for local products," Brown said.

Another purpose of the show is to allow vendors to become familiar with each other's products, which, in addition to sparking healthy competition, may lead to unforeseen collaborations and partnerships, Brown said.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough is participating in Taste of the Kenai as a sponsor in order to help the event get off the ground. However, the borough plans to leave the organization and planning of future shows to co-sponsors "Kenai Wild" Cook Inlet Brand Salmon and the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.

"It's always tough to start something for the first time and that's why the borough got involved," Brown said. "We just wanted to get it off and running."

The partnership has big, long-term plans for the show. The hope is Taste of the Kenai will become one of the premier annual events on the peninsula.

"We expect this to be an annual event that takes place years from now," Brown said. "This will be one of the can't miss, most talked-about events in the future."

Although starting a new annual event and getting it to take hold can be difficult, Brown said he sees no reason why Taste of the Kenai can't parallel the growth of Industry Appreciation Day.

The fall event -- scheduled this year for Aug. 21 -- began over a decade ago with attendance of a few hundred and only oil and gas industries participating. Today, fishing, tourism and other industries also participate and attendance pushes 5,000, Brown said.

Based on past experience, event coordinator Robyn Sullen expects a good turnout for the show this weekend.

"Typically, these (food and beverage) shows see from 2,000 to 4,000 people come through," she said.

Salmon and seafood products will be well represented at the show, including samples of grilled Kenai Wild salmon. However, Sullen emphasized a wide variety of food and drink that does not come from the sea will be on hand to taste at the show.

"We wanted to showcase the many different tastes of the Kenai," she said.

Regardless of personal taste, according to Brown there will be plenty to sample.

"I guarantee nobody will leave the place hungry," he said. "I plan to gain at least 10 pounds."

Taste of the Kenai will be held from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Soldotna Sports Center. Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for seniors and students. Admission for kids under 10 is free.

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