Saratoga Performing Arts Center’s annual Wine & Food Festival is changing pace this year.
The flashy cars have been replaced with sculptures and photographs. The grilling competition has been swapped for a farm-to-table-inspired dinner. Leading up to the festival, SPAC is inviting experts to talk about topical issues in the food industry.
The event, on the SPAC and Spa State Park grounds, is turning away from a celebration of consumption to a celebration of sustainability and the meaning behind that word.
“We want to create curiosity around food,” said Elizabeth Sobol, president/CEO of SPAC in a recent interview.
Reimagining the festival has been on Sobol’s mind since she first came to SPAC in 2016.
“There were a lot of things that I wanted to turn my attention to that had to do with recreating, reimagining, restoring, from the programming of our resident companies to new lines of programming, things like that,” Sobol said.
Other things took precedence at first, like renovating the grounds and bolstering the education program. However, changing the Saratoga Wine & Food Festival has always been on Sobol’s to-do list.
“A couple of things seemed missing. Number one, people don’t realize [that] in addition to not understanding that it’s presented by SPAC, most people, including our members, did not know that it is our largest fundraiser for our education program,” Sobol said.
SPAC’s education program has expanded exponentially over the last few years. The organization went from serving 5,000 students to serving 49,000 students annually.
The way it was organized in the past also didn’t speak to SPAC’s focus or mission.
“As wonderful as classic cars are, they don’t really have anything to do with SPAC’s mission.
Obviously, our mission is around community and culture and communication and collaboration and curiosity. So I started thinking about ‘What could we do with the Wine & Food Festival that will speak to all those things?’ ” Sobol said.
First, she found local chefs who were working in the farm-to-table market but didn’t necessarily have brick and mortar restaurants where people could come and taste their creations. Thus, the Saratoga Wine & Food Festival seemed like the perfect place to give them that platform.
Some of the featured regional chefs include Dan Spitz of Fat N Happy LLC, Michael Blake, head chef at Yaddo, John Sconzo of Rascal & Thorn and others. Together with Austin Peltier, an expert on Ayurvedic cooking practices (more on that later), the chefs will prepare a “Forest Magic” farm-to-table inspired dinner on Friday. Farm-to-table-focused chefs Tim Spedding and Louise Rødkjær Jørgensen of Britain will bring in produce from around the area for Friday’s VIP harvest dinner.
They’ll also prepare canapes for Saturday’s VIP grand tasting, which runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“We’re billing it as a celebration of culinary and cultural bounty. So in that same spirit of inviting these regional chefs doing great work to be part of the food part of it, Caffe Lena has come on board to curate the music. Then we invited The Hyde Collection to present some outdoor sculptures that will be part of the whole landscape and the art component of it, making it a really beautiful location,” Sobol said.
Sculptures from John Van Alstine will be scattered throughout the grounds. Alstine’s work often pairs together stone and metal and has been exhibited all over the world. Some of his sculptural work and his works on paper are currently on exhibition at MASS MoCA in North Adams.
The pieces that will be seen at the Saratoga Wine & Food Festival will either reflect or be inspired by nature in some way.
Indoors will be work by photographer Terri-Lynn Pellegri, who is inspired by nature in a completely different way.
Her bright photographs are filled with torn up peppers, coffee grounds, eggshells and more. She takes composting and turns it into art.
“I started composting because I couldn’t bear to put anything else in the trash, to add to poisoning the planet. Once I realized that there was an alternative, I was committed to that alternative,” Pellegri said.
About three years ago, she went to empty the small compost container in her kitchen when the light coming from a nearby windowsill hit the container just right.
“So I got my camera and started photographing. Then it became a ritual,” Pellegri said.
She started capturing these small compositions on just about a daily basis, using completely natural lighting.
“The beauty of the way it all began and the way it continued is that nothing was manipulated, nothing was contrived,” Pellegri said.
Within a year she had a body of work that spoke to the unexpected beauty of composting. Her first show, called “Love Compost” was on exhibition at Uncommon Grounds in Saratoga Springs earlier this year. Some of those pieces will be shown at the Saratoga Wine and Food Festival, along with some newer pieces.
“I’ve since started phase two of ‘Love Compost,’” Pellegri said.
The second phase is focused on businesses that compost and creating specific compositions of their compost that reflect their business.
Thirty-three of her photographs will be on display at the festival.
Pellegri’s work calls attention to sustainability, as does SPAC’s Cultivate Series, which kicks off on Sunday and is organized in part by Pitney Meadows Farm and Skidmore College.
“We’ve got Leah Penniman from Soul Fire Farm doing some incredible events around social justice around issues of food. The implications of ‘What does it mean to be a farmer? What does it mean to be a black creole farmer? What does it mean to be a steward of the land? All these important questions that most of us just eat their food and don’t really think about it,” Sobol said.
Penniman’s session will take place at 3 p.m. on Wednesday at Pitney Meadows Community Farm. Penniman will also give a lecture called “Farming While Black: African Diasporic Wisdom for Farming and Food Justice” at 7 p.m.
Before that, “The Science of Life: An Introduction to Ayurvedic Cooking with Austin Peltier” will kick off the series at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Skidmore College. Ayurveda is a wellness practice that originated in India approximately 5,000 years ago. The practice holds that through a thoughtful diet, the body will be healthier and stronger.
Author Adam Federman will conclude the series at Pitney Meadows on Thursday, Oct. 3 with a presentation about his biography of Patience Gray, called “Fasting and Feasting.”
“Patience Gray was this really fascinating figure in the UK back in the early 20th century who fled London during WWII with her two children and learned to survive by foraging and created her own slow food way of surviving. She ultimately became this pioneer in slow food and what became the farm-to-table movement,” Sobol said.
For tickets and more info on Cultivate Series and the Wine and Food Festival visit spac.org.
Here’s a look at the Saratoga Wine and Food Festival schedule:
Friday, Oct. 4
VIP Farm-to-table Harvest Dinner – 6 p.m. Tickets are $225
Farm-to-table Harvest Dinner – 7 p.m. Tickets are $175
Saturday, Oct. 5
VIP Grand Tasting – 11 a.m. Tickets are $175
Grand Tasting 12 p.m. Tickets are $100