With summer drawing to a close and school and work obligations looming from the sidelines, Week Nine at Chautauqua Institution is usually a bit in flux.
“Week Nine has always been hit-or-miss for us,” said Vanessa Weinert, the Institution’s director of marketing and analytics. “We’ve had very successful Week Nines but … we wanted to add something a little different to make it more attractive to different audiences.”
In 2017, this desire birthed the first Chautauqua Food Festival, which returns for its third year on Sunday.
From noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, August 18 and noon to 2 p.m. and 4 to 8 p.m. Monday, August 19 through Friday, August 19 Bestor Plaza will be transformed into a culinary landscape featuring more than 13 food and drink vendors and four food trucks.
“Every year, we’ve tried something a little different to see what the right model is for us,” Weinert said.
This year, the large tent formerly used for culinary demonstrations will be turned into the Athenaeum Hotel Beverage Tent and Lounge. Ottomans and cocktail tables will be provided for Chautauquans to rest, get out of the sun or take cover in case of bad weather.
“We want to focus more on people actually eating and enjoying themselves versus the demonstration side,” Weinert said.
She is excited for the return of the “Ultimate Wine and Beer Tasting” on Sunday, a favorite from the 2017 festival.
By purchasing a $25 ticket, Chautauquans will receive a souvenir glass they can use to sample beer and wine from more than nine vendors, including Angry Orchard, 21 Brix Winery and Ellicottville Brewing Company.
Heirloom Restaurant will host a Bavarian beer garden in the plaza serving sauerkraut, brats and soft pretzels.
This will be 21 Brix Winery’s third year participating in the festival.
The family-run farm and winery is located in Portland, New York.
Chelsea Lapp, the winery’s projects manager, said although she grew up in the area, she had never been involved with the Institution until the festival.
“It’s a great market,” she said. “The Food Festival itself draws a lot of traffic, and I think it’s awesome that (the Institution) invited local vendors to be a part of the day, especially because a lot of the people who show up to be vendors are from the area and have never participated in Chautauqua, so it’s a great time and place to get our names out there.”
The festival has opened doors for further collaborations between local businesses and the Institution; 21 Brix now sells their wine at the Athenaeum Hotel.
Tickets for the “Ultimate Tasting” will be on sale in-person starting at 11 a.m. on Sunday. Due to high demand, Weinert recommends Chautauquans purchase tickets in advance by calling 716-357-6250.
All other food and beverage purchases throughout the week will be covered through the exchange of $2 food tickets that can be purchased around the plaza.
On Monday and Friday, scientifically minded (or simply hungry) Chautauquans can watch two food-science demonstrations put on in partnership with Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Science Center. Free samples of frozen s’mores or liquid nitrogen slushies will be provided.
Back by popular demand, the Carnegie Science Center will also be holding the second Chautauqua Murder Mystery Cocktail hour from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Athenaeum Hotel Parlor.
“It’s a classic whodunit-style event,” Weinert said. “And there is obviously a science component to it, so there’s a ‘CSI’ part where you test the evidence.”
Tickets are available at chqtickets.com for the 21-and-up event.
For Chautauquans in search of a more traditional culinary experience, chefs Ross Warhol, Heirloom’s own Edward Work and Ben Shropshire will serve five-course tasting menus at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Thursday and Friday evenings in the Heirloom Restaurant at the Athenaeum Hotel.
On Thursday, Work will partner with Angry Orchard to pair two of his courses with limited-edition specialty ciders not sold in stores.
Weinert is excited for what she expects to be the Institution’s most popular Food Festival yet.
“Every year it’s getting stronger and stronger,” she said.