Savoring the Outer Banks at the Taste of the Beach
The Outer Banks Restaurant Association’s annual Taste of the Beach is a unique event—a culinary adventure, certainly. But it’s more than that. It’s a four-day food festival that becomes an exploration of Outer Banks culture, a hands-on course in how to prepare great food, a chance to meet and interact with some of the most innovative chefs anywhere.
The event starts on Thursday, March 13 and runs through the weekend. There are more than 70 events scheduled offering everything from special wine pairing dinners and celebrity guest events to cook-offs, barbecues and dance parties. Beyond all the events and special guests though, there is something about this Taste of the Beach that stamps it as an Outer Banks adventure with its own identity.
“Most of our venues are smaller and more intimate,” Audrey Webster says. Webster is the marketing manager and event coordinator for the Outer Banks Restaurant Association. And she’s right; the venues are more intimate, and there is more opportunity for interaction between the chefs, restaurant owners and participants.
The concept of a “Taste of” is pretty common; almost every major city sponsors one, and it’s usually a two- or three-day event under a gigantic tent or along two or three blocks. The object, of course, is to eat as much as possible as quickly as possible—which, if the food is good, is not a bad plan.
But there is no urban setting on the Outer Banks, and even if there was, putting everyone in one place for a couple of days wouldn’t highlight the combination of great food, natural beauty and eclectic people that is so much a part of the local culture.
“The sheer number of different events is unprecedented,” Webster says. “It’s the only one in the nation I know of that has this number of events and diversity.”
Demonstrations and events are scheduled from Manteo to Corolla, mainland Currituck and even Hatteras Island. There are wine tastings, wine pairings, brewery tours, cooking demonstrations and, of course, lots of fresh, local seafood.
Yet the magic of this weekend is the sense of exploration in going from event to event. There is something wonderful and energizing about brunch and bread-making at Bonnie’s Bagels in Southern Shores, then a drive to learn “How Beer Saved the World” at Full Moon Café in Manteo and then back to Nags Head for Mulligan’s four-course Italian dinner and cooking demonstration led by their new and award-winning chef Ray Fiorello.
Not every event is a small and intimate gathering, though. Back for its seventh appearance, the Chowder Cookoff is one of the most popular events in the Taste of the Beach lineup. Held at Southern Shores Crossing shopping center, the event is hosted by Coastal Provisions, which is an oyster bar and wine café on the corner of the shopping plaza, and last year’s cook-off welcomed nearly 500 people.
Also at the cook-off, author Rowan Jacobsen will be on hand, brought to the Outer Banks by Coastal Provisions co-owner Dan Lewis and the Restaurant Association. Jacobsen is a James Beard award-winning author, and his book, A Geography of Oysters, seems a perfect fit for an appearance at the cook-off and at Coastal Provisions’s Oyster Dinner, held on Friday evening.
Jacobsen is not the only celebrity making an appearance at this year’s Taste of the Beach. Award-winning Kansas City chef Michael Smith will be working alongside Chef Phongrit “Pok” Choiechom from the Outer Banks Brewing Station, creating a tapas-style, multi-course dinner to be paired with Brewing Station beers.
Chef Pok, as he is known, is consistently one of the top-rated chefs on the Outer Banks and has recently been featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” TV show. Chef Smith is a James Beard award-winning chef who has been named “Best Chef Midwest” twice, and owner of two restaurants, one of which is an innovative tapas restaurant. This kind of collaboration is a Taste of the Beach first. They will also be doing an after-dinner “Meet the Chefs” reception party.
Part of the allure to all of this is that there’s always something happening—from an all-bacon themed brunch buffet at the Good Life Eatery in Kitty Hawk to evening tapas crawls in Manteo and Duck and even a late-night Pierhouse White Whiskey Party at the Hilton Pier. The weekend all wraps up in spectacular fashion at the Sysco Foods Grand Tasting event at Pamlico Jack’s in Nags Head on Sunday night. This showcase event is the origin of the Outer Banks Taste of the Beach, starting back in the early 1980s as a local’s opportunity to come out of winter hibernation and enjoy the camaraderie of friends and great food.
“It’s the nature of our events,” Webster says. “We want to make our visitors feel like they’re part of the community. Our weekend theme of ‘Food Drink Fun’ is injected in every event we present, and that truly comes from a heartfelt wish that folks come out for the weekend and just have a great time eating, laughing and enjoying themselves.”
All the events are listed and described in detail on their website, and ticket sales are fully underway. If you are interested in going, Webster says, “Pick out your events, and buy your tickets as early as you can commit because a lot of the events will sell out completely.”
For more information, visit www.OBXTasteOfTheBeach.com.