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Sacramento’s Farm-to-Fork Festival launched new events. Here’s what it means for its future

The free entry that includes cooking demonstrations and music will remain, but Sacramento’s Farm-to-Fork Festival plans to carry forward more paid events based on their success this year.

The festival, which concluded its 10th anniversary this weekend, has always featured the exclusive Tower Bridge Dinner, where $6,000 allows a table of eight to sample the creations of Sacramento’s top chefs. A second Legends of Wine event, with tickets going for $75 per person, has also been part of the festival since the beginning. The sold-out event attracted 800 people this year.

This year the festival featured two new events, the Grand Tasting on Friday where attendees could sample appetizers from 16 Sacramento chefs for $125 a ticket and a Saturday barbecue dinner by Food Network celebrity chef Tyler Florence for $150.

“It’s a little bit exclusive, not as crowded as the rest of the festival, “ said Mike Testa, president and CEO of Visit Sacramento, which sponsors the festival.

Each event sold all 300 tickets on offer, giving Testa the confidence in the demand for more specialty events.

Testa said the two events gave festival participants one-on-one time with top chefs and offered a more intimate way to promote the Sacramento food scene.

“Our goal is to create a wide variety of events that offer attendees the opportunity to explore multiple areas of Sacramento’s culinary scene,” he said.

The new food events also put a spotlight on the reality of the Farm-to-Fork Festival: Tickets for The Tower Bridge Dinner are very hard to buy if you’re not a major donor or company willing to pay for an entire table.

Testa said around 2,000 people competed in the lottery for the 80 tickets that were made available to the public for the dinner on the bridge spanning Sacramento and West Sacramento. Pairs of two tickets went for $600.

Around 840 people attended the dinner, he said.

The two new events allowed people to attend more exclusive events with top chefs, even if they can’t get into the tower dinner event.

“If you’re a foodie you get a chance to sample some of Sacramento’s best restaurants in one sitting,” Testa said Friday at the Grand Tasting.

The Grand Tasting took place on Capital Plaza, from Fifth Street to Sixth Street, and had the air of a chic private party with comfortable couches and chairs.

The tasting was reserved for 300 people while just a block away, thousands crammed into the narrow streets for the free part of the festival.

This year’s festival took place over more than 13 blocks and attracted a record-setting 125,000 people.

A look at new Farm-to-Fork paid events

The specialized events were just what Karen Baschwas looking for. The retired state worker attended both Friday’s and Saturday’s paid events.

“It’s a more intimate experience than the rest of the festival.” she said . “You got to experience great food and talk to the chefs.”

Basch had attended the Tower Bridge Dinner a decade ago but hasn’t been able to secure tickets since.

She remembers the elegance and fun of dining on the Tower Bridge

“I would love to go to that event again,” she said.

For chefs participating in the Grand Tasting, the event let them reach more people.

Billy Ngochef and co-owner of Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisinewas giving out samples promoting his new Asian restaurant, Chu Mai, which is scheduled to open in January.

Ngo offered a dish created by him and co-chef Tyler Bond: Vietnamese beef carpaccio, featuring beef, herbs, citrus, fish sauce, chilies, red onions and fried shallots.

‘’This is a way to promote our new restaurant in a low-key atmosp here, introducing people to what we will be offering,” said Ngo.

Chef Dennis Sydnor, who owns catering company Renegade Dining that is tied to Cafe Frederico in Natomas, was serving up beef rillette, black pepper and rosemary focaccia.

“Any time you get a captive audience of several hundred persons it’s great exposure,” said Sydnor. “Especially for me, an independent operator.”

Saturday night’s barbecue event differed from Friday. Ticket holders did not sample food from multiple restaurants.

Instead, they received a large plate of barbecue food from chef Florence that included a 45-day, dry-aged tomahawk ribeye steak, smoked F-1 Westholme wagyu beef ribs, chicken and various salads.

Testasaid Florencedonated the food for the event.

“I made a commitment to promote California,” said Florence, who said he plans to bring his barbecue events to other food festivals throughout California.

Florence said he is seriously considering opening a restaurant in Sacramento, though he offered no details.

“Remember you heard it here first,” he said.

Florence owns two restaurants in San Francisco and is in the process of opening two more in addition to a new restaurant in the state of Hawaii.

The chef, who grew up in South Carolina, said he always has had a fondness for barbecue.

“We are trying to take it to the next level,” he said.

Testasaid the Florenceevent was keeping with the aim of holding more premium events to feature fine dining while continuing the tradition of a free festival for everyone.