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Taste of Tacoma freshens up

The annual food celebration adds chef demos and competition

Taste of Tacoma is becoming a taste of Tacoma. Photo courtesy of Facebook

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Has the Taste of Tacoma felt a little stale in the last few years? The combination of unhealthy, overpriced options, lack of variety and a noticeable disconnect to the Tacoma food scene has left many locals wanting more. Festivals Inc., organizers of the yearly event which drew a quarter of a million visitors last year, is making an effort to change all of that with healthier options, the inclusion of mobile food truck vendors and most notably The Taste Cooks!, a cooking stage featuring Tacoma chefs and culinary experts.

"Hosted by TV Tacoma's Amanda Westbrooke, The Taste Cooks! is a live-action cooking stage located in the north end of the event," said Cindy Stohr, media director of Festivals Inc. "This stage will showcase the recipes and knowledge of Tacoma-area chefs and foodies."

There will be daily cooking demonstrations from some of Tacoma's best chefs, as well as the Taste Cook Off!, a cooking competition where competitors will be given three mystery ingredients and the audience will judge the winning entrée, a la Food Network's Chopped or Iron Chef.

Cooking demonstrations will be given by chefs Dustin Joseph of Art House Café, Gil Turturici of Boathouse 19, Kris Blondin of STINK Cheese & Meat, Toscanos' Tom Pantley, Geoffrey Yahn of Dirty Oscar's and others.

Hudson Slater, executive chef of Maxwell's, has cooking demos scheduled each day of the Taste, and is also participating in the cook-off on Saturday against Aura Mae, known locally as the Kitchen Beautician.

For many busy chefs, having a booth at the event is not feasible, but the Taste Cooks! allows them to get involved and bring awareness to their local restaurants.

"These cooking demonstrations are a great way for Tacoma-area chefs to participate in the event when they're not able to commit the time to staffing a booth in the general festival for three days during the height of the summer," said Stohr. "This is our way to meet in the middle and bring Tacoma's best out to the festival for the community to enjoy."

Slater, whose restaurant puts an emphasis on local products, saw it as an opportunity to encourage the event's efforts at increasing localness. "We could not pass up an opportunity to make the Taste of Tacoma more focused on the food actually going on in Tacoma," he said. Visitors will see demonstrations of Maxwells' ahi tuna niçoise salad, a prosciutto wrapped halibut, as well as some lessons on cooking techniques.

Bringing a greater variety of food choices to the traditional festival food are new mobile food truck vendors My Chef Lynn, Ezell's Express, Chopstix and Tokyo Dog, as well as Rumbar and Moe's Falafel.

Each restaurant booth will feature a healthy option, as well as a smaller-portioned, lower cost item.

"Hope Heart Right Bite options are a healthier menu item that each restaurant booth will offer as an alternative to higher-calorie options," said Stohr. Also an improvement, no vendor menu offerings are above $8, with the Just a Bite! items priced at $3.75. According to Stohr, these are available "so guests can taste a more varied menu without stretching their waistlines and wallets."

Examples of the healthier options from vendor menus include grilled salmon with pomegranate dressing vendor Blue Elephant, a quinoa salad from My Chef Lynn and Pinoy-style marinated grilled tilapia with coleslaw from Rumbar. 

Still not motivated to attend? There's always the popular beer gardens and wine tasting area with daily happy hours from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Putting a little more "Tacoma" in the Taste of Tacoma, as well as the increased variety of options, these new additions warrant revisiting the festival in its 28th year.

TASTE OF TACOMA, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. June 28-29, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. June 30, Point Defiance Park, 5400 N. Pearl St., Tacoma, free admission,

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