Samples from more than 20 local restaurants and breweries, musical performances, cooking demos and a hot-pepper-eating contest. These are all on tap for next weekend’s Taste of Keene Food Festival.
In the past year, restaurants have faced many challenges navigating the pandemic, including restrictions on in-person service, closures due to staff illnesses and loss of profits from not being able to serve as many people. Mike Remy, a city councilor and events coordinator for the Keene Young Professionals Network, which is organizing the food festival, said the event will give a boost to participating restaurants while offering community members a sense of normalcy as it becomes safer for people to gather again.
“We’ve been talking about it like the grand reopening for downtown,” Remy said. “We’ll really be highlighting a lot of the downtown restaurants.”
The festival, which will run from noon to 5 p.m. June 5, will feature more than a dozen eateries and at least 10 alcohol vendors. The festival is free to attend, but samples will cost between one and three tokens, Remy said. Tokens will cost $2 each and be available for purchase at three tents — one by the flagpole in Central Square and one each at the square’s Washington and Court street entrances.
Remy said the participating restaurants have been asked to keep their samples small and affordable so visitors can get lots of variety. He said he hopes that when the festival ends at 5 p.m., people decide to stay downtown and have dinner at one of the area eateries.
“We’ve been encouraging them to make sure it’s a taste and not a meal,” he explained. “Folks want to go out and try five or six different restaurants if they can.”
All culinary activities will take place in Central Square, with restaurant booths set up in the closed streets, and cooking demos performed in the gazebo throughout the day. Demonstrations will be given by three local chefs — Luca Paris of Luca’s Mediterranean Cafe, Ryan Nyland from Machina Kitchen and ArtBar, and Anthony Dispensa from Granita Enoteca.
Meanwhile, a beer garden will be set up in the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship parking lot on Roxbury Street, which is also where bands will perform.
Alcohol tastings require one ticket, which will be $2 each and can be purchased in the beer garden, said Remy, who noted that most of the participating alcohol vendors are from the area. Two distilleries — Sweetwater Farm and Distillery and Copper Canyon Distillery — will offer samples as well, he said.
All of the profits made from the festival will be given back to the participating restaurants, according to Remy. He said he expects the Keene Young Professionals Network to break even on the event.
Remy noted that Keene’s annual Art Walk, scheduled from June 4 to 13, will coincide with the festival, and he encouraged people to explore beyond the festival grounds to see some of the artwork on display in the windows of local businesses.
The festival will conclude with a hot-pepper-eating contest kicking off at 4 p.m. Daring festival-goers will have a chance to win a $500 cash prize if they come out on top, which Remy said could mean having to eat a Carolina Reaper pepper.
“That’s the hottest one, according to [the Guinness Book of World Records],” Remy said, adding that folks will need to sign a waiver to participate.
While KYPN is organizing the festival, the city donated services, and a number of area businesses are sponsoring it, including C&S Wholesale Grocers, Savings Bank of Walpole, Consolidated Communications, Mascoma Bank and others.
More information about vendors, bands and parking can be found on the KYPN website at www.keeneypn.com. People can also find an event map there, as well as purchase tokens in advance.
This story has been corrected to reflect that this was the first Taste of Keene event in many years but not the first ever.