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Local food fest connects growers, chefs, consumers

An appetizer dish made by a Northern Michigan University hospitality management alumni is seen at last year’s food fest. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Local Food Fest)

MARQUETTE — Members of the local food system, from farmers to chefs to consumers, will be celebrated at the Marquette Local Food Fest from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday at the Ramada Inn.

“The real reason for this event is to celebrate all the work they do and showcase the value of those who work within the food system, whether they be growing food or washing the plate when we go out to eat,” said Alex Palzewicz, U.P. coordinator for Taste the Local Difference.

Taking place during the event will be the third annual Northern Michigan University Hospitality Management Alumni Culinary Competition. Six chefs will create two appetizers, one being a vegetarian option, that highlight local foods. Chefs will be judged on creativity, presentation, taste and their use of local ingredients. Event attendees will vote for their favorite chef and a panel of judges will nominate the first, second and third place winners.

“Sometimes being a chef you do your order, you make sure the place doesn’t burn down, you manage people and we kind of don’t always think about the creative side of things,” Palzewicz said. “… Whether they are the owners of a restaurant or work a line in a restaurant and don’t really have a say no matter what, this is an opportunity where they get to decide what they are cooking and maybe use those influences from all the things that they’ve done in their life since they’ve been at Northern.”

Upon receiving the chefs’ ideas, Palzewicz coordinates with local farmers and growers to gather as many ingredients as possible for the dishes. In the first year of the competition, 68% of food served was local and last year over 80% was local. Roughly $2,000 has been spent on local ingredients for this year’s competition, she said.

The event will also feature kombucha from Superior Culture, a kids room sponsored by the Marquette County 4-H Program, music by a jazz duo in the Harley’s Lounge, free recipe- and agriculture-centered books from the U.P. Bookmobile, and a cash bar upstairs serving beer, wine and craft cocktails from U.P. brewers and distillers. Event attendees can also participate in interactive, educational trivia where area organizations will ask questions about the local food system and give out stickers which can be collected and exchanged for local prizes like beeswax wraps and honey sticks. A silent auction will also take place. Auction baskets will be filled with various goods donated by local shops and restaurants as well as farmers market harvest baskets. Harvest baskets are made up of produce from area farmers. A frozen protein basket, with whitefish, rabbit, pork and more will also be auctioned and is a good way to fill up your freezer for the winter, Palzewicz added.

“Bring your wallet and bring your appetite, but that’s really all you need,” she said.

Palzewicz is grateful for the chance to work with so many members of the local food system to make this event happen. She hopes those who attend taste great food, have fun, meet new people and learn a bit about the importance of local food.

“The education and awareness is the biggest part of what we try to do,” Palzewicz said. “Of course what we want is people to come to the event and have a good time, but for me the more people I can get the message to about supporting local and thinking about where to get their food or giving the resources of where to contact for local food, I think that’s the big part too. It’s exciting to get together and talk about why this is important.”

Tickets are $25 in advance, $35 at the door and can be purchased online by visiting MQT Local Food Fest on Facebook or searching MQT Local Food Fest on Eventbrite. Children 12 and under are free.

Money raised during the event will be donated to Partridge Creek Farm, the Power of Produce Program and NMU’s hospitality program.

The event is sponsored by Travel Marquette, Radio Results Network, Scott Huber Farm Bureau Insurance Agency, Ojibwa Casino, Marquette Downtown Development Authority, NMU’s college of technology and occupational sciences, the Marquette Food Co-op, the U.P. Food Exchange and Taste the Local Difference.

Trinity Carey can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.