SAVOR Food and Wine Festival puts Tucson food, culture on display

Simon Asher | The Daily Wildcat Experience the 5th annual SAVOR Southern Arizona Food & Wine Festival with the Daily Wildcat. This event was held on ​Feb. 3, 2018, and featured more than 75 chefs, wineries, breweries and restaurants.

With Tucson’s food scene the subject of recent national and international acclaim, the Southern Arizona Arts and Culture Alliance hosted its Fifth Annual SAVOR Southern Arizona Food and Wine Festival on Feb. 3.

The sold-out afternoon affair took place at Tucson Botanical Gardens and featured food, wine and select Southern Arizona specialties from over 50 local vendors. Chefs, restaurants, wineries, breweries and artisans lined the floral pathways, inviting attendees to sample their goods.

“This event is all about being local and keeping money in our community, so that more wealth can be developed,” said Michael Peel, southern Arizona director of the non-profit Local First Arizona.

          RELATED: NPR's Tiny Desk Concert Winner hits the stage in Tucson

A partner organization since the inaugural Food and Wine Festival in 2014, Local First helped in the logistics and marketing of the event. Peel, a Tucson native, expanded on the theme of the Festival.

“We’re trying to bring culture to our region and focus on the locally owned,” he said. “Nothing here is about national brands.”

Red's Smokehouse & Taproom smokes a chunk of New York Strip Steak in preparation for the SAVOR Food & Wine Festival.

Peel said the festival has become something people mark on their calendars. “We sold-out with 1,200 plus this year,” he said. “This has become a destination event for people all over at this point.”

One of those people marking their calendar was festival vendor John Aldecoa. A member of the ownership team responsible for local restaurants Brother Johns BBQ and Abuela’s Mexican Restaurant, Aldecoa said the Festival was an opportunity to get his restaurant’s extra exposure.

He praised SAACA for bringing the Tucson community together, pointing out how the organization took advantage of Tucson’s charm and character.

Sand-Reckoner Wines on display during the SAVOR Food & Wine Festival.

“Tucson isn’t like a lot of big cities, we’re really a town,” Aldecoa said. “They really embrace the culture, all aspects of culture, and the different influences we have from all over the world.”

Aldecoa’s restaurants were on site Saturday, offering brisket, beans and tequila-based cocktails. 

With so many vendors and such a large crowd, SAACA relies on a team of local volunteers to coordinate vendor set-up’s and ultimately keep the event running. That’s where UA grad and Tucson resident Danielle Giordanelli comes in.

“I’ve been doing this for eight to 10 years now,” Giordanelli said, explaining her relationship volunteering for SAACA. A nanny for local families during the week and a UA graduate, Giordanelli helped with checking in restaurant vendors at this year’s festival. 

A Mustard-braised pork belly with apple-celery slaw and blood orange gastrique was one of many local samples during the SAVOR Food & Wine Festival.

“We get all the paper work they need, show them where their spot is and then we help give them all the goods they need, paper plates, forks, things like that,” she said. 

All that garbage, recycling and food-stuffs can add up. That’s why SAACA partnered with Compost Cats, a UA recycling club, to address the festivals’ unique needs. 

Now in their third year working the event, Compost Cats member Kelly Jendrisak, an Environmental Science senior, talked about why the organization was chosen to help.

A sample of smoked pulled-pork and pickled tabasco onion sandwich.

“We do target major events because that allows us to have the most impact and to reach the most people,” she said. “We really enjoy coming out to events like this and educating people about composting.”

It’s the education angle that seemed to stop people in their tracks. Jendrisak’s task for the day consisted of standing behind a row of garbage, recycling and composting containers and reminding Festival-goer’s what trash went where.

          RELATED: Several UA restaurants receive overdue inspections

“There definitely is a lot of misconceptions on recycling and composting,” she said. “Sometimes people do learn things they wouldn’t expect. We learn from the public and they learn from us.”

Ultimately, it’s that learning Peel said is integral not just for creating buzz around the local food culture, but for bringing people together. While a ticket might be relatively expensive, Peel encouraged UA students to attend upcoming SAACA events.

“Think of how rich our culture is here,” he said. “It’s about celebrating heritage, and how do we preserve that, and enhance that, and bring more attention to it.”

Mama's Hawaiian Barbecue displays Haupia (Coconut) pudding mixed with prickly pear syrup.

Follow Eddie Celaya on Twitter

Share this article