By Michele J. Kuhn
Theater to host four-day food festival
RED BANK – The Count Basie is working up quite an “Appetite.”
Come September, the Monmouth Street performing arts center will be serving a delicious four-day festival of gastronomic greatness sprinkled with celebrity chefs, a generous portion of tastings, talks and films and a full helping of children’s activities.
“Appetite: A Gastronomic Experience” will be held Thursday, Sept. 5, through Sunday, Sept. 8, and should appeal to everyone from true foodies to those who just like to eat.
The event will kick off on 8 p.m. Thursday with an onstage interview and a question-and-answer session with Ina Garten, aka the Barefoot Contessa, moderated by Teresa Politano.
Friday chef Anne Burrell takes to the main stage at 8 p.m. and Saturday night chef Joe Bastianich will be appearing with special guest Victor Rallo. Both the Burrell and Bastianich appearances will involve cooking. Bastianich is expected to hold a penna pasta “throw down” challenge between Rallo and Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna with the celebrity chef deciding whose plates win.
During the day on Saturday, a variety of food purveyors, including Carton Brewing, Sugarush, Destination Dogs, East Coast Oyster Farm, Seven Arrows Farm and mixologist Lauren Davis, will hold “taste and talk” events at a variety of locations within the Count Basie Theatre complex, plus food trucks, craft beers and live music will be located on the theater patio and adjacent lot.
Sunday afternoon will feature the food trucks, beer tastings and live music plus additional taste and talk events, a bourbon tasting and a tasting and showcasing of some exquisite Italian wines.
Four food-featuring films will be shown on the main stage with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the 1971 version) and Sideways presented on Saturday afternoon and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Big Night on Sunday afternoon.
The Sunday events will coincide with Red Bank’s Fall Street Fair from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. during which Broad and Monmouth streets will be closed to traffic. Food vendors, crafts people, music, rides, games and other activities will be featured that day.
The four days of “Appetite” came together shortly after the Count Basie Theatre’s CEO arrived last fall.
“Right when I arrived – and I got here just a couple of days before Sandy – one of the things we talked about as a team was how do we shift the focus of The Basie,” Adam Philipson said.
The team talked at length about how the theater could not only continue presenting events and performances but also focus on its community outreach and educational components. “Sandy was the perfect beginning and opportunity for us because we were able to do four or six major fundraisers – and raised about $400,000 – for some of the nonprofits in this community and hard-hit areas here.”
Discussions continued with staff on how the theater’s programs could continue that outreach “through jazz and other types of performing and visual and culinary arts – and ‘Appetite’ came out of that,” Philipson said. We said, “what if we could do a three-, four-day festival but very different than the typical food festival? … We wanted it to be about showing the art form and that fit in well with a performing arts center.
“We wanted to anchor it with the celebrity chefs but we also wanted to add more behind the scenes with mixologists and the history and the art form.
“It’s something new for us,” he said. “We are getting a lot of interest.”
Theater officials are excited that they will be able to offer event-goers with a wide range of food topics, flavors and the opportunity to talk to purveyors about their business and their products. The food makers and distributors will be able to “tell you the history of their business and how they do what they do so uniquely,” Philipson said.
The idea of a food festival seemed like a natural fit for the area.
“First off, we’re all foodies,” Philipson said. “Secondly, we live in Red Bank and Red Bank is known for it’s gastronomic activity. We also know that we have a younger community and a real diverse community.
“Our feeling is let’s do something that complements what’s here,” he said.
The idea is for people to go to the daytime events at the Count Basie Theatre and then go out for dinner at
area restaurants before coming back for the nighttime headliners, he said. “This is about supporting what’s here and adding more focus to an already culinary-focused town.”
The food theme also cuts across all age groups and is “very social,” said Diana St. John, the theater’s marketing director. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s getting people here to talk about it.”
Tickets range in price from $10 for admission to the food truck court and patio to a $415 VIP package that includes the admission to all Appetite events, including the celebrity chef talks plus the opportunity to meet and greet them.
Tickets and additional information are available on the Count Basie Theatre website at www.countbasietheatre.org or by calling 732-842-9000 or visiting the 99 Monmouth St. box office.