By MIKE NORTON It was a lovely thing to wake up this morning and feel a touch of cool, dry, pine-scented breeze coming through the bedroom window. Don't get me wrong; I love summer. But if I wanted to schlep around in 90-degree heat all the time, I'd have stayed in South Florida all those many years ago. This is more like, you know, Michigan weather. And the cooler mornings will mean better conditions for sailing again, which is a welcome thing. I got the Sunfish out on the Bay on Sunday, and it was good to be out feeling the wind tugging at the mainsheet and hearing the water gurgling past the hull. It also reminded me that as we get into August, folks here in Traverse City start getting serious about food again. Not that we don't always like a good meal (hey, this is Traverse City we're talking about) but it's hard to really be hungry when it's hot and sticky. The second installment of Paella in the Park on Friday evening went very well, but now we're looking at several other great foodie events. This Saturday, for instance, is when Northport holds its annual Leelanau Wine, Food & Music Festival with music by Dawn Campbell and great food and wines from the Leelanau Peninsula. A week later, on Aug. 20, the big lawn at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons becomes the setting for the 3rd Annual Traverse City Wine & Art Festival, a celebration of the wine, food and culture of Michigan's "wine coast" -- the Leelanau Peninsula, Old Mission Peninsula and Traverse City. Traverse City and Leelanau restaurants will be serving food & desserts, with music and performances, and 30 tents of high quality Michigan art for purchase and appreciation. And a week after that (Aug. 26-27) is the big Traverse City Microbrew & Music Festival, on the same lovely expanse of lawn, with great bands and awesome craft brews from around the state.
- A Cool August morning: Kids and ducks on Boardman Lake
The big treat, though, will take place on Sept. 8-11, when the Epicurean Classic, the event that first put Traverse City in the national "foodie" spotlight, returns to its native shores with some new innovations - including a culinary cycling adventure called the "Tour de Terroir." The Epicurean Classic is a three-day food festival that features dinners, tastings and classes taught by top-level chefs from across the country and around the world. This year, it'll be held at a sprawling indoor/outdoor venue in Traverse City's bayfront Warehouse District. As before, it will include classes and talks by celebrity chefs like Ted Reader, Jennifer McLagan, Maxime Bilet, and Martha Hall Foose. But the most intriguing new event is the Tour de Terroir, which will combine eating and drinking with bicycle touring. The word may look ominous, but there's nothing at all frightening about terroir. Pronounced "tehr-wahr," it means the qualities in a landscape - its geology, topography, weather and even its spiritual ethos - that contribute to the taste of its food, wine and beer. Epicurean Classic promoter Mark Dressler thinks the terroir of the Traverse City area is some of the best in the world, and he wants more of his guests to experience it up-close. Dressler, an avid cyclist, describes the Sunday tour as "a day-long terroir-infused epicurean exploration and celebration." It will begin with a leisurely ride through the woodlands, fields, farms, vineyards, orchards and coastlines of the scenic Leelanau Peninsula, followed by an informal barbecue featuring food and drink that was grown and created in that same landscape. "It's educational, but it's also fun," he says. "The idea is to get people out into the land, to see the vineyards and orchards and farms where this food comes from, then get back and have some great eats and some good fellowship," he says. "This is very old idea in places like France and Italy, but a relatively new concept in the U.S." Epicurean Classic events begin Thursday evening with a talk by Gretchen Holt Wittt (The Bake Sale Cookbooks) at Traverse City's historic Opera House. Friday's agenda will feature demonstrations, classes and book-signings from local and national chefs followed by evening "chef/author dinners" where visiting chefs take over the cooking at selected local restaurants. Saturday's menu of classes and demos ends with an evening Grand Gala reception. On both days, continuous food and drink tastings will be held in the afternoon at an outdoor tasting pavilion. Sunday, of course, will be devoted entirely to the Tour de Terroir (though Dressler is quick to reassure non-cycling foodies that they can buy tickets to the barbecue even if they didn't feel up to the pedaling). The Epicurean Classic began eight years ago as a spotlight event for Traverse City's own Great Lakes Culinary Institute, and is credited with bringing the community to the attention of food superstars like chef Mario Batali, who eventually bought a summer home nearby. Since then, food writers and lovers of tasty food have been flocking here to sample and praise the local cuisine. For two years in a row, Midwest Living magazine has listed Traverse City among its Five Top Food Towns - and last year Bon Appetit magazine named it one of the Top Five Foodie towns in the US. The Epicurean Classic was briefly moved to St. Joseph in 2009, but Dressler said he and his colleagues knew almost immediately that leaving Traverse City had been a mistake. "This is the place where it all began," said Dressler. "As soon as we left it became apparent why this was where it was supposed to be." The lineup also includes some of the Traverse City area's most outstanding chefs, including advanced sommelier Amanda Danielson, co-owner of Trattoria Stella, and executive chef Myles Anton (two-time James Beard semifinalist), Eric Patterson and Jennifer Blakeslee of The Cook's House, and James Beard Award nominee Guillaume Hazael-Massieux, executive chef and co-owner of La Becasse. I think I may need to start getting in shape for all this culinary exercise...
- Mario Batali jokes with attendees at a previous Epicurean Classic