Taste of Vineyard Raises Record $180,000 for Trust; Hundreds Enjoy Two Nights of Gala Celebration

By NANCY FITZPATRICK

The Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust set a new record this week when it tallied up the results of its celebrated fundraiser, A Taste of the Vineyard. The private, nonprofit organization's executive director, Christopher W. Scott, announced yesterday morning that the 17th annual Taste, which now includes two separate but related events, a gourmet stroll and patron's dinner, raised $180,000 for the preservation trust.

"This is quite a tribute to everyone involved with the event," Mr. Scott told the Gazette. "Both Thursday and Saturday nights were sell-outs," with 500 in attendance at the gourmet stroll and more than 250 at the patrons' dinner and auction - with ticket prices tagged at $125 and $150, respectively. The silent auction held during Saturday's cocktail reception and a live auction held during the dinner, and conducted by the ever-popular Clarence (Trip) Barnes as auctioneer, raised $126,000. This amount, in combination with the ticket sales for both nights, totaled $180,000 after expenses.

Funds from the annual event are used toward the trust's restoration and preservation of almost a dozen well-known Vineyard landmarks. "The whole point is the preservation of the character of the Vineyard," Mr. Scott said. "Just think what the Island would be like without the Flying Horses carousel, the Grange Hall, the Old Whaling Church. These are the Island's landmarks, and this type of generosity on the part of everyone who participated [in this event] enables us to continue this work."

The gourmet stroll, which could also be described as the Vineyard's largest food fest, kicked off at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, on the lawn between the Dr. Daniel Fisher House and the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown. This event has grown from a single night under a single tent to one which now encompasses seven interconnected tents and a cast of thousands - with a program designed to show Vineyarders that a good cause can be fun - if a little fattening. Unless, of course, the calorie-reducing activity on the dance floor was factored in, with music provided by Jerry Bennett and the Sultans of Swing and featured singer Joanne Cassidy. The stroll drew a crowd of more than 500 hungry well-wishers, who waited patiently in a queue which at one point extended from the tent entryway near the side of the Old Whaling Church, west along Main street and as far back as the corner of Pease's Point Way.

With menus in hand, the guests in line began to select some of the hors d'oeuvres, appetizers, soups, desserts and beverages they most wanted to sample. Yet once inside the tents, which were decorated with red, white and blue balloons and star confetti, in keeping with the Salute to America theme, most people opted simply to follow the crowd. This was perhaps the simplest course of action considering the scores of savory offerings provided by more than 40 of the Island's fine caterers, chefs and restaurateurs, and an almost equal number of beverage purveyors offering up their specialties.

Guests were greeted at the door with a table of champagne donated by Clicquot Inc., from California's Anderson Valley, then proceeded down one side of the tents and up another - with stops also at three centrally located food and beverage islands.

Quite a bit of thought goes into the placement of the vendors' tables, said Janet Heath, the trust's director of special events. "However, when we send out a request form to the vendors during the winter, they usually say they're happy with where they were the previous year," Ms. Heath said. For the guests, the placement of individual vendors wasn't much of an issue, except when a friend came up and insisted that what she had just sampled simply had to be tasted. "You have got to try the spring rolls from Atria," one woman told an acquaintance. "They're over there, in the far corner, but by the time you get there, they may be gone. I've already been back twice."

Comments flew in all directions. "I like the pesto at Pamela's [Provisions]." "I love that shrimp, avocado thing - over there" (a Shrimp, tomato and avocado bite with cilantro gelee created by the chef at Farm Neck Café). "My favorite is the ravioli at Chesca's." It was a roasted garlic and cheese ravioli with grilled portobello mushrooms and asparagus in basil brown butter. And at Patricia Crane Harrison's Vineyard Haute Cuisine table, the crab cakes with sauce remoulade begged a second, perhaps even a third visit.

Expectations continued to run high as guests nibbled their way across the lawn, stopping at the ultra-fresh raw seafood bar hosted by the Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group; watching, too, as the talented crew from l'etoile put the finishing touches on warm vanilla bean crepes filled with blueberries and raspberries, very much in keeping with the patriotic theme; or gobbling down a Daggett House crab cake, a bowl of chowder from The Home Port, an Atlantic seafood soup from the Sweet Life Café, pan-seared scallops from the Beach Plum Inn & Restaurant or some lobster quesadilla from Fishbone's Café.

Seafood was much in evidence, as one would expect at any Vineyard event, but the popularity of regional and international cuisine was equally at home in the hors d'oeuvres offered by Ipanema, the pizza from Lattanzi's, jambalaya from Lola's, a properly chilled and deliciously spiced gazpacho from Louis', Middle Road Catering's sashimi, a grilled chicken sate with Thai peanut sauce from Season's Eatery & Pub, and Soigne's Asian dim sum.

For beverages, guests could choose from more than 30 tables brimming with everything from L.A. Burdick's hot chocolate to Espresso Love's cappuccino; from assorted sodas provided by the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of the Islands, to A&P's Eight O'Clock Royale Gourmet Coffees - "our Colombian special," the A&P representative explained. For those wanting beer, malt or ale, the selection encompassed everything from lager and pale ale from Buzzards Bay Brewing to an amber variety from Coastal Extreme Brewing Co., to Rebel Pilsner from Czech Beer Importers. In the fine wine category, guests tried the Domaine St. George's chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, Freixenet, USA's pinot noirs and merlots; an estate bottled wine from Banfi Vintners, an array of American wines provided by Great Harbour Gourmet & Spirits, a good selection from Robert Mondavi's Napa Valley vineyards, the Hurricane chardonnay from Chicama Vineyards, and a wide selection of wines from Jim's Package Store and Our Market.

For dessert, in addition to the l'etoile offering, there were irresistible chocolate concoctions from Chilmark Chocolates, L.A. Burdick Chocolate, Murdick's Fudge and Opus Restaurant at Winnetu. And from Savory Catering, Espresso Love Café, Chesca's and the Beach Plum Inn & Restaurant there were cakes and tortes, tea cookies, lemon squares and a berry decorated pound cake. As Mr. Scott noted, each of these and a long list of other generous vendors contributed time and talent, as well as their own food, in order to make the event a success.

From the individual hors d'oeuvres to the striking floral arrangements and food presentation, this represented the effort of hundreds of people. Notable among them was Jaime Hamlin of V. Jaime Hamlin Catering & Party Design. Ms. Hamlin designed and prepared the patrons' party menu for Saturday evening's event. "The logistics of plating and serving close to 300 people is not easy," Mr. Scott said in acknowledging Ms. Hamlin's accomplishment in presenting a menu that included cold and hot hors d'oeuvres during the cocktail reception, followed by a surf and turf dinner menu that received high praise from all directions.

Food for Saturday's dinner was donated by the A&P Food Stores, Island Food Products and Edgartown Seafood; the wines were contributed by Art Honig of Your Market and the assorted pastries, cookies and other sweets for dessert by The Black Dog Bakery. Chilmark Chocolates also had a hand in making sure all the guests received a small box of their specialties, placed on the red, white and blue decorated tables, which carried through the Spirit of America theme.

While Trip Barnes, who conducted the dinner's auction, didn't have as much time to enjoy the full-course dinner as some, he appeared to have a great time once he was on the podium and moving the auction forward. Mr. Barnes, who says he never feels he does enough for the preservation trust, said, "I'd like to spread the word that the people involved with this fundraiser are not a bunch of elitists. They're working hard to keep our traditions and our landmark buildings alive. And what I'd really like to see happen some day, through the preservation's efforts, is for us to be able to ‘buy back' our old towns. Let's face it, we've all but lost our main streets. I'd like to see the old barber shop back, the awnings along the street, the old shops. If we stay with it, we'll be able to do it."

With those words, Mr. Barnes auctioned off 28 items which had been donated from some of the trust's 2,000 members, as well as other donors. The items ranged from a hand-stitched needlepoint top picnic basket with picnic for four, which brought in $750, to the largest single item, a torch-red 2002 Ford Thunderbird, which commanded an impressive $38,000.

Opening the bidding on the Thunderbird, which was provided by Bill Selig Ford in Windsor, Conn., Mr. Barnes said: "I've never sold a Thunderbird before. It's a road machine and I want someone to buy it." A little hesitation from the crowd produced a little more encouragement from Mr. Barnes. "It's not hot. This baby didn't fall off a delivery truck. The whole load goes to the preservation trust. You can drive it home, right through the side of the tent, and I'll get the M.V. Harley riders to escort you." It didn't take long for the audience to respond.

Other popular items bid up and up, including a Caribbean cruise on a 51-foot Swan sloop ($5,500), a 24-foot wooden flagpole which brought in $7,800 (exclusive of flag), a week-long retreat at an elegant Edgartown property ($9,000) and dinner and show at the Grange Hall, complete with magician, for $2,600.

Mr. Barnes, with help from Mr. Scott and Edgartown School principal and derby president Ed Jerome, also auctioned off a bass and bluefish derby package for $2,800. Ray Ellis, whose annual art contribution to A Taste of the Vineyard is always eagerly anticipated, this year donated an original oil painting, Fourth of July. Mr. Ellis and Mr. Barnes closed ranks in their delightful antics in helping to move the painting along, and after numerous jokes, a little piano music, an in-jest threat to disrobe and Mr. Barnes's promise that, "If you don't like the people in the painting, Mr. Ellis will add some more," the painting raised $7,500.

The silent auction, which included 20 handcrafted items, added another $8,000 for the trust.

Edgartown resident Robert W. Newman, who has served for the past three years as president of the board of trustees, first joined the board 12 years ago. He said, "The wonderful thing about the preservation trust and this event is that we all come together. The trust has contributed to the tapestry of the whole Island."

"This year is the best ever," Mr. Scott said, once again acknowledging all who helped make the event a success - the talented chefs, generous caterers and restaurateurs, beverage purveyors, wait staffs, kitchen help, and the designers who created stunning table decorations, floral arrangements and, in the center of it all, good food and a good cause.