Taste of the Vineyard Raises Record Funds

By RACHEL KOVAC

The misting rain and chilly temperatures didn't keep people away from the Taste of the Vineyard Gourmet Stroll Thursday night. Men fixing the windsor knots in their ties and women still ripping tags from newly purchased clothes filled the tents on the Dr. Daniel Fisher House lawn to indulge in the food and drink of the Vineyard.

The 20th anniversary event to raise money for the Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust brought 600 guests to the gourmet stroll and 250 to the patron's auction on Saturday night. Between the two events the trust netted $205,000.

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"It's really an all-time record," preservation trust executive director Christopher W. Scott said. "I'm really, really gratified and really appreciative."

On Thursday the crowd swelled under the tents - people squeezed by one another to reach various stands, vendors ran out of ice and wine slopped out of full glasses. Job Yacubian stayed away from the tangle of people as he prepared three items from Bittersweet's spring-summer menu. Mr. Yacubian, the restaurant's chef, offered up a bruschetta of fava been purée and vinaigrette; a chilled yellow pepper and almond soup, and golden fried tomato with lobster salad and avocado.

"It's for a good cause," Mr. Yacubian said while preparing the bruschetta. "The preservation trust is a good thing. It's nice to see a group of people who take care of our Island."

Mr. Yacubian said the event is designed for restaurants to show off their menus; people taste a small sample of the restaurant's food and then make a decision about whether to go there for a full meal. The chef said every year he sees people he already knows as well as new faces, and sometimes people come into the restaurant after trying something at the Taste.

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"It's a win-win for everybody," Mr. Yacubian said. "It's good to get acquainted with people in this arena and the trust gets to raise money."

For John Alley of West Tisbury the night is a chance to see old friends and meet new people. Mr. Alley and his wife have been coming to the event since the beginning.

"It was a brilliant stroke by the preservation trust's trustees when they came up with this idea," Mr. Alley said. He said it is the premier party of the season though the summer hasn't really started yet. "If you want to be somebody you come to one of these events," he said.

Mr. Alley added that only at Taste of the Vineyard is there such a blend of attendees, calling it the last party Islanders can go to and the first for summer residents. As he grabbed a pastry from Cakes by Liz, Mr. Alley said the Taste is the only time you get to eat food from so many Island restaurants and caterers.

Mr. Scott said the mix of restaurants and caterers was wonderful. Several restaurants were there for the first time, including the Cornerway, a Caribbean restaurant in Chilmark, and Détente in Edgartown. But for Mr. Scott it was the Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group who made the biggest impression.

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"The group was there and the people really love their product," he said. "They gave away as much this year as they have in the past. I think we have the best oysters on the East Coast."

As Thursday's event moved later into the night, people abandoned their plates and commemorative wine glasses for the dance floor. High heels were scattered under the tables and on the lawn as guests danced to the music of Jerry Bennett and the Sultans of Swing. The band also took to the floor - the horn section getting the swing dancing started - showing they could play and dance at the same time.

"It's New Year's Eve in June," Mr. Bennett said. "We look forward to it all year. Especially because we get to play loud at the Daniel Fisher House."

Mr. Bennett has been performing at the Taste of the Vineyard for 15 years, and the band increases in size every time. It started with four or five musicians and now 13 musicians take center stage at the event.

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After the food was gone and the wine bottles drained, Mr. Scott and his group had to reorganize and get ready for Saturday's patron's party and auction. Two hundred and fifty people enjoyed a dinner of steak and shrimp prepared by Jaime Hamlin of V. Jaime Hamlin Catering and Party Design.

After cocktails, dinner and a silent auction, the live bidding began. The hot items included a backgammon table of walnut and curly maple, handcrafted by Mike MacKenty and accented with two Ray Ellis paintings. The table sold for $5,500. And then there was the sunset supper at Starbuck Neck hosted by Bob Carroll. A bidding war began and Mr. Carroll agreed to host the party twice -– each time for $4,200.

"I'd love to be the valet or doorman at that party," said Clarence (Trip) Barnes, hosting for his 12th year. "Call me collect anywhere on the Island."

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The glittery-gold fairy wands sparkled under the tent as patrons used them to bid on sailing with Walter Cronkite, $2,800, a farmers' market painting by Margo Datz, $2,500, and a Tuck and Holand weather vane depicting a steed from the preservation trust's Flying Horses Carousel, $15,000.

The night concluded with a tribute to Mr. Barnes, who has raised more than a million dollars for the preservation trust in his years as auctioneer.

As Mr. Barnes introduced the final item on the auction block - his own Magical Mystery Trip, for which he takes guests by bus to an unknown destination on the Island - Mr. Scott interrupted to announce the event had been pre-sold to 42 people for $1,000 each.

"Trip is a great guy. He's part of the Island. He's part of the trust," said Howell Kelly of Edgartown. "A number of the trust's founders are here tonight. It's a unique thing on the Vineyard and a real compliment to the Island that people on the Vineyard have decided to save these buildings."

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The combination of the two events raises about a quarter of the preservation trust's total income. The money is used to maintain the 12 historic structures owned and operated by the trust.

"It's a lot of fun," Mr. Scott said. "Every little bit contributes to making the experience good."