The evening easily could have been confused with a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. The grill staff at P.J.'s Café sang along to Love Train and Don't Stop Believin' as they flipped mini burgers, pressed them in between golden buns and handed them off to hungry, fashionably clad patrons. Across the way, the pastry chef at Soigne wore a wide smile as she piled a cake rack high with mini cupcakes. "I noticed some of the restaurant people dancing in their booths," Christopher Scott, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust said yesterday.
He was still recovering from the annual Taste of the Vineyard Gourmet Stroll.
Thursday night marked the 22nd annual Taste, the name by which Vineyarders who have stored up their dancing shoes and party clothes all winter long have come to call this swanky party that marks the unofficial kickoff of the summer benefit season. "It's a wonderful mix of Island friends," Mr. Scott said of the event. All 700 tickets sold out almost a week before the tent flaps opened promptly at 6:30 p.m. to a long line of people, gussied up and ready for some fun.
The evening is one of only two events (the other is a December holiday concert with the high school Minnesingers) held each year to benefit the Trust, a private nonprofit organization which has been quietly working since 1975 to buy and preserve historic properties such as Alley's General Store and the Old Whaling Church. The Taste began with only four or five restaurants and roughly 100 guests. Today the event has become so popular that it spans an entire weekend. A Saturday evening patron's party with a live and silent auction, cocktail hour and sit-down dinner catered by V. Jaime Hamlin and Sons Catering followed the Thursday stroll.
On Thursday afternoon a winding labyrinth of tents covered the lawn of the Dr. Daniel Fisher House in Edgartown, adjacent to the Whaling Church and also owned by the Trust. A few hours later, the tents were filled with more than 70 restaurants, caterers and beverage suppliers. Taste contributors l'etoile, Fella Caters and Bill Smith's Martha's Vineyard Clambake Co. have not missed a year since the beginning. Others, including Alchemy, have been participating since they came into business. And then there were the first-timers, including alcohol supplier United Liquors. "We're having a blast," said Amy Canepa, as she poured red grapefruit margaritas, mojitos and pomegranate martinis into miniature glasses.
John Alley of West Tisbury was doing his part to visit every table - slowly, but surely. "I staved off lunch to come," he said, his plate piled high. "One could easily eat their way into oblivion," he added. Island chefs were geared up. Farm workers at Whippoorwill Farm had picked 40 pints of the season's first strawberries on Thursday morning. That night, the sweet berries were served in small plastic cups, with or without whipped cream. "These are what strawberries should taste like," said Whippoorwill staffer Carla Hoyt.
Nearby Rick Karney, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group, kept busy shucking more than 1,000 cultured Katama oysters. "It's great to get out and see how excited everyone is about the local flavor," he said.
As the evening wore on, people ate drank and danced but never forgot why they had bought a $125 ticket, or donated their time and service. Jan Buhrman, an Island caterer, stood before an ice sculpture laden with seaweed and lobster and filled with lobster gazpacho. Outfitted in a shimmery gold chef's coat, she schmoozed with old friends and hugged former customers. "It's a great opportunity to support the Preservation Trust," she said mid-hug. "Look at this historic building. They need as much support as they can get. That's the only reason that I come." Clarence A. (Trip) Barnes 3rd, who has gained fame as the auctioneer for the patron's party, echoed her remarks. "People may not be able to afford to buy the land, but at least the face of it won't change," he said. "That's history in action."
By 9 p.m., tasting gave way to dancing. Due to demand, this year the entire back tent was converted into a dance floor. Jerry Bennett and the Sultans of Swing, who have been performing at the event for the past 17 years, ushered in the funk as guests let down their hair for some highly anticipated rug-cutting. Every year the band gets bigger, Mr. Scott said, and this year it reached a record high of 18 members. Although live music in the town of Edgartown is supposed to end at 10 p.m., the party wore on, with a large number of town policemen dancing the night away as well.
While many people woke up Friday with the morning-after blues, Jaime Hamlin, who had been a guest tearing up the dance floor next to two of her sons on Thursday, had to get up and get into action. For the last seven years she has donated her time and planning to cater Saturday's dinner. The theme of the evening was Making Magic, and she planned accordingly, whipping up passion fruit margaritas and bags of popcorn shrimp with pink salt, among other delicacies. "I do it because I really believe in the Preservation Trust's mission," she said. "The work they do is important to the fabric of the community. I am glad to help them out in their quest for perfection."
Saturday's festivities (a ticket cost $150 and seating was limited to 300), began with a cocktail hour. Guests used the time to browse items that would be up for bid in the evening's silent and live auctions. They also had an opportunity to buy a shutter for the Old Whaling Church next door as part of the Trust's upcoming effort to put the original shutters back on the building. Mr. Barnes soon brought out the evening's energy and the patron's wallets. Items ranging from a Margot Datz original painting to a private fireworks show to the night's biggest draw, a private parking spot in the Trust's gated Edgartown lot, which went for $55,000, helped to make the evening one of the most successful ever.
Mr. Scott reported that the weekend netted $240,000 for the Trust after expenses, about 20 per cent of the Trust's annual budget. The money will be put to good use. This year, Mr. Scott said the Trust plans to work on the Old Sculpin Gallery in Edgartown, which was acquired two years ago, and do extensive foundation repairs at the Nathan Mayhew School House in Vineyard Haven in addition to restoring the shutters on the Whaling Church. There are also ongoing maintenance needs at the Flying Horses, the Grange Hall and the Vincent House. "These are heavily used buildings that require continuous maintenance," said Mr. Scott, who estimates that collectively the buildings see roughly one million visitors per year.
But the ultimate thanks he said goes to the many Islanders who contributed their services or bought a ticket to the Taste. "We want to give a most heartfelt thanks to everyone who participated or attended. We have a terrific committee that plans this event and we are pleased and appreciative of all those who came out," he said.