Chapel Hill's TerraVita is a food-and-drink festival with a mission | Food Feature | Indy Week

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Chapel Hill's TerraVita is a food-and-drink festival with a mission

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Two years ago, Colleen Minton nearly pulled the plug on TerraVita, her thriving food-and-drink festival in Chapel Hill.

Even with a team of dedicated volunteers, the event was growing at a pace she worried she could not sustain.

But Minton pressed on through TerraVita's fifth anniversary and now to its sixth edition. From Thursday to Saturday, the latest slate will present nearly 100 chefs, artisan producers and ardent food advocates preaching the gospel of sustainability to as many as 1,800 attendees. Yes, it's a bit of a party with excuses to eat and drink exceptionally well, but that's not entirely the point of one of the Southeast's premier food festivals.

"What I hope is that people come into this wanting to enjoy a meal or a class and walk away with a positive, lasting impression about sustainability in our food and drink systems," Minton says. "We want our attendees to interact with a diverse group of people who really care about these issues."

Indeed, this year's TerraVita will launch with a panel discussion facilitated by Jeff Polish of The Monti, the popular local storytelling series. Six industry leaders will talk about using their culinary platforms to become voices on topics related to the future of food. Raleigh restaurateur and chef Ashley Christensen will address food insecurity among children and families. Atlanta chef and cookbook writer Virginia Willis, whose Okra is part of the UNC Press Savor the South series, will talk about vulnerable seafood species.

Minton has also added after-parties for the elaborate dinners on Thursday and Friday. These smaller gatherings will allow for increased interaction between chefs, providers and participants. On Friday, for instance, after a grilling extravaganza called Hill Fire, Film & Fire will feature Kelly Cox of the PBS culinary travel show, Original Fare. Steven Deveraux Greene of Herons at The Umstead Hotel and Lionel Vatinet of La Farm Bakery will prepare nibbles featuring fish from Sunburst Trout Farms and chocolate from Videri.

Big names in the food world dominate the schedule and help drive ticket sales. Several James Beard Award winners are involved, including last year's Best Chef Southeast, Ashley Christensen, current champion Jason Stanhope of Charleston's FIG and potential future honoree Scott Crawford. (See page 12.) But TerraVita also provides an opportunity for less famous contributors to show their skills.

Minton points to the local pastry chefs who will create Friday's dessert. Deric McGuffey, who crafts decadent desserts at G2B in Durham, will prepare pies with blueberry-wood-smoked pecans (his wife, Kether Smith, runs Cedar Grove Blueberry Farm) and topped with apple cider ice cream. Norma Kessler of Cary's Sweet Arielle Bakery will prepare roasted banana cream pie s'mores with bourbon caramel sauce.

"Amazing, right?" Minton says. "We always strive to present the very best people available, but the scope of talent this year is mind-boggling."

Good thing, then, TerraVita stuck around.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Rows to work"

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