One of my favourite summer events, the Al Fresco Block Party, will be taking over our neighbourhood again on June 11, 2011. It’s an event popular for many reasons – it not only combines the best of other seasonal festivals, including fashion, music, wine and of course, food, but also proceeds to support a good cause along the way (I wrote about it here last year).
The new 4th Street Promenade banners going up
As with 2010, all of the money raised at this year’s Al Fresco will benefit the E4C School Lunch Program, which helps provide lunch and nutritional education to over 2,000 school children every year. In addition, E4C also provides healthy snacks to over 5,500 children a year, operates the Young Chef Program that teaches children meal preparation and food safety skills, and runs a community garden.
Attendees can expect some familiar features as in past events, such as a kick-off pancake breakfast, hosted by the Downtown Edmonton Community League, a fashion show put on by area merchants, and live music. The wine tasting promises to be equally exciting (though I’d advise heading to the tent earlier rather than later; it was absolutely packed last year!).
The 2010 pancake breakfast
The outdoor movie, however, has been axed, in favour of a new food aspect. Inspired by the trend of street food overtaking cities across North America, six downtown and area restaurants will be offering their own spin on high end street food.
Sabor Divino cooks up piri piri in at last year’s Al Fresco
Participating restaurants include Corso 32, MRKT, Tres Carnales Taqueria, Elm Cafe, Pampa and a 2010 Al Fresco favourite, Sabor Divino. The full menu can be viewed on their Facebook page, and looks to be well-rounded, with fresh salads to accompany barbecued meats and sure-fire crowd-pleasers like Corso’s arancini. Three 104 Street restaurants, LIT, Blue Plate Diner and TZiN, will also be joining the fray with extended patios.
For a little more information on how the organizers came up with this concept, and what can be expected from this year’s wine tasting, I contacted Ed Fong of DeVine’s, one of the folks behind this event.
Why is E4C’s school lunch program in need of support?
There is a lack of funding and the needs are increasing with the challenging economic times. The program identifies high needs schools and there are unfortunately many of them.
How did the organizing committee come up with the “high end street food” concept? How is it different than events such as the Taste of Edmonton?
Taste of Edmonton is getting very predictable and the offers are less than inspiring. 15 years ago, maybe, but not now. Like many food offerings at these type of events, the food vendors are settling for the “lowest common denominator”. So, they do what is easy and what makes them money. The thought of doing high end street food was inspired by people’s trip to other places in Europe and the States where you can get great food at farmers’ markets, vans and such. With the success of the first years’ charcoal BBQ Portuguese Chicken, we thought we would expand the concept. We also wanted to show that street food does not have to be uninspiring. So, no street meat or meat on a stick.
How were the participating restaurants chosen or approached?
Restaurants were chosen based on the relationship the planners had with them, their vision of street food, and their willingness to execute, donate their time and part of the proceeds. We also wanted to select restaurants with buzz, reputation for high quality and a reflection of independent, locally owned businesses. We were not really interested in chains. They are hard to deal with, and we do not have the time nor the desire to cut through their bureaucracy. We wanted Hardware Grill, but they did not have the staff that day. So, they are participating by donating their entire restaurant for a luncheon fundraiser [tickets for the June 11, 2011 three course meal can be purchased online here].
What can people expect to sample in the wine tasting tent? Are there any wineries or vendors you are particularly excited about?
There will be 23 wine and spirits importers who are participating. They will be pouring 58 wines, 4 beers/coolers and 5 spirits. So, lots of choice for $25. I’m excited about the choice of wines that are suitable for summer sipping and the opportunity to introduce so many new products to the store. Patrons can try anything from Ardbeg 10 Year Old Single Malt Scotch to Cahteau Tahbilk Marsanne. This will not be just another hohum tasting tent. But I’m really excited about all the agents who are willing to donate ALL of their product and time to help feed kids. I’m very proud of the community spirit that brings us all together.
What makes Al Fresco such a great event?
The fact that this is a grassroots fundraiser, where neighbors all chip in to support a worthwhile cause. We feel it is a great event too because it does not happen in isolation, but in conjunction with the DECL Pancake Breakfast, Farmers’ Market and Pride Parade. It is unique because we set the bar very high. So we raise the food, fun, music, fashion, art and wine quotient every year. The event has a very cosmopolitan feel, and it gets people out on the streets. Neighbors and friends can come out, enjoy the event, socialize and have fun in a responsible way. That is what downtown living should all be about.
Make sure to mark your calendars if you haven’t already – let’s help Al Fresco exceed the $23,000 they raised last year! And if you’re looking for other ways to support E4C, be sure to also check out Al Fresco’s online auction.
See you at Al Fresco!