BY ELIZABETH FRIEDLY / AJT //
Before Dale DeSena, Taste of Atlanta wasn’t much more than a forgotten relic of festivals-past, lying dormant since 2001. Today, it’s barely recognizable. DeSena has revived the idea to create one of the most notable events in Atlanta’s calendar year.
Her foray into the festival business began when Alex Cooley and Peter Conlon of Concerts/Southern Promotions approached her about marketing for a festival by the name of Music Midtown.
From there, DeSena went on to work with such high profile clients as the Atlanta’s Jazz Festival, the Atlanta Opera, and the Atlanta Dogwood Festival, until she decided to start a festival of her own. And thus Taste of Atlanta was reborn.
DeSena spoke with the Atlanta Jewish Times to offer her behind-the-scenes insight into the world of festivals and food, as well as the work that goes into running Taste of Atlanta.
Atlanta Jewish Times: Alright, so just how much work does it take to bring together such a large festival every year?
Dale DeSena: Taste of Atlanta is a full time job, 365 days out of the year. It takes a year to do a festival for three days. I have an amazing team; lot’s of managers, lots of small business that I work with, to help coordinator different aspects of the festival.
[Afterwards] we go through an evaluation period. We are very open to continuing to make this Atlanta’s festival for food. In order to continue to be the premier food festival, we have to make sure we are all-inclusive and listening.
AJT: What would you say are the biggest differences between Taste of Atlanta when you first started as compared to now?
DD: Wow, well we used to be a festival under one giant, 30,000 square foot air conditioned tent. And now, we’re eight city blocks.
AJT: Pretty significant difference there!
DD: You know, when talking to people, Atlanta is such an outdoor festival town that we really felt that each of the restaurants or sponsors needed their own tented real estate.
I always say, the real mission of our festival is turning tasters into diners. “Tasters to diners” is our goal, our mission, our mantra.
AJT: Are there any additions to this year’s festival that you’re particularly excited about?
DD: Well, we have moved our amazing, Friday night opening night party called Taste Revival to the 5th Street to make it more of a block party. It’s the most incredible culinary party of the year or that Atlanta has ever seen
Also, we’re adding a music stage/lounge this year called Sound Bites Music Stage in association with PleaseRock and JCP Bar. It’s all gonna be Atlanta musicians, and that’s brand new this year.
AJT: As someone who is so involved in the Atlanta foodie scene, have you noticed any trends in restaurants or food for 2013?
DD: I think one of the trends is that a lot of chefs are really becoming more and more entrepreneurial. I think the whole chef-driven restaurant is booming. I think, too, that they’re really concentrating on local, seasonal fare.
AJT: There’s obviously a ton of variety at the festival. Would you say that Taste of Atlanta offers something for all the different dietary restrictions?
DD: Absolutely, yes. We offer all types of tastes, from gluten-free to vegetarian to great seafood to great burgers; even the whole global culinary scene with international flavors.
AJT: Favorite part of the job and toughest part of the job?
DD: Let’s see, my favorite part is…when the gates open and I see people smiling and eating and drinking and enjoying the food offerings; just enjoying Atlanta. The toughest? The toughest is the weather. That’s the only thing I just can’t control!
AJT: Finally, what is your go-to comfort food?
DD: Well, I’m from Savannah and I grew up in a Jewish home. My nana – I was the lucky one that, when she passed away, I got her recipe box. It was the greatest gift. [I would say] sweet and sour cabbage, cabbage and meat balls. For fall, most of our family meals, that’s my go-to item. Also, my grandmother had the best Mandelbread.