When the first Gourmet Festival was held 24 years ago, it was a small event featuring only a few chefs and a limited number of auction items. It only raised a couple thousand dollars, at most, for a Nashua organization that helps area residents get back on their feet. As support from the Gate City community continued to grow, so did the event. The 2011 Gourmet Festival and Auction raised $102,000 for the organization.
“For a long time it was one of a kind,” said Mary Webb, special events manager of the Front Door Agency (formerly called the Nashua Pastoral Care Center), of the festival. “There’s nothing else like it in Nashua.” A fundraising goal of $104,000 has been set for this year’s event.
The event began in 1988, only one year after the Nashua Pastoral Care Center opened. It was started by Robert “Odie” Odierna, the pastor of the Church of the Good Shepherd, who also sits on the board of directors of the Front Door Agency, which has no religious affiliation.
“It started out at a smaller venue but has grown to the point where we needed the space,” Webb said, adding that the country club can accommodate up to 300 guests and the event often comes close to selling out. “The food doesn’t ever run out,” she said.
Eighteen local food businesses have signed on to take part in the 2012 Gourmet Festival and Auction, which will be held at the Nashua Country Club on Saturday, March 18. Each participant will have a table set up throughout the clubhouse and serve samples of its cuisine (and wine, tea, coffee and mead) to eventgoers, from 4 to 6 p.m., at which time a live auction will be held in the ballroom.
“We have some good auction items,” Webb said. “It’s a good place to go to get a deal on something you might be looking for, but also to support the agency.” She listed some big-ticket items that will be featured at this year’s auction: tickets to a Madonna concert, tickets to the Cirque du Soleil Immortal World Tour, a weekend stay at the Mount Washington hotel, a Disney family vacation, South African safari, a sprinkler system and an in-home gourmet five-course dinner for eight prepared by the chef of Sodexo, the catering company that runs the dining program at St. Joseph Hospital. A silent auction will also run during the Gourmet Festival.
The mission of the Front Door Agency, Webb said, is to help individuals in the greater Nashua community who are at risk of being homeless to become self-sufficient again. Security deposit loan programs and transitional housing for homeless mothers are among the services offered by the organization.
“It’s a great event that’s been around for years, and we always love to have new people come and experience it,” Webb said. “People come here year after year, including the chefs because they enjoy it so much.”
“This is my favorite event every year because it’s in Nashua,” said Joe Drift, chef and owner of The Saffron Bistro. This will mark Drift’s fifth year participating in the event. “It’s a lot of people that I know and it’s a great cause. They raise a lot of money.”
Drift, who served scallops with lobster risotto at the event in years past, has not yet nailed down what he will bring this year. He said the event is a nice way to showcase the local restaurants. “Hopefully a lot of people that attend these kinds of events will keep supporting downtown businesses,” Drift said.
Michael Buckley, owner of MT’s Local Kitchen & Wine Bar, Surf and Buckley’s Great Steaks, has taken part in the event since its inception.
“Every year, we have donated countless amounts of food, products and time,” said Sandy Rozek, general manager of MT’s Local. “Michael is a huge supporter of this event. … he is a big fan of taking care of our neighbors. You take care of the people that have been taking care of you for years.”