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9 Things to Know About the First-Ever Thrive NC Food Festival

Coming in May

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Vivian Howard/Ashley Christensen

With two nights, tastings from more than 50 local restaurants, and proceeds supporting nonprofit work, the inaugural Thrive NC food festival May 10 and 11 should leave downtown Raleigh feeling euphorically full — and fulfilled.

Here are 9 things to know before you go:

1. Award-winning chefs Ashley Christensen and Vivian Howard will serve up their presence as festival headliners.

In 2014, Christensen won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast, and now leads AC Restaurants, with Raleigh restaurants under her prowess like comfort-food-focused Poole’s Diner and Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, famous for its fried chicken and twists of Southern style.

Meanwhile, Howard opened her progressive eatery Chef & the Farmer in Kinston in 2006 with her husband. Howard calls the business their “first child,” with a menu backed by Eastern Carolina ingredients and creativity in the kitchen.

2. Tickets are $30 per night and festivities featuring unlimited samplings from restaurants and breweries begin at 6 p.m. at City Market, 306 Parham St., Raleigh, NC 27601. Snag tickets here.

3. Featured restaurants include 18 Seaboard (a hotspot for contemporary, Southern-inspired menu items heavy on North Carolina ingredients), Hummingbird (which seeks to offer a melting pot of small plates and cocktails) and Carroll’s Kitchen (a nonprofit venture that employs single women working to get out of homelessness).

4. Featured breweries include Appalachian Mountain Brewery based out of Boone, Catawba Brewing Co. based out of Morganton and White Street Brewing Co. based out of Wake Forest. Ah, so many diverse backgrounds to sip in.

5. Indulge in three-hour tastings during both evenings. Be sure to taste-test the lemongrass pork sausage and bao dished out by Bida Manda and Brewery Bhavana, as well as tacos from Centro, and gumbo whipped up by Whiskey Kitchen.

6. The two days of feasting, sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield NC, will support eight nonprofits that are working to address childhood nutrition and food insecurity. On May 11, Blue Cross NC and Thrive NC volunteers are scheduled to pack 600 bags for Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s Backpack Buddies Program to give thousands of children nutritious groceries that will last them a weekend away from school (and free school meals). The same volunteers will tackle 400 grocery bags brimming with fresh produce and nonperishable goods for Wake County senior citizens. Other nonprofit partners tied to the festival include the James Beard Foundation and Raleigh City Farm (an urban farm focused on sustainable agriculture).

7. Live cooking demonstrations shall abound, with both Vivian Howard and Ashley Christensen taking the spotlight. Other appearances will be made by chefs like Cheetie Kumar of Garland and Teddy Diggs of Il Palio.

8. Musicians will set the ambiance for both evenings. Artists include Jump, Little Children; Joe Kwon and Friends; and Kasey Tyndall. There’s nothing like a good beat for a feeding frenzy.

9. For the icing on the cake, there’s an invitation-only summit taking place May 10, with 150 food system stakeholders in North Carolina converging to converse about childhood nutrition and about how food can serve as an economic development tool. The array of panelists and speakers include Kris Moon, director of charitable giving and strategic partnerships for the James Beard Foundation; Bryant Terry, a chef, activist and James Beard Foundation Leadership Award Winner; and Jen Zuckerman of the Duke World Food Policy Center.

No invitation? Focus on bullet points one through eight. There’s just so much to savor.