You no longer need to visit Chesterfield to experience a Taste of St. Louis. The festival returns to the city proper this weekend with food from more than 30 area restaurants and vendors, culinary battles, live music and more activities at Memorial Plaza outside Soldiers Memorial.
The festival’s move back to the city follows its sale in March to new ownership, Taste It Productions.
“It was our intent all along to move it back to the city of St. Louis,” Taste It executive director Chuck Justus says.
Justus, though, is more eager to discuss what Taste of St. Louis’ new organizers want to give back to the community.
“This is the 15th year for Taste of St. Louis,” he says. “People get what it is. They know there’s some great things there. There’s some great food, great drink. They expect all that.”
What they might not expect, Justus says, is Taste of St. Louis partnering with local chefs to mentor children through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri. Each year, 50 participants (mostly teenagers) will learn basic culinary skills through a program called First Job.
“So when these kids leave the program, they’ll be better prepared for their first job,” Justus says.
Taste of St. Louis attendees can catch a glimpse of this mentoring on the festival’s culinary stage. In addition to the usual, “Iron Chef”-esque Chef Battle Royale pitting local chefs against one another, there will be special battles featuring Big Brothers Big Sisters participants, each paired with a chef.
Also new to Taste of St. Louis this year is Healthy@Home, a section of the festival featuring family-friendly activities and presentations on such topics as nutrition and meal preparation.
“What I really wanted to do was to make a tangible thing that people could take home and use,” Justus says. “You know, ‘Hey, I learned this at Taste of STL, how to get my kids to eat carrots.’”
Taste of St. Louis’ new owners also want to support local food entrepreneurs. This year, they are boosting Mom’s Chicken Sausage, promoting owner Jill Loftin and her product in a social-media video, using Mom’s Chicken Sausages in culinary battles and including the company among the vendors on Restaurant Row.
“It’s so cool to get to meet people and to be able to do good for the community, to do good for (Loftin’s) business, (and) help give her a hand up,” Justus says.
Restaurant Row features restaurants both established (Aya Sofia, Mission Taco Joint, Pappy’s Smokehouse) and recently opened (Kimchi Guys, the Midwestern Meat & Drink).
Justus says Taste of St. Louis’ return to the city — after five years at Chesterfield’s Central Park and Amphitheater — helped attract restaurants to this year’s festival: “We didn’t have to go hunting very hard for restaurants. They came to us.”
Justus and the other new owners come from a background of festival and event logistics (previous iterations of Taste of St. Louis included). He says that experience will be evident in everything from the staging of the Culinary Battle Royale (“more Hollywood-like”) to the decision not to charge for water. Attendees can bring an empty bottle to be filled for free.
“We’re not picking on everyone else’s events,” Justus says. “But when we feel like we’re some of the experts in the community on this topic, there’s no reason we can’t make it better.”
What Taste of St. Louis • When 4-11 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday • Where Memorial Plaza at Soldiers Memorial • How much Free; food and drink available for purchase • More info tastestl.com