One Chilmark resident who made the trek down-Island for the Taste of the Vineyard festivities this weekend may have put it best.
“I haven’t come to Edgartown for years,” said the guest of the Saturday evening patrons’ dinner and gala auction. “You people have really come a long way.”
This weekend marked the 23rd annual Taste of the Vineyard gourmet stroll, a benefit for the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust, and Vineyarders from across the Island donned their summer best and came out to celebrate the long, long way the trust has come.
Since its founding 33 years ago, the quiet nonprofit has acquired and continues to maintain 14 historical properties around the Island. The work is expensive and continuous and the group relies on only three events — the gourmet stroll which took place Thursday, the gala and auction which followed on Saturday and a winter-time holiday concert at the Old Whaling Church — to fund most of its efforts.
It is fundraising done in style. By 6:30 p.m. Thursday evening, the line to get into the gourmet stroll reached the top of Main street. It was like New York city nightlife had come to Edgartown, only with a few more shades of Nantucket red.
Once inside, guests feasted on everything from seafood jambalaya (two different Island restaurants featured the dish) to barbecue short ribs to sushi hand rolled at the table. They washed it all down with wine and beer, margaritas from Zapotec and champagne from the shelves of Our Market. Before the night was through, not a morsel of Murdick’s Fudge was left, not a crumb from the rich chocolate fondants.
And then there was the dancing. The sounds of the 18-piece Jerry Bennett Band, fronted by a very pregnant Joanne Cassidy, filled the tent and kept the crowds on their feet until past ten o’clock. The younger crowd may have recognized the tunes, which ranged from Journey to Madonna, but it was the older couples who showed partygoers how it is truly done on the dance floor.
Tickets for the event go for $125. With 700 available, they sold out more than a week in advance.
Revelers took Friday off, but on Saturday, they returned to the Fisher House for a Reaching-for-the-Stars-themed dinner and live and silent auction. Catered by V. Jaime Hamlin, the 300 guests started the evening with pear tartlets and pieces of caramelized bacon, continued with a lamb entree and topped things off with sweets from Liz Kane and take-away boxes filled with Chilmark Chocolates. The event, with tickets that cost $150, was also a sell-out.
As special guests Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Joan Rivers (celebrity impersonators, but no one was the wiser) made their way around the room, guests bid on an impressive array of goods and experiences. An original painting from Island artist Ray Ellis had two guests competing; it finally went for $65,000. “It’s a wonderful tribute to Ray, who’s been enormously generous to the trust,” said Chris Scott, executive director.
Other items included a child’s playhouse, designed by local architect Patrick Ahearn, which brought in $18,000, and an evening with 87-year-old Edgartown resident Bailey Norton, which netted $13,500. Trip Barnes was the auctioneer for the 15th year in a row.
“After expenses from both events, we made a little over $300,000, which is phenomenal. That is an all-time record for us,” Mr. Scott said. Reflecting on both evenings, he continued: “The food was superb, the wine was excellent and the band could not have been friskier.”
The money raised will go directly into the buildings the trust manages. The organization is poised to begin the first phase of a significant restoration to the Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs. The trust has an old gazebo, recently donated to the grounds of the Fisher House, to restore and also is rebuilding a produce barn behind Alley’s General Store in West Tisbury. The week before the taste, the trust restored the six columns of the Old Whaling Church; the work cost $2,000 per column.
The work the trust does preserves the local flavor of the Vineyard and ensures that Island history will not be lost. Similarly, the taste is a local affair from start to finish. Although some purveyors make the trek from off-Island, the majority are from the Vineyard and many strive to keep their ingredients local.
On Thursday, shuckers at the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group table were busy opening 1,600 oysters and quahaugs from Island waters. They sold out before the dancing stopped. Across the crowded aisle, Offshore Ale Company of Oak Bluffs poured an amber ale brewed on May 7 and a brown ale brewed on May 14. Caterer Jan Buhrman decorated her table with flowers grown in Vineyard Haven.
The restaurants and cooks who set up under the tent donate their time and expenses to make the evening an event which will keep supporters coming back year after year. “They really give of themselves,” Mr. Scott said. “In the summer season, every night is precious and for them to come and give us an evening is really meaningful and generous of them.”
It is a tradition Mr. Scott will work to preserve. Earlier this season, he received a call from the Travel Network. The television channel wanted to come to the Island and feature the event. Mr. Scott thanked them politely, but said no. “The event has a very local aspect to it and I like that,” he said.