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Fire up the Taste Buds

Fire up the Taste Buds

Once a meat and potatoes town with only a handful of high-quality restaurants, Spokane is now a culinary delight filled with choices to satisfy and challenge any pallet. You can still find a great steak, but choices in seafood, wood-fired pizza, small plates, gourmet burgers, world cuisine and an emerging vegetarian option scene are bringing the Lilac City to the forefront of dining in the West. Even the most dedicated diners would have a tough time hitting all of Spokane’s best spots over the course of a year. Lucky for you, there’s an upcoming event where you can sample from dozens of the area’s best chefs and restaurants over the course of a summer weekend.

Crave! returns July 11 through 13 to the CenterPlace Event Center in Spokane Valley. Now in its third year, the event brings together many of the top names in local cuisine as well as guest chefs from all over the U.S. and Canada. Crave! is spearheaded by Eat Good Group’s Adam Hegsted, owner of many popular regional restaurants including Wandering Table, Incrediburger, Honey Social Club and the Gilded Unicorn. A James Beard Award semi-finalist and decorated cooking innovator, Hegsted’s travels around the country attending dinners, tastings and food festivals inspired him to create a one-of-a-kind experience in the Northwest.

Crave! brings together dozens of chefs, brewers, vintners and artisans from the greater Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area, along with a few special guests as well. Luna Executive Chef Joe Morris and Cochinitio Taqueria’s Travis Dickinson will be serving up unique dishes alongside Hegsted, and so will many of the region’s best local chefs. Surprise guests will be announced as the event draws near. These chefs will not only be serving up delicious bites to eat but also offering cooking demonstrations and techniques—an added bonus to learn from the best while you are also tasting the best.

Top Chef contestant and owner of Zona Blanca and the recently opened High Tide Lobster Bar Chad White will be representing Spokane, as well as three other recent contestants from the popular Food Network series. Tu David Phu, a season 15 contestant, returns, bringing with him a near unmatched expertise in Vietnamese-style cooking. Top Chef Canada runner-up Mark Singson also returns to share his unique style. New to the lineup this year is Brandon Rosen, who has worked in some of the finest restaurants in New York and San Francisco and is now a privately employed personal chef in Silicon Valley.

One of the more popular booths also makes a return as James Beard Award-winners Felipe and June Hernandez of Los Hernandez Tamales will be serving up their iconic dish. You’ll most likely find them with the longest line during the tasting.

Crave! is broken down into several events over the course of three days. You can purchase admission to all events, a couple of events or just a single event depending on how much you want to spend and taste. Once inside the festivities, you can safely put your wallet away as all the tastes and beverages are included with your admission. Crave! is held mostly outdoors with chef booths set up in the grassy area behind CenterPlace Event Center. Live music and entertainment greets you during most sessions.

The Thursday evening kickoff is often one of the favorite events. Fresh fish, scallops, shrimp, oysters and more take the stage during the Seafood Bash. Cooks will come up with specialty bites and dishes you typically won’t find on their menu. The Seafood Bash runs from 6 to 9pm.

On Friday, the smell of sizzling meats will be lingering in the air during the Fire and Smoke event, also from 6 to 9pm. The challenge is to create a barbecue dish you’ll not soon forget. There will be dozens of drink vendors offering beer and cocktail pairings for many of the dishes, and you’ll have a chance to vote on your favorites in the People’s Choice awards for Best Dish and Best Beer. Members of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe will also be on hand for a very special night of entertainment including traditional dances and music.

On Saturday, the education really begins with demonstrations by regional and national chefs during the Grand Tasting event from 1 to 4pm. The demonstration kitchen is set up indoors with seating and easy views of the presentation. Local food purveyors will be offering up some of their favorite small bites to which you are entitled to unlimited samples. Wineries, breweries and distilleries will all be offering tastings and samples in the outdoor setting. You’ll learn mixology tips from some of the region’s best bartenders, cooking techniques from renowned chefs and will walk away with a full belly of delicious bites as well.

The final tasting is Saturday evening where the theme is Foods from Around the World. With an entire world of cuisines in which to choose from, chefs often save their most unique and innovative dishes for last. You might find Vietnamese-inspired sliders, ingredients rarely found in a taco, or beef tartare with a twist. You really won’t know until you walk through the doors. As with other events, the local craft distillers, brewers and winemakers will be on hand with all the best the area has to offer.

Your ticket gets you unlimited tastings, but you might want to bring a few bucks in with you just in case you want to take something home. This year, even more artisans will have booths available, featuring everything from locally made barbecue sauces, cheeses, cakes, caramels, craft sodas, oil and vinegar, and more.

The event wraps up with an after party that includes a no-host bar, desserts and live music under the stars.

Beyond just a wonderful and flavorful event, proceeds from Crave! also benefit several local nonprofits. Second Harvest brings community resources together to feed people in need through empowerment, education and partnerships. Spokane Valley Partners provides food, clothing and other basic needs to low-income families and offers a helping hand to those making every effort to carve a stronger path to a brighter tomorrow.

Tickets are available now including full festival packages, VIP packages and individual tasting. Early Bird pricing is in effect, so buy in advance to save a few dollars as well. Crave! also partners with local hotels for those looking for accommodations and special rates. To buy tickets and for even more information, you can visit

In the Inland Northwest we love our long, warm summer days and cool evenings, and what better way to spend a weekend than sampling from the best of the best in food and drink. Whether you choose a single event or make it a whole weekend, you’ll leave Crave! with a new-found appreciation for the many talented cooks that call the Inland Northwest home.

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