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A&E >  Food

New Spokane Culinary Arts Guild aims to honor local chefs and restaurants

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 6, 2017

Jeremiah Tower was pouring.

The renown chef was in town for the inaugural Crave Food and Drink Celebration last summer. Bloggers Sarah Carleton and Erin Peterson were in the front row. And they were also beside themselves.

“We were fangirls,” Carleton said. “We were giggling.”

They were thrilled to meet Tower, the headliner at the first-time fest, held in June. But they might’ve been even more excited to meet each other.

“We recognized each other from Instagram,” Carleton said. “We basically hung out all weekend.”

It might’ve been the mezcal from Tower’s cooking demo. But, it also could’ve been the bivalves.

“I tried oysters on the half shell for the first time, and she was there to encourage me on,” Carleton said of Peterson. “We decided we were food soul sisters. It’s like we have the same brain.”

By the end of the event, the pair knew they wanted to collaborate. And by the end of the summer, they had officially formed the Spokane Culinary Arts Guild.

Through the guild, the new friends and business partners hope to recognize regional restaurants and culinary partners for superior concepts, practices and successes. Among the initial items on their agenda: establish local restaurant awards. The first-time winners are slated to be announced Jan. 1.

“We just genuinely love seeing high-quality food being produced in Spokane,” Peterson said. “We want to connect our local food community through supporting and celebrating excellence in the culinary arts.”

Eventually, they plan to organize classes and workshops as well as meet-ups. Meantime, a team of about two dozen volunteers – the guild calls them “tastemakers” – has been dining out and rating their experiences over the course of three visits.

“They won’t announce themselves coming, and they will pay for their own meals,” Carleton said, noting some reviewers are other local food Instagrammers. They score experiences on a scale of one to five based on initial contact, consistency, locally and sustainably sourced ingredients, service, atmosphere and use of current trends.

“The people we chose are all passionate about our views,” Peterson said.

According to their mission statement, “The Spokane Culinary Arts Guild works to establish an integrated social and professional network across Washington and Idaho where local food enthusiasts, chefs, farms and restaurant professionals can connect, collaborate and find the resources they need to thrive within local food webs that stimulate stronger local economies, encourage social equity and sustain our natural resources.”

Initially, Peterson and Carleton – foodies, Instagrammers, moms and wives, both in their 30s – planned on forming a nonprofit. But, Peterson said, “Forming a board and a charter would have taken time and energy away from our true mission, which is to enrich the community through our outreach and activities.”

Their business model is based on Internet marketing and traffic on the blog as well as direct consultation with businesses. Its founders plan to collaborate with “businesses we believe in and can partner with that provide funds in exchange for our services on Instagram” – the guild’s “platform focus” – as well as Facebook and email, Peterson said. “As we continue to build the blog, we will have embedded affiliate links to local products that provide a monetary kickback through an established compensation program.”

Both Peterson and Carleton said they plan to donate most of their profits to a sponsored charity, which – at this time – is Second Harvest, and use the rest for operating costs.

Meantime, they’ve launched a Facebook group called Spokane Foodies to create conversation about the growing local food scene and share event listings. They also each maintain their own social media presence – Carleton as Gather and Savor and Peterson as Plately Northwest.

“We wanted to bring people together. There’s such a strong community of bloggers in this area,” Peterson said.

But, Carleton said, “There’s a vacuum in this area for recognizing quality work. No one is Spokane has really done anything like this. And we have so much darn fun doing it. It’s a calling.”

There’s no ceremony for the first awards, though they’re hoping to host one next time. Categories are fine dining, upscale casual, casual, fast casual, food truck and breakfast or brunch only. There are two sets: one for Spokane and one for North Idaho.

“The industry is so hard on people,” Peterson said. “We very much want to support them. We’re very focused on growth and honoring their work. We want to see more places like IPK or Clover. They’re trying to push the envelope.”

Menus change regularly at Inland Pacific Kitchen, a year-old restaurant in downtown Spokane, where presentation is exquisite. Dishes are often plated with tweezers.

Clover, opened in 2012 near Gonzaga University, is an upscale yet approachable eatery specializing in scratch-made, seasonal Inland Northwest cuisine with Mediterranean and other influences.

“We take eating very seriously,” Carleton said. “The places we recognize are places we want to take our families. We’re not food critics. We consider ourselves of the people. It’s all personal opinion. But we have high standards.”

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