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First-time Crave food and drink festival draws culinary greats Jeremiah Tower, Rick Moonen and Mark Peel to Spokane Valley

Adam Hegsted, shown at his downtown Spokane restaurant the Gilded Unicorn, has organized the new Crave food and beverage festival happening this week in Spokane Valley. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

It’s a first-time for Jeremiah Tower.

Mark Peel, too. And Rick Moonen.

In fact, none of the celebrity chefs slated to appear at this week’s inaugural Crave food and drink festival has been to Spokane or Spokane Valley before.

Many have come as close as Seattle, Portland or Vancouver, British Columbia. And that’s during culinary careers that in some cases have spanned 40 or 45 years. But all say they’re excited to see the Inland Northwest.

“It’s going to be fun,” said Tower, the festival’s special guest and star of the recent documentary “Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent.” He called the Inland Northwest “a fantastic region for food and ingredients,” specifically fish, berries and wild game, and said he’s looking forward to being here.

Thursday through Sunday, dozens of chefs from around the country will convene at the first-ever Crave event, organized by local restaurateur and chef Adam Hegsted. He invited most of the chefs, winemakers and distillers by personally cold-calling them – or their public relations people.

Hegsted said he called “too many to count.”

And, he said, their responses were overwhelmingly positive, even from the chefs who couldn’t make it to the new food festival.

“A lot of people I talked to were really interested in coming,” Hegsted said. “But they were already booked.”

That’s one thing Hegsted said he’s already learned from planning such a large-scale event: chefs of this standing and celebrity are often booked a year or more in advance. So, it’s safe to say plans are already in the works for next year’s festival.

Meantime, he’s looking forward to meeting the guest chefs, who are flying in from Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, Philadelphia, Mexico and – the closest – Vancouver, B.C.

“These are guys I’ve looked up to my whole career, and they’re joining us for our food festival,” Hegsted said. “It’s pretty amazing. They’ll all be here at the same event, which is crazy.”

Hegsted collaborated with Newman Lake-based Vision Marketing to organize the festival, which also includes more than 30 local and regional chefs.

Regional wineries such as Col Solare, V du V, Robert Karl, Barrister and Coeur d’Alene Cellars, and breweries such as River City, Bellwether, Twelve String, Paradise Creek and No-Li will be on hand. So will other artisan food producers and craft beverage makers, such as 2 Loons and Whiskey Gap distilleries, Liberty Ciderworks, One Tree Cider, Roast House Coffee and Dry Soda.

Friday and Saturday afternoons, festgoers will get to sample food and beverages as well as attend demos featuring nationally known chefs.

“I’m extremely excited because I love that region of the United States,” said Moonen, a James Beard Award-winning chef who owns a seafood restaurant and bar in Las Vegas. This will be his first visit. “What I think about is berries and mushrooms and bears and freshwater fish and ranch-raised meats. I’m a seafood guy, but I want to eat some fresh meats while I’m there and, of course, farm-to-table produce.

“It just feels real,” Moonen said. “There’s a specific cuisine of the Inland Northwest that I’ve always been attracted to. I’ve been in the hospitality industry for 40 years. This is the first time I’ve gotten to immerse myself in all that. Now I actually get to see the source.”

Peel, who owns a restaurant in downtown Los Angeles, echoed that sentiment. “I know it’s a great agricultural area, and it’s a pretty big thriving community. I said I’d love to go.”

The festival takes place at CenterPlace, a 54,000-square-foot event center in Spokane Valley. There are nearly a dozen ticketed events to choose from. About 40 chefs are participating.

In addition to daytime tasting events, the fest features themed evening tastings as well as after-parties at off-site locations, where people can mingle with the chefs and sample even more food and drinks.

“I’m just excited to see all the local chefs get out and do something collaborative together,” said Spokane chef Chad White, who’s hosting Saturday night’s after-party at his downtown ceviche restaurant, Zona Blanca. He’s also cooking during Saturday’s Fire and Smoke barbecue extravaganza.

He’ll be preparing wood fire-roasted octopus with coal-roasted local potatoes and relish with green olives, golden raisins and smoked almonds.

“This is a huge event really,” Hegsted said, noting it was a “risky” undertaking. He declined to say exactly what it’s costing to organize and host the first-time festival, but agreed it’s a lot.

“We’re going big because it has to be big,” he said. “We want to create this catalyst to show how great we are, all the great things going on here.

“It’s exciting to see it come together.”