Celebrate the Bounty 2012 was one of the first culinary events that I covered during my tenure at SLUG Magazine, and it’s something that I remember to this very day. Securing a restaurant beat gave me ample opportunity to see what Utah’s local restaurants had to offer, but it wasn’t until setting foot in Rico’s Warehouse on that dusky October evening that I began to see the true beauty and vitality of our restaurant culture. Where else could one find one-pound tender hog-jowl tacos from Black Sheep Café, chase them with hand-rolled meatballs from Pig & a Jelly Jar and top the whole thing off with a thick slice of velvety opera cake from Avenues Bistro on Third? For those who love food, Celebrate the Bounty is not to be missed.
We have Local First Utah to thank for this annual celebration of our state’s singular restaurant culture, and we’re gearing up for their 2015 event which will be taking place once again at Rico’s Warehouse (545 W. 700 S.) on Oct. 15, from 7-10 p.m. Kristen Lavelett, Executive Director of Local First Utah was kind enough to take some time to talk with SLUG about this year’s best excuse to tell the old diet to take a night off.
SLUG: How and when did Celebrate the Bounty originate?
Kristen Lavelett: Celebrate the Bounty started in 2008. It’s one of the first events of its kind in Salt Lake City, celebrating our remarkable, local culinary scene. Some of the best restaurants in the state have participated in Celebrate the Bounty, and we like to think it’s been a contributing factor to the growth of the local food movement in Utah.
SLUG: Describe the process of recruiting chefs and restaurants to participate.
Lavelett: We usually try to do a combination of well-beloved “regulars” and interesting “new kids on the block.” Red Iguana is one of Utah’s most iconic restaurants in Salt Lake City, and we love welcoming them to the event each year. We’re also excited to have Provisions, a relatively new restaurant in town that’s received quite a bit of acclaim, join us at Celebrate the Bounty for the first time this year.
SLUG: In addition to securing local talent, what are some other aspects of planning Celebrate the Bounty that you enjoy?
Lavelett: I love seeing the way the people come to the table to pitch in. We have an amazing group of volunteers who are part of The Rock Church, and they come back year after year to volunteer for this event. It’d be impossible for us to host the event without them, and honestly, some of them have come to learn the ins and outs of the party better than I have!
SLUG: Describe the experience that you try to create for attendees. What do you hope people take away from the event?
Lavelett: An upscale family reunion? If that’s a thing. Sometimes, people complain about the notion of “Small” Lake City, but I actually believe it’s one of our city’s best traits. We want Celebrate the Bounty to be a place where people come together, realizing how deeply connected we truly are, and much of that connection comes as a result of the independent businesses that define our city’s economic landscape.
SLUG: What are the guidelines for chefs who participate in Celebrate the Bounty? Does each year have a theme, or do you just encourage them to be creative?
Lavelett: We like to give the chefs freedom to express their own creativity. Obviously, we put an emphasis on locally grown, produced or crafted food, but beyond that, we really hope the event is a place where our city’s chefs can shine.
SLUG: Why is it important to raise awareness about our local restaurants?
Lavelett: So many reasons! Economically speaking, for every hundred dollars spent in a locally owned, independent restaurant, nearly 70 of those dollars stay right here in Utah. To compare, only about 30 dollars stay when that money is spent at a chain restaurant. In the restaurant industry in particular, a significant amount of that money goes to employee wages. Local restaurants create jobs! Also, local restaurants support local farms, butchers, bakers (and maybe even candlestick makers). Meaning that when you go out to dinner with your friends, the money that you spend continues to circulate through our economy in a myriad of ways.
SLUG: This event usually sells out. Aside from the great food, what are some reasons that Celebrate the Bounty generates that level of popularity?
Lavelett: Personally, I think it’s because Celebrate the Bounty really captures the spirit of our city, and the way locals feel about our city. I’m not a Utah native, but I’ve lived here 13 years, and I love this town they way people love their children. I seen it change and grow, and it’s becoming an incredibly cool place, with its own personality. But really, Celebrate the Bounty isn’t about what our city is becoming, but what it is right now, in this moment. That’s why each year Celebrate the Bounty is a little different, but always popular. That’s why I think of it as a family reunion. It’s one night a year, when so many of the innovative, remarkable people who make Salt Lake City great all come together in one room to eat, drink and be merry.
SLUG: What are some tips that you can offer to those who will be attending the event this year?
Lavelett: Come hungry! Also come ready to bid on some spectacular items in our silent auction. We have donations from Vive Juicery, Roosters Brewery, Contender Bicycles, Pago, Beehive Gin, Ruth Lewandowski Winery, Hip & Humble, Winding Wheel Supply, and that’s just a few!
SLUG: For those who can’t make it to this year’s event, what are some ways that Utahns can support Local First Utah?
Lavelett: Consider making a donation online at localfirst.org. Every dollar helps us to continue our work in support of Utah’s independent businesses. While our work may not necessarily tug the heartstrings, it’s vital to our economy and our community!
For more information on Local First Utah and Celebrate the Bounty, visit localfirst.org.