The grounds of the Wickman House in Ellison Bay will transform into a foodie’s paradise when it hosts the Uncork Summer Food, Wine and Musical Festival on Saturday, June 25.
In its third year, Uncork celebrates Door County’s growing reputation as a culinary destination by showcasing the county’s top chefs in a single location. This year’s event will feature 20 food vendor booths fit for a variety of tastes, from standard coffeehouse fare to contemporary cuisine, along with wines, local ciders, craft beers and handcrafted cocktails. Door County musicians Katie Dahl and Small Forest will round out the local offerings with original music throughout the day.
Fest organizer John Nelson said Uncork’s goal is twofold: to bring more people to Ellison Bay, which it will do alongside the 50th annual Olde Ellison Bay Days celebration, and to expose chefs and their restaurants to new audiences.
As editor-publisher of Door Guide Publishing and its annual Door County Dining Guide, Nelson has witnessed area restaurants’ shift toward more farm-to-table offerings as the county’s appeal to younger, urban audiences has expanded.
“The dining scene up here has changed markedly and it’s not just that there are fewer supper clubs, it’s that new restaurants tend to be things that, in years past, I think everybody would say ‘Oh that’s not going to fly,’” Nelson said. “…I think it’d be entirely legitimate for Door County to say we’re a dining destination. That’s enough of a reason to come here. You can eat at a great restaurant every night, even for a full week or two weeks, and never repeat and it will be stuff as good as you would get in an urban setting.”
That new niche in the county’s tourism base inspired the Uncork Summer organizers to enhance this year’s event with two new offerings: food demos from chefs Terri Milligan (chef-owner of the former Inn at Kristofer’s in Sister Bay and current food writer for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel) and Janice Thomas (owner, chef and teacher at The Savory Spoon Cooking School in Sister Bay), along with a keynote address by Wisconsin Foodie host Kyle Cherek.
Cherek summed up his interest in Uncork in a few words: Door County’s rich agricultural history and its connection to food.
“To elaborate, I’m there for the food, I’m there for the people, I’m there for the produce,” Cherek said. “Door County has got this amazing, I think it’s one of the more special and unique, though untold microclimates in the world, really. It’s as special as Bordeaux, it’s as special as the Russian River Valley…on that 45th parallel, the things that have grown there across the decades, the farmers know it and the original Door County farmsteaders know it. I think that the peninsula and folks that are year-rounders are getting back in tune with it but anything that I can do to further that kind of awareness is very, very exciting to me.”
His keynote address will touch on the county’s agricultural heritage, the new direction of farming and produce, and “a little bit about how food is medicine.” The latter is something Cherek is particularly excited about, as his keynote address is sponsored by Ministry Door County Medical Center.
“Having a medical enterprise sponsor a talk like mine, that’s the good news; that somehow the medical institution recognizing that we don’t just treat on the back end with chemicals, we treat on the front end with the whole person, and that when we eat and we eat good food, we’re happy,” Cherek said. “That’s a fundamental human experience and it’s one that everybody has a right to.”
Uncork Summer takes place at Wickman House, 11976 Mink River Road in Ellison Bay, from 10am – 5pm on Saturday, June 25. Free parking is located at the Liberty Grove Historical Society at the top of the hill on Highway 42, and shuttles are available. Admission to the fest is $5, as are all food tickets. One ticket buys a food dish or a drink. For more information call 920.854.4450 or visit UncorkSummer.com.