Charlottesville’s fifth annual Tom Tom Founders Festival will take place April 11-17. The festival began with a focus on three tenets — music, art and innovation. This year, food has become a more integral part of the event.
The food programming includes weeklong events — such as the Farm to Table Restaurant Week and the Craft Cocktail Competition — as well as one-off events like the Iron Chef City Market Competition.
Allison Spain, University alumna and Tom Tom food coordinator, and Maisie Finley, a fourth-year College student and food programming fellow, planned this year’s packed schedule.
“I’m so glad that they’re emphasizing [food] this year because a lot of students are very in tune with the fact that Charlottesville is a very foodie town, but they don’t utilize it to its fullest extent,” Finley said.
Both said the emphasis on food was a natural progression based on the character of Charlottesville and the success of Tom Tom in years past.
“You can look at [food] from a business angle, you can look at it from an eating angle, from producing, so I think our programming really touches on all of those aspects,” Spain said. “It’s something where we want to celebrate the food itself, but we also want to celebrate the people who prepare it and the people who grow it.”
The food-related events are meant to foster a sense of community and appreciation for the abundance of quality local food in the area. For those with a serious interest in the food industry, Tom Tom is also hosting a Food Business Summit.
“There are lots of different people who have started their food-related businesses here, so it’s an educational event,” Spain said. “We’ll have morning sessions geared to those just thinking about a food business here. [During] the afternoon session we’ll have some more established businesses in the area like Hudson Henry [Baking Company] and Caromont Farm.”
The Iron Chef Competition will bring some excitement to the third Farmer’s Market of the year.
“We’re utilizing the Saturday Farmer’s Market for our Iron Chef competition. The theme is salty versus sweet, and they’re going to have to use all local ingredients and make the dish in some crazy amount of time,” Finley said. “Once again, we are trying to highlight the chefs and those connections.”
Finley’s main project was organizing the Craft Cocktail Competition. The competition features twelve mixologists who have been challenged to create a special “Tom Tom” cocktail.
“It has to feature at least one local Virginia ingredient, and there will be online voting so that people can vote for their favorite cocktail, and we’ll announce that at the end of the week,” Spain said.
Finley has high hopes for engaging University students with all facets of Tom Tom and believes the increased food programming may bring more students to the festival.
“It’s all about exposing what we have and letting the student take that leap into Downtown and that extra step away from a University setting to really jumpstart a wonderful food experience, nutritional experience [and] educational experience,” Finley said.
While Charlottesville’s local food lovers support Tom Tom’s increased focus on food, the festival draws attendees from across the country.
“I think our attendance numbers last year were around 26,000 people, and that many people in town is a good opportunity to come to the Founders Summit and then to enjoy a farm-to-table dinner that night too,” Spain said. “For as many people as we do reach, I know there are many more who would be interested in food programming, and so we’re looking for new ways to get other networks hooked in.”
As the festival continues its to grow in popularity, Finley hopes this focus on food will both benefit from and boost the event’s positive reputation.
“If they could get a renowned chef or food entrepreneur to [come to] Charlottesville to include in their innovative talk, that would be amazing,” Finley said. “Bringing the national food scene to Charlottesville would be completely out of this world.”