With perfect weather and enthusiastic diners, the fourth annual Taste of Wilson County was well received and attended.
Held Thursday evening at the Wilson Bank & Trust Main Branch on West Main Street, large crowds moved around the venue tasting some of the best fare the county has to offer.
Breakfast will be optional for a lot of people Friday morning, at least for the people who attended the event. Hundreds of people strolled from booth to booth sampling wears from restaurants, catering companies and local stores.
Guests had the opportunity to mingle with local chefs, sample some of the area’s best food, with all the culinary offerings from more than 30 area vendors included in the ticket price. But food wasn't the only highlight of the event. Vendors were out selling their wares and free samples were available.
Sue Vanatta, president of the Lebanon-Wilson County Chamber of Commerce, was busy taking photos.
"So far it's excellent," she said as the event started. "We have more vendors this year and a better layout. Everything is more spread out, so everyone has more room to look and to eat."
It's not every day people get to stuff their faces and raise money for worthy causes. Proceeds from the event will benefit Lebanon-Wilson County Chamber’s education programs, including Wilson Books from Birth, Tennessee Scholars, the Teacher Grant Program and area scholarships.
Many Wilson County notables were on hand, including Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto, Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead, and Mt. Juliet City Manager Kenny Martin, who was subbing for Mayor Ed Hagerty. Also grilling were Chef Ron Ballard of WB&T and Chamber of Commerce Chair Chris Crowell.
Hutto and Craighead were competing fiercely as trash talk flew along with some pretty tasty steaks and burgers. Trash talk and flying grill tongs marked the fierce competition between Crowell and Martin. Crowell denied any hard feelings for his grill off opponent, but a fierce competitive gleam was seen in his eyes.
Bruce Mott with Walker Creek Toffee drew a lot of looks as he made the toffee on the spot. He said it was a 50/50 mix of butter and sugar with chopped almonds added.
"It's the best candy you've ever had," Mott said.
Christine Baron, of both Lebanon and Miami, took a bite and declared it "delicious."
State Rep. Mark Pody was there carrying a stuffed cow from the Chick-fil-A booth. He said the cow wasn't for him but would go to one of his 12 grandchildren.
"With 12 I just put it out and see who grabs it," he said.
Rick Smith, president-elect of the Chamber of Commerce, appeared to be too well dressed for the job he was doing - replacing a trash bag in a bin.
"Whatever it takes," he said.
Jewel and Aaron Geiger were seen in the vicinity of the Two Fat Men booth, a favorite with discriminating diners as always.
"We come every year," Jewel said between bites.
Bryce Kelly, 8, of Lebanon, ate a burger and held a piece of cake as he eyed other food booths. He said he was "not too full" to have a bit more.
The grill-off ended with the winner yet to be declared. Craighead, who was outfitted in a complete chef's suit, said while he wasn't much of a cook he tried to dress the part. He and Hutto continued to question each other's skills and ingredients. As there was talk about Watertown Mayor Mike Jennings missing the contest because he was concentrating on willing his beloved Vols to beat Alabama this weekend.
Martin got the last word when he suggested both Craighead and Hutto were "OK with the 10-second rule." But he spoke for everyone when he said Wilson County "is the greatest county in the nation" because of events like the Taste of Wilson County.
As the event wound to a close, the phrase "I'll never eat again" was overheard from several people - as sure signs of success.
Staff writer Mary Hinds may be reached at 615-444-3952, ext. 45 or firstname.lastname@example.org.