Feast – a bumper annual weekend of dinners and other foodie inspired events - has previously been the superstar of Waikato Food Inc’s culinary calendar but it will not go ahead next year.
WFI board chair Sarah Turpitt says the organisation needs to make the best use of its limited resources. With the challenges of the global Covid pandemic, she says there is currently too much uncertainty around funding and running big programmes such as Feast.
Waikato Food Inc - established nine years ago - is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to raise the profile and calibre of Waikato food and hospitality. Turpitt says the key to WFI’s success is supporting its members and promoting the Waikato as a great place to live, work, play and eat. “Removing Feast – which requires huge commitments of time, energy and funding – will give us greater ability and flexibility to do this.”
WFI’s programme – or banquet – for 2022 will include the Matariki Dish Challenge, Meyer Melt Challenge. It also runs FermentFest (celebrating local artisans who use fermentation in products) and has added the Celebrate Waikato Dinner to its line-up (planned this for month, October 28).
Behind the scenes, WFI works on a number of industry projects including a mental health support programme and a producers’ collective as well as the release of their local dining guide, Eat Waikato.
“We have a lot on our plate” says Julia Clarke, WFI Projects and Events Manager. “While Feast Waikato was a great idea four years ago, putting all our resources into one event is now too risky. We want to ensure the longevity of our organisation. We are focused on providing exciting, uniquely Waikato events for our region, things that appeal to loyal local people as well as attracting visitors from other areas.”
Vicki Ravlich-Horan, one of the organisation’s founders, says WFI was established at a time when the region had neither a tourism board nor an economic development agency. She says the focus at the beginning was on building pride in the Waikato, and this is still WFI’s core business. “Instead of one massive weekend to put the Waikato on the map, we want to offer awesome events and initiatives throughout the year.”
A few of the successful functions from Feast Waikato, including the Vetro Italian Festival and the CBD Progressive Dinner, are planned to become stand-alone events.
“These are tough times for our sector,” Julia Clarke says. “So, our focus right now must be on how we can continue to help our members, and make supporting local a badge of honour, not just a hashtag.”