Kick off the holiday season at the 2012 Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival

The Fifth Annual Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival is taking place now through November 10th in the Steelcase Ballroom inside DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids. We spoke with Show Producer Henri Boucher to get some details on this exciting, annual pre-holiday event.

Q: Can you tell us about the festival?

A: Drawing more than 12,000 people, it is the largest culinary event in the state and one of the premiere festivals of its kind in the Midwest. Catering to both the connoisseur who lives and breathes for the finer things in life to the novice looking for an introduction to the world of wine, food and other culinary delights, this festival delivers a grand experience that is sure to please every palette.

Q: How did the festival get its start?

A: It was Rich Mackeigan, Executive Director of DeVos Place and Van Andel Arena, who drove the research and asked ShowSpan to partner with the Convention & Arena Authority to create this event, modeled after an event in Rich’s first building in Ottawa, Canada. I went with the research group to Ottawa and came back saying:  “if we do this, it will be the largest food and wine show in the Midwest…,” and it is.

Q: What’s new this year?

A: Expanded beer selection, new restaurants and pairings, more seminars….we are busting at the seams. Big year for hard cider. Cordial and chocolate pairings. Seminars on sushi rolling, olive oil tasting, pairing champagne and potato chips.

Michigan's own Larry Mawby has been with the Grand Rapids Wine, Beer & Food Festival since its first year, serving up his award-winning sparkling wines.

Q: How many wineries participate?

A: More than 100 wineries from around the world provide samples of as many as 1,200 assorted wines – including some hard to find, top shelf vintages. Brewmasters and distillers are also on hand, providing tastes of their hand-crafted beverages.

Chefs from the area’s top restaurants prepare and serve small plates of their culinary specialties.

Select restaurants partner with distinguished wineries and breweries for special pairings – gourmet multicourse meals served on-site in a casual yet intimate “bar top” setting. Tickets are $35-$45 each (in addition to show admission) and may be purchased in advance online or at the Festival on a first-come, first-served basis.

Esteemed individuals from the culinary world host seminars, demonstrations and workshops on the Meijer Food Stage. Free beverage seminars, held classroom style in the breakout rooms off the Grand Gallery, give festival-goers a more in-depth look into the world of wine, beer and spirits.

Complimentary cooking seminars and demonstrations are presented on the Meijer Food Stage, where experts share the latest in food preparation, plating, variety and flavors.

Guests can also get a jump on their holiday shopping at the Riverfront Marketplace, where gourmet specialty items and unique accessories will be available for purchase.

Q: Where do attendees come from – mostly western Michigan, or all over the state? Do you get many out of state visitors?

A: Mostly people come from throughout the state of Michigan. We have a few bus groups that come in from the east side of the state. We’ve had some nice media coverage in Chicago this year, so we’re hoping that generates some interest from the Windy City.

Q: The festival is huge and it can be daunting for first-time attendees to decide where to start. What do you recommend is the best way for people to navigate the show so they can take advantage of all of the offerings?

The Fifth Annual Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival is expected to draw more than 14,000 individuals throughout the three days – making it the largest food and wine festival in the state and one of the premiere events of its kind in the Midwest.

A: We’ve laid out the show program a bit differently this year, so if you are drawn to a specific type of wine (i.e., Pinot Grigio or Riesling) you can search by varietal and find all the wines in that category. You can cross reference also with the winery (or brewery or distillery itself as well). The show floor is “anchored” by the Michigan Wine Section (on the north end of the hall) and the Michigan Craft Beer Hall (to the south). That’s where I’d recommend you start!

Q: Anything you’d recommend as a must-do activity?

A: Sushi rolling with Chef Angus of the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education; the restaurant pairings make great “date night” experiences. On Saturday, there are two champagne flight tastings which will be amazing. There’s really something for everyone, so no matter who is in the group (21+) everyone should have a good time!

Q: How does the show benefit Grand Rapids/Michigan from an economic standpoint?

A: Not only does this show bring in all the exhibitors to Grand Rapids/West Michigan, but it draws 14,000 attendees. Many find their way to area restaurants, bars and clubs after the show lets out each night at 10pm (and certainly the exhibitors do as well…the festival just whets their appetite for more great cuisine and GR has some of the best in the state). Of course, plenty of hotel rooms are booked by exhibitors but also by show attendees who want to increase their festival experience at one of the downtown hotels like the Amway Grand, JW Marriott, Courtyard, City Flats and Holiday Inn. The demographics on the festival attendees include many who recognize the entertainment value of the culinary scene as well.

Q: What does Pure Michigan mean to you?

A: Pure Michigan is a celebration of the sights, sounds and tastes of the region – along with amazing people, places and products!

Show tickets are $15; tasting tickets are $0.50 each. For more information on the event, visit or call 800-328-6550. For tickets, visit here. Follow the festival on Facebook: and Twitter: Will you be (or have you) checked out the Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival? Let us know if the comments below!

Henri Boucher is Vice President and Show Producer at ShowSpan Inc., a Grand Rapids company with more than 65 years of show history in the state of Michigan. Since joining ShowSpan in 1989, Henri has helped take the number of consumer shows and exhibitions produced by the company from six to 15, including Outdoorama, the Michigan International Auto Show and the Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival. He enjoys fishing, boating and spending time with his family and friends at his summer cottage in Northwest Michigan.

Checking Out The Cooks’ House

Servers make diners feel like guests at the Cooks' House

On assignment for Michigan Travel Ideas, Kevin Miyazaki shares his experience photographing The Cooks’ House, a cozy restaurant with a focus on local, sustainable foods.

The Traverse City area takes its food and drink seriously, which is why it’s one of my favorite places in the whole country. The Cooks’ House is a perfect example of why I’m drawn to this part of the state. ­The restaurant combines fresh, local ingredients to create eye-catching dishes that please the palate and support the community.

Two years ago, chefs Eric Patterson and Jeremy Heisey allowed me to shoot in the kitchen of their original location, which meant squeezing myself between the stove and the sink. Empty plates, the aftermath of satisfied diners, were passed under my nose to a hardworking dishwasher.

The laid back, yet sophisticated bar at the Cooks' House restaurant in Traverse City

This trip, I’m going to shoot at their new location, just across the street from where I had my first encounter with their artful food. As I walk inside, I realize it’s not too much larger. Chef and co-owner Jennifer Blakeslee secures me a prime spot at the bar. From here, I take in the activity in the kitchen and the busy dining area, where there’s a nice buzz. The crowd is sophisticated but casual. I chat with a couple of serious foodies from Columbus, Ohio. They have heard good things about The Cooks’ House.

I can see (and smell) the reason for the rave reviews as I photograph entrees before servers sweep them away to hungry guests. A simple but popular arugula salad of caramelized onions, candied pumpkin seeds and goat cheese catches my eye.

Walleye with garlic scapes, bok choy, wild lambs quarters and Brownwood Farms creamy mustard vinaigrette.

Another server walks by bearing a plate of walleye with garlic scapes, bok choy, wild lamb’s quarters and Brownwood Farms creamy mustard vinaigrette that smells as delicious as it sounds. And my favorite thing to shoot: hand-cut pasta with smoked whitefish, snap peas and nasturtium flowers. The composition and delicate flower petals scattered across the plate draw my attention. Plus, I’m a fan of anything with homemade pasta. I soon realize that I won’t be able to leave without buying dinner.

As I shoot, I enjoy talking with the amicable staff. One of the line cooks is doing fantastic work, and it turns out he was the aforementioned dishwasher from my last visit. We joke about our previous close encounter. The sommelier joins the conversation, and we start talking about Sauvignon Blancs, a recent favorite of mine. She suggests a Semillon, a dry and sweet white wine.

The chefs prepare a meal of hand cut pasta with smoked whitefish, snap peas and nasturtium flowers.

I can almost taste the smooth, crisp wine. I’m convinced. I opt to occupy my bar perch a bit longer and taste one of the dishes I’ve seen and smelled all evening. The chefs prepare my meal of the pasta and arugula salad. I officially call it a night by pairing my food with a cool glass of the recommended Semillon.

Kevin J. Miyazaki is a Midwest-based magazine photographer. His food and restaurant photographs have appeared in Michigan Travel Ideas, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Midwest Living and Travel + Leisure.