Food + Wine Festival highlights foundation’s efforts to promote culinary community

Rick Mauch | Fort Worth Business Press

The Fort Worth Food + Wine Foundation (FWFWF) is celebrating a decade of existence this year and once again the highlight will be the eighth Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival to be held April 4-7 at the Heart of the Ranch at Clearfork.

There was no festival in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that two-year absence from the popular event didn’t stop the foundation from doing what it was created to do.

The nonprofit FWFWF was born out of a simple, yet powerful idea: foster, celebrate and sustain Fort Worth’s food, beverage, and hospitality community. It was the brainchild of Russell Kirkpatrick and Mike Micallef in 2012 as they sparked the flame, gathering like-minded individuals to launch a festival that would showcase the best of Fort Worth’s food and beverage offerings.

“Over the years, many amazing and passionate individuals across the culinary industry have volunteered their time, sweat, and creativity to ensure the foundation continues to grow and thrive,” said Richard King, FWFWF Board Chair and Co-Owner/General Manager of Ellerbe Fine Foods.

The foundation’s main accomplishments over the past decade include hosting iconic events like Burgers, Blues + Brews, along with fostering a robust volunteer network contributing over 1,500 hours annually. The foundation has expanded its reach, growing from hosting 134 participants in its inaugural year to 210 food, beverage, and sponsorship participants in the 2024 festival.

“Additionally, our commitment to sustainability and culinary education, exemplified through the CRAFT Conference: Career Conference for the Next Generation of Hospitality Leaders has impacted over 1,000 local high-schoolers, leaving a lasting impression on Fort Worth’s culinary community,” King said.

The Fort Worth Food + Wine Foundation looks after the future of culinary excellence in the city by awarding scholarships to youngsters seeking to enter the profession. Over their existence, they have awarded more than 20 scholarships and raised more than $325,000 in grants.

“We’re shaping the future of the culinary industry one student at a time,” King said.

With the festival being a nonprofit event, it is made up mostly of volunteers dedicated to giving back to the culinary community. Since the festival’s founding, the main goal has been cultivating the next generation of Fort Worth chefs and restaurateurs, with the festival providing funds for the aforementioned scholarships.

King said the festival has been pivotal in the foundation’s accomplishments, providing a platform to showcase more than 1,100 food and beverage participants over the past decade.

“From iconic events like Burgers, Blues + Brews to intimate chef-driven dinners, FWFWF continues to captivate audiences and elevate Fort Worth’s culinary reputation across the nation,” he said.

At its January Beyond Border event, the FWFWF paid tribute to Kirkpatrick for his 10 years of service. As a tribute to his contributions, the foundation unveiled The Kirkpatrick Visionary Award, which will acknowledge innovative concepts in the Fort Worth culinary industry.

The first recipient of the award will be announced in conjunction with the 2024 Night Market in the Fall.

The foundation unveiled the chef lineup for the Main Event, the second and third days of the festival on April 5-6. The Main Event has become known for providing attendees with a true celebration of tastes and talents, from seasoned veterans to emerging stars.

“As we celebrate the Foundation’s 10th year, I’m thrilled to share these amazing chefs and beverage providers for The Main Event,” Festival Executive Director Julie Eastman said. “Each participant adds their own special touch to the festival, creating an unforgettable experience for food and wine lovers. We’re excited to bring our supporters a delicious gathering at the FWFWF, filled with culinary delights and memorable moments.”

The list includes:

Zach Garner, Barley
John Piccolino, B&B Butchers & Restaurant
Chris Boydston, Bob’s Steak & Chop House – Fort Worth
Jon Bonnell, Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine
Antonio Votta, Bricks and Horses at Bowie House
Molly McCook, Ellerbe Fine Foods
Ben Merritt, Fitzgerald
Greg Pawlowski, iL Modo
Charlie Atkinson, Local Foods Kitchen
Braden Wages, Malai Kitchen
Kari Seher, Melt Ice Creams
Michael S. Thomson, Michael’s Cuisine Restaurant & Bar
Tom Perini, Perini Ranch Steakhouse
Jake Morgan, Plank Seafood Provisions
George Ortega, Quince Riverside
Hector Marquez, Reata Restaurant
Lindsey Lawing, Sweet Lucy’s Pies
Patrick Ru, Teddy Wongs
Christian Lehrmann, Tinie’s Mexican Cuisine
Gabriel DeLeon, Winewood Grill
Stefon Rishel, Wishbone & Flynt
Stephen Pyles, The Seeker

Looking ahead, King said the foundation is committed to strengthening sustainable practices, doubling the number of students impacted by the CRAFT conference to empower culinary education, and continuing to support the local culinary and hospitality community.

With initiatives like the Chef Stipend Fund and Restaurant Employee Relief Fund, which support employees experiencing extreme hardship, alongside The Kirkpatrick Visionary Award, King said the foundation is ensuring that the spirit of hospitality and innovation thrives even in challenging times.

“As we enter our second decade, the significance of FWFWF cannot be overstated,” he said. “We’re not just throwing a party – we’re building a stronger, more vibrant culinary community for generations to come. The future is bright, and we’re excited to continue this delicious journey together.”