Savor Dallas: International Grand Tasting Diary

From intrepid reporter and Savor Dallas volunteer, Lisa Petty.

This was the weekend we’ve all been waiting for.
Savor Dallas, our much-anticipated annual upscale food and wine extravaganza took place last weekend at venues across the city. The event, celebrating its fifth birthday this year, featured two days of gourmet goings-on, culminating in the International Grand Tasting Saturday night at the Plaza of the Americas and Westin City Center Hotel downtown. (Jump for full report and great photos.)

Founded in 2004 by Vicki Briley-White and radio personality Jim White, Savor Dallas gives food lovers a taste of the area’s top restaurants and fills their glasses with fine wines, while raising funds to help support a number of local causes. This year’s International Grand Tasting included “three stunning levels of great chefs, premium wines, top shelf cocktails and imported beers”, according to the Savor Dallas website. But words can hardly do it justice.

This was my first year to attend the Grand Tasting, and never one to start small, I dove right in to get a first-hand look at everything that goes into preparing for this event. My experience began bright and early Saturday morning as part of the volunteer set-up crew and continued on into an evening this wine girl won’t soon forget.

Part I: Behind the Scenes

9:45 a.m. – It’s first thing in the morning (for a Saturday, anyway) and the Plaza is just waking up. I arrive and meet up with the rest of the large team of volunteers to go over our assignments. With a call of “Let’s hit it!”, volunteer lead Michael Dickenson charges us to begin our day of set-up, wine distribution, decoration and organization.
10:06 a.m. – In the Plaza Ballroom, we work alongside Jim Davoli of Andrews Distributing. He’s setting up what will later become one of the most popular stops of the evening!

10:22 a.m. – My crew runs into founder Jim White in the elevator while transporting wine. He’s working hard in set-up mode himself.

12:46 p.m. – After a quick lunch break, I shift gears. The afternoon is spent helping organize items for the Silent Auction, benefitting the North Texas Food Bank.
3:00 p.m. – I head home to get ready for the evening – but it’s been quite a day already! Volunteer Coordinator Lesa Russo estimates that over the course of the weekend, 175 volunteers (including the trio above) will put in over 1,000 man hours to help make Savor Dallas happen.

Part II: International Grand Tasting
6:59 p.m. – Even as the clock strikes seven, the event is bustling. Early guests are criss-crossing walkways and piling onto escalators, tasting glasses and plates at the ready. Chefs in whites are preparing dozens of stations, and if you listen closely, you can hear the first of hundreds of corks popping. I’m more than a little excited – and hungry! I enter with my husband and we plot our route, beginning with a tour of the lower-level Tasting Lounge.
7:11 p.m. – We sample our first dish, a silken escolar from Dallas Fish Market. It pairs beautifully with our first wine, Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc.

7:15 p.m. – Chef Jason Weaver of the French Room presents Smoked Salmon and Crabmeat with Pineapple and Vanilla Soup. We sit down to savor the unexpected and perfectly balanced flavors of what proves to be our favorite dish of the evening.

7:28 p.m. – I snap a pic of Iron Chef Challenger and James Beard Award nominee David Bull of Bolla clowning for the camera with a member of his crew. Most of the chefs tonight seem to be having as much fun as the guests!

7:40 p.m. – More wine tasting. Over the course of the evening, we sample wines from Fetzer, Red Rock and Black Oak, among others. Red Rock Merlot stands out as a find.
7:50 p.m. – I meet a new friend while taking a break. Jodi Lawrence is attending her third Grand Tasting this year. “I always have fun here,” she explains, but observes that the event was a little easier to navigate when it was held at the Hilton Anatole in years past. While I mingle, my hubby samples pork belly from Chef Eric Brandt of the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek.

8:07 p.m. – Dallas favorite Dunia Borga of La Duni and Aló tempted guests with slices of her signature Cuatro Leches Cake.

8:23 p.m. – We head upstairs to the 3rd Floor, where a band plays opposite the Silent Auction tables and Ballroom. The crowd is beginning to hum!
8:25 p.m. – In the Plaza Ballroom, two smiling representatives of Tart Pastry Boutique & Studio offer sinful treats. They do not have to twist our arms.

8:35 p.m. – I sit down for a minute and attempt to make sense of my notes. (See 7:40 p.m.)
9:07 p.m. – We swing by the Ben E. Keith Beer Garden and sample (in rapid succession) Widmer Hefeweizen, Drop Top Amber Ale and Kona Brewing Co.’s Fire Rock Pale Ale. Whew!
9:21 p.m. – With less than an hour left to go, the event is still in full swing.

10:30 p.m. – Following a brief stop at the after party, a generous thank-you shindig for chefs and volunteers, we head home. I’m exhausted, but thrilled by the experiences I’ve had over the course of the day. Seeing what went into preparing for the International Grand Tasting left me with a unique appreciation of this event. I’ll definitely be back to Savor Dallas next year – and I may actually be hungry again by then!


  • Wow! Look at all those people. I’m sure it was fun. Maybe next year…

  • Bravo! Very nice, Lisa! Thank you for participating. It was a pleasure to meet you! Maybe next year I’ll eat or drink something DURING the event!!

    Michael Dickenson

  • Lisa, Thanks. Glad you enjoyed the experience; both as a volunteer and a patron! Great photos! Hope to see you next year. But don’t give up your day job! I enjoy your writing.

  • B. J. Foley

    Lisa, lovely article by my favorite writer!
    Made me want to have been there. Great job!