By Debbie Gardner
WEST SPRINGFIELD John Weiss of Ormsby Insurance had already sampled kielbasa from The Runway and B'Shara's Catering, jambalaya from S'Capades and pulled pork from The Ultimate BBQ when Reminder Publications caught up with him at this year's West Side's Taste of the Valley Chef's Preview on May 30.
One of the nearly 200 guests invited to taste-test the cuisine from 10 restaurants and vendors at the Rotary Club of West Springfield's annual pre-Taste gathering at the Springfield Country Club, Weiss rated this year's chefs' offerings "very good."
Stephen Lang, Rotary member in charge of organizing the food and vendors for this year's event, said visitors to the 13th annual Taste which will take place from June 7 to 10 on the West Springfield Town Green would have at least 14 restaurants and food stations from which to choose. The establishments will include returning favorites offering everything from pad thai and crepes to hamburgers and hot dogs, as well as restaurants that have never been at the Taste before.
"We have Villa Napoletana [coming] from East Longmeadow, S'Capades from downtown Springfield that's the jambalaya I'm eating right now Mama Iguana's they're not here today, but will be at the Taste and Edible Arrangements of West Springfield," Lang said of the newcomers.
As always, food purchases at the Taste will be cash only, with beverages by ticket only, available at the event ticket booth.
Hours at the Taste are June 7 from 4 to 9 p.m., June 8 from 4 to 11 p.m., and June 9 from 1 to 11 p.m. and June 10 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Luke D. Kettles, senior vice president, Chicopee Savings Bank, this year's Taste sponsor, noted the four-day festival is "a great way to kick off the summer."
But food is only part of what draws people to the Rotary's premiere annual event.
"It's inexpensive entertainment for the whole family," George Condon III, District 3 town councilor and the Rotary's Taste chairman, said. "There's live music at no charge, a carnival, a petting zoo, a BMX show [on June 7], and the car show on [June 9], weather permitting."
The musical acts kick off with Sweet Daddy Cool Breeze in the band shell from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on June 7.
On June 8, the band shell will feature Disorderly Conduct from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. and Bon Jersey from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m., with Merrick Section performing in the gazebo from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
On June 9, Jimmy Mazz takes the stage in the gazebo from 1 to 3 p.m., followed by Scrap Iron Sun from 6 to 8 p.m. The band shell will feature 94th Army Rock Band from 4 to 5 p.m. and Draw the Line from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m.
The Taste will close on June 10 with City View in the band shell from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the Susan Angeletti Band performing from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Good Acoustics will perform that day from 1 to 3 p.m. in the gazebo.
The BMX bike show will take place on June 7 from 4 to 7 p.m., and the Taste's 11th annual Saturday Cruise Car Show will be on June 9 from 1 to 5 p.m.
Rotarian and Cruise organizer George Kelly said on years the Taste has experienced good weather, as many as 80 classic cars have entered the Cruise to compete for Best in Show, as well as first, second and third prize. So far this year, Kelly said the area's Model A Club has committed to the Cruise, as well as one of the local sports car clubs.
"They sign up on site," Kelly said of most entries. "If we have a sunny day, we should have a great show."
Rain date for the Cruise Car Show is June 10.
The Taste will start its last day with a bang, as runners take to the streets for the third annual West Side's Taste of the Valley 5K Road Race. Lang, who also chairs this event, said by May 30, 80 runners had signed up to participate.
"We expect 200 by race day," he said, adding on-site sign ups begin at 8 a.m. on June 10, with the 3.1 mile race start slated for 10 a.m. The entry fee is $20 pre-race, $25 on race day. All participants receive a free T-shirt and Taste food coupon.
"It's a nice race," Lang said. "It starts at the Taste [grounds] and ends inside the Taste when bands will be playing and the rest of the Taste will be opening."
Online race registration along with more information about the Taste's restaurant offerings, music, kids entertainment and shows is available at www.westsidetaste.com.
Proceeds from the race, and post-expenses profit from the Taste itself, will go to fund charities supported by the Rotary.
"People should remember that all the money we net goes to charitable works of the Rotary both locally, regionally, nationally and internationally," Rotary President Simon Brighenti said.
Condon said in specific, a portion of this year's Taste proceeds would be earmarked for the Rotary's spring and fall grants to charitable organizations.
"The grants can cover anything from Boys & Girls Club programs to Senior Center programs to the food pantry, whatever charities apply [are considered]," Condon said.
Noreen Tassinari, Rotary Board member and publicity chair for the Taste, praised the synergy between the town of West Springfield and the Rotary for the longevity of the Taste which is now the only event of its kind in the area.
"I think people really enjoy this kind of event," she said. "The Rotarians work very closely with the town of West Springfield to produce [it]."
Brighenti praised the town's new mayor, Gregory Neffinger for "continuing to support the event."
He also said, if the weather cooperates and gives the Taste four good days this year something the event hasn't experienced in some time the Rotary should have "a home run" with number 13.
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