The price to taste Madison’s best

Chefs, restaurant heads spend time and money to bring dishes to the square
The price to taste Madison’s best

For the chefs, the weather and timing couldn’t have been much better.

The temperature was bearable compared to what the tasters had experienced in other Madison summers. The first Badger football game of the year kicked off in the morning, bringing even more potential customers to town.

It was the scene Taste of Madison organizers would write up if they could, and they had 90 restaurants to share it with. Twenty of those restaurants are new to the Labor Day weekend event this year. Those numbers help to make this year’s the biggest Taste of Madison to date.

The Tipsy Cow was one of those restaurants, joined under the same tent by Lombardino’s catering. Chef Bob Kulow works for both companies and said his team likes the change of scenery.

“The favorite part is just getting outside and not doing the same normal day-to-day restaurant business,” Kulow said.

However, getting a spot on the square for the weekend comes at a price. Kulow estimated his cooks would put in about 45 hours of work from Friday to Sunday, but he said it’s worth it to get their food out there.

“It’s a good way to get your name out there, and you know, just kind of meet people, talk to people, and we get to interact,” Kulow said. “A lot of people come up to us and talk to us and ask us what we’re doing and tips for cooking at home. It’s just good exposure for people in the restaurant business and food in general.”

Tara Tip with Sa-Bai Thong had a couple dozen people dishing out Pad Thai and other sampler plates. She said the tents alone cost $800 a piece, and she didn’t expect the event to bring in more than a couple thousand at best.

Tip said she just wants people to open their minds and mouths to try new things during the Taste of Madison, which hopefully will bring new customers to her restaurant.

“I want people to try and enjoy Thai food and know about Thai food,” Tip said. “People never try, are scared to eat Thai food.  And we try to decorate and everything. Let people know, oh, I want to try something.”

Tip said with the vast number of food festivals in town, she limits her participation.

“Only one per year is enough for us,” Tip said.

Taste of Madison marketing director Scott Smith said the demand for spots on the square has grown so much that the application process is no longer just first come, first serve for restaurants. The event organizers are able to more carefully choose what vendors make the cut to ensure there isn’t too much of one kind of food being sold, Smith said.

“The popularity of the event has allowed us as an organization to be a little pickier and to kind of choose what we think the guests want to see,” Smith said.

Luckily, Smith said all of the restaurants that wanted to participate this year were given that opportunity.

Taste of Madison will run from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.  Click here for more information.