People were packed like sardines Sunday night in the Library Ballroom on Mulberry Street.
Better make that gourmet sardines, served with extra virgin olive oil and imported capers.
That’s because they were there for the fourth annual Foodie Awards, a home-cooked event that keeps growing like dough with extra yeast.
Tables were set with delicacies provided by locally owned restaurants — canapes from Grits Cafe, cheese balls from Jeneane’s Cafe, Thai chicken salad in egg roll wrapper bowl from Michael’s on Mulberry and much more.
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The buffet at the ballroom was just an appetizer before the main event, to take place across the street at The Grand Opera House. There the Foodies were presented for categories such as Asian Cuisine, Lunch Spot and Best Wait Staff. Winners received a statuette that resembles an Oscar, except that the figure wears a chef’s uniform complete with a tall pleated toque on its head.
By the time the program began shortly after 6 p.m., the main level of The Grand was packed and the balcony was getting there. This was on a night with a severe storm warning, a Willie Nelson concert a few blocks over and NFL playoff games on television. Tickets were $25.
The food and the awards might have accounted for the big turnout, but there was another draw — the promise of another spectacular stage production starring 13 WMAZ meteorologist Ben Jones, who has hosted the awards since they began.
When the curtain went up, the crowd was treated to the sound of thumping dance music and the sight of Jones in a flight suit, busting hip-hop dance moves with 60-plus young dancers choreographed by Pilar Wilder of Hayiya Dance Theatre.
“We pulled it off!” Jones announced when the music stopped. “I can’t believe it!”
The recipe for the Foodies was whipped up by the staff of M Food & Culture, a monthly Macon-based magazine founded in 2005.
M Food & Culture Editor-in-Chief Gary Schechterle discussed the history of the Foodies on Sunday afternoon as he raced across downtown Macon to fetch platters of food and bottles of champagne for the big event.
“The Foodies started as a party for the independent restaurants,” Schechterle said. “They were some of the hardest-working people we’ve ever known. And we just wanted to celebrate them. We had a magazine that was devoted to them, and we thought we could get together and give each other a pat in the back and have a party. And word got out. We had it at the Douglass Theatre the first year and we had to turn away most of the public because it was sort of an industry party.”
“The second year we thought if we charged money we would kind of lose that non-restaurant appeal, because people love free, and nobody’s going to come if it’s not free,” Schechterle said. “Basically, not only did everyone come, they came even when we told them it was sold out. We had probably 150 people crashing the gate, so we had over 450 people in the Douglass and it only holds 340. So we said, OK, we gotta move somewhere.”
Last year, the Foodies were held at The Grand Opera House for the first time. Schechterle said 850 people came. He didn’t have numbers for last night’s show, but he said it looked like it was even more.
The Foodies are a fairly glitzy event. Everybody was dressed to eat, but many were dressed to kill as well. Some women wore backless dresses, many others wore stiletto heels. One gentleman wore a kilt.
“It’s a good event to get dressed up for,” said Ashley Wolfe of Warner Robins, who had come to her first Foodies with three friends to celebrate her 23rd birthday.
Wolfe, a Macon State College student who works as a server at Johnny Carino’s Italian restaurant in Warner Robins, said she heard about the event from a friend, who read about it in M Food & Culture.
“The food is awesome,” She said. “The best was probably the chocolate fondue, but I also liked the red tomato pasta. They should have told you the name of the dish so when you go to the restaurant you know what to order.”
Fox 24 anchor Portia Lake attended the Foodies with a date, Curtis Kelly of Atlanta.
“I think it’s great to have an event in Macon like this,” said Lake, who has been a presenter at the show every year since its beginning. “I’m glad I get a chance to show off Macon. ... It gets bigger all the time, and the crowd is getting younger and more diverse.”