The crew of chefs for the 2016 Bourbon & Bowties. | Photo courtesy of Jamie Rhodes and Norton Healthcare

If you’ve never been to Bourbon & Bowties and are fond of the city’s best food and Kentucky liquor, make it a bucket list item. It’s that good.

The annual fundraiser for Kosair Children’s Hospital is held at Corbett’s: An American Place, and features food from 41 restaurants around Louisville and the Bluegrass. The collection of chefs at that one place June 9 made me wonder who was leading Kentucky’s top kitchens. It was an unparalleled core of talent.

A few things that struck me about this year’s event:

The Size: In the past, B&B has hosted 800 people. This year it was 1,200. It used to take weeks, then days to sell all 800 tickets at $125 a pop. Last year it took 2 hours. This year, 1,200 were sold online in 29 minutes. That’s high demand. (Late word is the official tally was 1,400 people. Perhaps those are the people who “know a guy who knows a gal” or something like that.)

The Scale: Past events saw guests swallow up the parking lots at Corbett’s and Costco, located directly behind it. This year cars filled about half the massive greenspace center of Brownsboro Crossings. That left more space on Corbett’s lot to add more tents for restaurants and bars and absorb the throng.

Having some fun at the Four Roses booth are Dan Gardner, Aaron Levitch, Jerry Zegart and Brent Elliott. | Photo by Steve Coomes
Having some fun at the Four Roses booth are Dan Gardner, Aaron Levitch, Jerry Zegart and Brent Elliott. | Photo by Steve Coomes

Such scale brought to mind what I’ve written many times: Bourbon and Bowties is, at the very least, the model for starting a larger Louisville food and bourbon festival. Here you have independent business owners volunteering to make the city’s coolest food and drink event happen. But after nearly three years, Mayor Greg Fisher’s bourbon and food festival task force hasn’t made any progress toward such a feat.

If that event ever happens, it’ll happen with private businesses driving it.

The Volunteers: I’ve known Porcini executive chef, John Plymale, for 33 years; we cooked together at Sixth Avenue in the early ‘80s and we later were roommates. So despite his 53-year-old baby face, I can see the signs of age in my good friend. Yet, there he was—a married father of two, who not only works 60-hour weeks routinely and tends a multi-acre vegetable garden that helps supply Porcini during the summer—smiling and serving guests. I was humbled by that and struck each and every time I came across another veteran chef I saw working the event. These people toil daily and volunteer tirelessly. They deserve our praise and thanks.

Outside of the chefs are many more folks who, believe it or not, pay for their own tickets to this event. Not many charities have such selfless boards who insist on never taking a cent from their event.

Corbett’s owner, Dean Corbett, not only closes his restaurant to host the event, he pays his staff to work it. So he loses a day’s sales and he pays his gang to work. That’s a generous dude. His mantra: “It’s all about those kids,” meaning those helped by Kosair.

The Sights: B&B is rapidly becoming a serious dress-up event. No, not any massive hats or

Me with my old friend, John Plymale. | Photo by Rick Redding
I and my old friend, John Plymale. | Photo by Rick Redding

goofy Derby Day suits, but really cool summer clothing. Begin that I’m light years behind most couture trends, I wasn’t part of that dazzling vista. But if you’re into people watching and seeing the latest dandy duds, it’s a feast for the eyes.

The Food & Drink: Forty-one of the town’s top chefs prepared 600 portions each of everything imaginable. And though there’s no actual culinary competition, each wants his or her food to be the best remembered, so you can imagine it’s spectacular.

The list of bourbon sponsors is long, so I’ll not bore you with the list, but know that some 500 bottles of it was consumed for the event. That’s on the rocks, neat and in cocktails. Though our state taxes the hell out of its bourbon distilleries, those distilleries remain amazingly generous.

The Funds Raised: I don’t have an official number, but I believe that funds raised over B&B’s previous six years have exceeded $1 million. This year’s number from from ticket sales and auctions will come in at about $200,000. Amazing.

Next Year: It’s tough getting tickets to this thing when they sell out so quickly. My hunch is that given the success of this year’s 50 percent expansion might lead organizers to consider adding tickets next year. Dunno, just a guess. If so, set a calendar reminder to logon to the Kosair website next year and get your mouse trigger finger ready! You don’t want to miss another one.

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