Dedham Rotary Club president Tanya Taddeo said she remembers over 10 years ago when the rotary’s charity event used to consist mainly of an auction and raffles, with a little buffet table of food on the side.
Soon, the buffet table got bigger and bigger until the food component of the event became the main attraction.
“There were restaurants with donations, wanting to give food for the event, and it really took a life of its own,” she said. “It turned from an auction with food, to a food tasting with an auction on the side. It’s over the top now.”
The annual Taste Dedham fund-raiser event will present a montage of flavors and styles of cooking this Thursday at Moseley’s on the Charles, where 31 restaurants from Dedham and surrounding neighborhoods get the chance to present dishes to food lovers and potential customers.
Restaurants participating in the event display the growing diversity of dining options in the area, ranging from big chains that have set up at Legacy Place off I-128 to family-owned restaurants, and well-established eateries in Dedham Square, West Roxbury, and Norwood. Among the participants are Jasper White’s Summer Shack, Corrib Pub Restaurant, Himalayan Bistro, and Village Manor.
New this year is a cook-off event between two local Italian chefs, Vinny Marino of the Brickhouse Cafe and Giuseppe “Joe” Musto of Vincenzo’s Italian Deli, both based in Dedham. New England Cable News meteorologist Nelly Carreno will cook alongside Marino, while TableCritic Inc. event director Carol O’Connor will cook with Musto.
“It will attract new guests and new restaurants,” said O’Connor. “The cook-off will add excitement. There’s only so much food people can eat, so we have to keep them entertained.”
O’Connor, who was hired by the Rotary Club to rebrand and market the food-tasting event, said she expects around 500 attendees due to the addition of more restaurants this year. She also said the event has become more successful after the opening of Legacy Place in 2009, which houses big-name restaurants and chains.
“Before, you had Dedham Square restaurants,” she said. “Isabella [Restaurant] was the crème de la crème. There were unique chefs with different dishes. Legacy Place came about, and newer restaurants came into the area.”
While the tasting gives a chance for smaller businesses in Dedham to showcase items on their menus alongside bigger restaurants, O’Connor said some of them are not able to participate due to the volume of customers, which is why restaurants from Norwood and West Roxbury are able to get spots in the event.
But Marino said that of all the restaurants and businesses he has started and managed since 1967, he has never had a better clientele than at his Dedham restaurant.
“I can go any day and sit down, shoot the breeze with them,” he said. “I come here at night and people ask me how I can work two jobs. I say, ‘Because it’s not work.’ It’s a phenomenal community.”
Despite a lot of known chain restaurants coming to the area with the opening of Legacy Place, Marino said it actually might have helped him rather than hurt his business. He said people sometimes shy away from going to a chain and prefer a smaller, intimate eatery.
At his restaurant, food is cooked to order and customers are able to talk to the owners — something that people are “not going to get in a chain, which is too big and probably can’t do that.”
Musto, who has lived in Dedham since moving from Italy, said he saw a need for authentic Italian food in Dedham Square and decided to open a deli in 2011 that serves lunch and does catering. He said he sees a lot of business as a small restaurant, which is located close to routes 95, 128, and 1.
“For myself, it’s always better to go to a small, family-owned restaurant,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better than that. There’s more authentic food in a small place than [at] a chain, but some chains are good, depending on where you go.”
Musto said with the addition of Legacy Place, Dedham has a diverse selection of foods.
Yard House, which has locations all over the country and features American fusion dishes, has participated in Taste Dedham as a Legacy Place restaurant for the past two years. General manager Jane Bowie said while her staff is still working on the menu for the tasting, the restaurant wants to appeal to a broad group of diners.
“Especially with Legacy Place in the area, and between the restaurants we already had, Dedham is the place to go for food,” said Taddeo. “We know the event is top-notch. Everyone who goes raves about it. Once they go, they will not be disappointed.”
Proceeds from the event will go toward college scholarships, youth sports, police and fire departments, enrichment programs, the Dedham Food Pantry, and international charities such as Habitat for Humanity.Nicole Leonard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @NicALeonard.