SUMMIT, NJ - Friday night, residents of Summit and the surrounding area were wining and dining as they attended the fourth annual Summit Wine and Food Festival. Hundreds of people went to the event, sampled different kinds of wine and ate delicious gourmet food.

The festivities kicked off last night with the International Gala Tasting where several restaurants and wine sommeliers did their best to please people’s palates.

One of the major sponsors of the Festival is the Wine List of Summit, which is owned by Ivan Ruiz. Ruiz, the founder and executive director of the Festival, said it’s an exciting weekend. This year unlike ones in the past, they are also bringing the festival into downtown Summit, holding events at the Wine List and the Bombay Bistro.

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“We started because there was a need for something exciting in Summit,” Ruiz said.

Four years ago, there were 22 vacant stores downtown and that was quite depressing, he said. He hopes that each year the festival brings excitement and more businesses to the community, Ruiz said.

The Grand Summit Hotel is an excellent venue for the event, Ruiz said, adding that he had his first job there as a busboy. He said some highlights of the Festival are the tastings Friday and Saturday with 15 different chefs and 90 different types of wine to sample, a drink mixologist seminar and Daisy Martinez from the Food Network will be doing a cooking presentation.  

One person who played a major role in helping Ruiz prepare for the event is Summit resident Jean Criss of Jean Criss Media. She attended the festival the first two years, but last year Ruiz asked her to help with sponsorships and media.

After starting her own media business last year, planning this was a piece of cake, she said. There are more than 50 sponsors for the festival, many of them new to the festival these past two years.  Criss jokingly said she’ll begin planning next year’s event on Monday. She also promoted chefs on cable T.V. throughout North Jersey, and featured over 20 of them in commercials on Verizon Fios in the area.  In addition, Criss featured the chef commercials on social media, as well.

“They were all thrilled to participate and promote their businesses,” Criss aid.

Phil Zucosky, the executive chef at Strip House at the Westminster Hotel in Livingston, attended for the third year in a row. Zucosky said it is a great event because they get good feedback and get a lot of new customers, as well.  

”It’s arguably the best steak house in New Jersey,” he said about his restaurant.

Alex Sotello, a winemaker from Napa Valley, Calif., who has been in the business for 20 years, said it is a wonderful event. He has attended the festival since its inception and said it’s a great way to find new customers.

“It’s interesting to see the clients face to face,” Sotello said. “It allows us to see what the clients want to see in the bottle.”

Two couples from North Jersey who attended the festival for the first time were Jessica and Richard Fortier of Bloomfield and Stephanie Verrone and her fiancé Brad of Bergenfield. The Fortiers heard about the festival when they went to dinner last week in Summit and saw a flyer for the event. They realized it would be a good date night and a fun night out.

“It’s beautiful,” Jessica said. “There are a lot great restaurants here, tons of wine and so much to choose from.” Richard added they tried the sugarcane tuna, which was excellent.

While Brad and Stephanie described themselves as foodies, this was the third tasting they have attended this year.

“It’s very good so far,” she said. “We like all the different restaurants and food.”