The Lowcountry is getting a new culinary festival.
AquaCurean, the inaugural seafood and spirits celebration, begins April 25 in Savannah.
Hosted by the Savannah Harbor Foundation, AquaCurean is a three-day event that combines tastings, seminars, chef demonstrations and The AquaCurean Challenge, a seafood recipe competition and a hand-crafted cocktail competition.
After the Legends of Golf tournament relocated from Savannah to Ridgedale, Mo., this year, there was a hole to fill for locals who usually block off that weekend, said Jan Gourley, the festival's director.
Gourley saw an opportunity to introduce a new culinary event to the area, one that showcased Savannah's food and drink culture.
"There are so many great wine events out there, there just aren't that many cocktail events," Gourley said. Organizers also wanted to include Savannah's seafood in some way, Gourley added, but in an upscale way that differed from the fried fare found at other festivals.
The result was AquaCurean. The name, which combines water and epicurean, implies an indulgent eating and drinking experience.
On April 25, guests will have a chance to taste seafood and cocktail pairings created by participating chefs.
Executive Chef Ryan Ratino and mixologist Chad Lobner, both of Todd English's bluezoo restaurant in Orlando, Fla., will kickoff the day with a seminar on champagnes and accompanying oysters from Mount Pleasant. Other seminars include pairings of gin and shrimp and bourbon and crab.
Winners of the seafood recipe and cocktail competition also will be announced April 25. Chef Keith Josefiak from CQ's Old Fort and Pub on Hilton Head Island is a semifinalist with his Benne Seed Crusted Salmon recipe, and Hilton Head resident Rachel Jack's Coastal Mule cocktail is also a contender.
Jack, a recent fashion design graduate from Savannah College of Art and Design, saw the event on Facebook and decided to enter.
"I think the entire concept behind the festival is intriguing," she said. "It's exciting to be involved in it."
Jack's Coastal Mule cocktail is a twist on a Moscow Mule and combines Stella Cidre, ginger beer and vodka, all served in a copper mug. The mug is a must, Jack said, because it gives the drink a unique taste and keeps it cold.
"I love having my friends over for dinner parties, so I always make fun drinks and appetizers," Jack said. "I love a regular Moscow Mule, and I thought it'd be fun to put a cool twist on it."
Organizers were pleasantly surprised with the amount of AquaCurean Challenge entries, which numbered in the hundreds, said Mark Spadoni, chairman of the Savannah Harbor Foundation, the organization hosting the festival.
For its first year, Spadoni said he expects the festival to start as a boutique event with several hundred guests and grow from there.
"We know the niche has been pretty well covered with really good wine events," he said. "There's a re-emerging and ever-growing popularity out there with spirits. We thought if we created an event with that as an anchor ... we'd have a unique and fun experience that has opportunity to grow for future years."
Follow reporter Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.