East Harlem Harvest Festival Emphasizes Area's Diversity

By Jeff Mays on October 26, 2012 9:51am 

HARLEM — For Celeste Beatty, owner of Harlem Brewing Company and Nestor Leon, owner of El Kallejon restaurant, this weekend's inaugural East Harlem Harvest Festival is about making connections.

"It's harvest time and that means it's time for the community to come together to give thanks, embrace one another and see how we can support one another," said Beatty, who will teach a class on beer-making at the festival.

Leon agreed, but added that the launch of his Mexican fusion cuisine restaurant has been challenging.

"I'm really excited because we need the support. Just because I have passion, it's still tough," Leon said.

That's what organizers Sara and Dimitri Gatanas and Adriane Mack had in mind when they began planning the festival after striking up a conversation at an event at Urban Garden Center at La Marqueta, which the Gatanas' own.

"The point is to galvanize the community," Mack said. "The festival encompasses all the cultures you find in East Harlem."

"Some people still have the mindset that they have to go downtown to do certain things," added Sara Gatanas. "And that's because they don't know about all the great things going on up here."

The festival will focus on beer, wine, food and fun, organizers say.

On Friday, a gala will be held to benefit the non-profit Union Settlement Association, which provides an array of social services and the 116th Street Block Association. The gala will feature food from Taste of Ethiopia, which works out of the Hot Bread Kitchen Incubator at La Marqueta and a silent auction.

On Saturday, a three-block festival will stretch from La Marqueta at East 115th Street and Park Avenue to the Urban Garden Center.

The festival will feature a beer tent where visitors can taste samples of several local craft beers. A tent will be set up to sample Moroccan cuisine and a natural fruit Hookah.

There will also be a children's zone set up with a cooking demonstration by Culinaria Festival, face painting and workshops by Cutie Patooties. Coco Le Vu Candy Shop & Party Room will give a jewelry box making class.

LLoyd's Carrot Cake will teach cupcake decorating. Mwimbaji Earth Jewelry will give a bracelet-making class and Urban Garden Center will teach pumpkin carving and how to make a mini terrarium.

There will also be more than 20 food vendors at La Marqueta, representing everything to food from Africa to gourmet ice cream.

"Harlem needs to catch up to what Brooklyn is doing in terms of food festivals," Mack said. "It's creating commerce and new jobs."

Sara Gatanas said the plan is to make the festival an annual or a twice-annual event.

"I feel like the general gist of the event is food and wine but also family, healthy living, doing things in the neighborhood and keeping it in the neighborhood," Gatanas said. "West Harlem and Central Harlem are getting a lot of attention for their growth, but it's time to bring more attention to East Harlem."

For East Harlem entrepreneurs like Leon, that attention can't come soon enough.

"We just want the opportunity to show people what we can do," Leon said.

A gala for the East Harlem Harvest Festival will be held Friday, Oct. 26, at 6 p.m. at 1640 Park Ave at the Urban Garden Center. The festival will kick off on noon, Saturday Oct. 27 from East 115th to 117th streets on Park Avenue. Visit www.eastharlemharvestfestival.com for more details.

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