Behind the scenes at Taste of St. Louis

| Scene Reporter

Participants enjoy the Taste of St. Louis in 2007. This year’s Taste, beginning at 4 p.m. Friday, will span six city blocks and feature everything from food to entertainment.stlbites.com | Flicker

Participants enjoy the Taste of St. Louis in 2007. This year’s Taste, beginning at 4 p.m. Friday, will span six city blocks and feature everything from food to entertainment.

Washington University students will have a tasty opportunity to step outside the Wash. U. bubble this weekend and experience what the culinary world has to offer beyond Bon Appétit. Beginning at 4 p.m. Friday, Taste of St. Louis will take over six city blocks at Soldier’s Memorial with food, wine, art and entertainment.

One of the event’s co-organizers, Mike Kociela, hopes the event will draw Wash. U. students away from campus and into the vibrant downtown area.

“With Taste, we are trying to raise the bar for St. Louis culturally,” he said. “That’s the first motive. It’s a professionally run, upscale event that really makes our city look good.”

New at Taste this year will be the Art and Wine Walk, which gives visitors the opportunity to purchase wine-tasting tickets while they view work by local artists. “We’ve always had artists, but this year we have wine with it too,” Kociela said. “You can sample wine and sample art.”

The event will also pay tribute to the city’s rich history of blues music by having a Blues Stage, which will feature performances by local musicians, including Roland Johnson, Marsha Evans and the Rum Drum Ramblers.

Bringing the annual event to the streets of St. Louis, however, is a massive undertaking.

“You have to run around like crazy to make sure the details are exactly how you want them,” Kociela said. “There’s a to-do list for the set-up of every single thing that needs to happen in very specific terms for every single element at each point of the entire six-block event.”

Currently in the middle of final logistical plans, Kociela has spent the last week trying to stay on top of last-minute details. More than 3,000 people are involved in the production of Taste of St. Louis, including organizers, sponsors, vendors, artists and musicians.

“When you’ve got [that many] people on the site it’s impossible to make sure everything goes perfectly,” Kociela said. “With any event, one or two things are going to pop loose. You just stay calm and fix problems.”

The event will benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Missouri, which supports local children suffering from life-threatening conditions. According to Kociela, however, the event also benefits the city as a whole. He hopes college students will embrace the opportunity to venture beyond the campus to see St. Louis in a different light.

“People will get the sense that our city is alive and vibrant,” Kociela said. “It gives a lot of folks in these hard economic times an excuse to come out and enjoy these things for free. Hopefully, some of them will even choose to move to the downtown area. There’s an economic impact, a tourism impact and a cultural impact.”

Even with the planning for this year’s event behind him, Kociela will not be taking any time off. Organizing Taste of St. Louis is a full-time, year-round job that keeps him on his toes. “We probably started planning for this a couple of weeks before last year’s event,” he said. “We’re already working on Taste 2011.”