January 2022 Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // Courtesy of Carmel Education Foundation One of Carmel’s premier annual fundraisers—The Taste of Carmel, presented by Carmel Education Foundation (CEF)—is back in full force and in-person for 2022! Regular attendees, sponsors and vendors need no introduction, but for those who may not have attended in the past, make no mistake—this is THE community event that not only showcases Carmel’s best in the restaurant, catering and service industries, it also raises funds that benefit Carmel Clay Schools students and teachers. The Evolution of the Taste of Carmel Taste of Carmel (TOC) began in 2005 as a Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) fundraiser for Orchard Park Elementary (OPE), a public school in Carmel, Indiana. Originally designed as an event for OPE families, the event soon became a popular "can't-miss" night out for many Carmel Clay Schools parents. By 2014, TOC had become the largest indoor food experience in Hamilton County. Annually, more than 1,000 guests from Carmel and surrounding areas attend to enjoy an array of food and drink while visiting with friends or entertaining clients. When Orchard Park closed in 2021, CEF, the nonprofit funding partner of Carmel Clay Schools, was honored to adopt this event as an opportunity to expand the impact to benefit 16,000-plus students in all 15 Carmel Clay schools. Although the branding has been updated, the event will reflect the dedication of the OPE team that built this to what it has become. In honor of their work to support many students (approximately 2,000) who benefited from weekend and holiday food sacks, a portion of TOC proceeds will be allocated to these district programs. CEF Executive Director Jennifer Penix shared her thoughts on how the Taste of Carmel is not only a vital fundraising instrument for CEF but also a highly valued community event that shines a light on local vendors and sponsors alike. “The Taste of Carmel has evolved into this community event,” Penix stated. “When Orchard Park closed, no one wanted to lose the event as it had already become such a district function, and CEF was the natural group to take the event on. The biggest difference is the impact of the funds raised will be used to support the entire district, whereas in the past TOC events, the funds raised went back and supported Orchard Park.” Building on Traditions This year, a planning team of more than 20 volunteers from CEF and the community are working to present the most memorable Taste of Carmel event yet. In keeping with the tradition of having an annual event theme, CEF invites you to "Come Sail Away" on Thursday, March 3, 2022, for the 18th annual Taste of Carmel, held at the 502 East Event Center in Carmel! They expect a sell-out crowd, so purchase your tickets early! There will be the traditional “First Taste” exclusive preparty for the main Taste of Carmel dining event, presented by State Bank. This is limited to 200 guests and will feature small plates from Osteria by Fabio Viviani, full pour cocktails by Hotel Tango Distillery, premium wine compliments of Johnson Brothers and locally brewed beer. First Taste begins at 5 p.m. Live entertainment will fill the event center throughout the evening, and local talent Kelley M. Nichols will entertain First Taste and reserve table guests in the atrium, leading up to the official event start at 6:30 p.m. The Taste of Carmel Event Chair Holley Rubenstein shared that there are some unique and exciting silent auction items on deck this year! “Our silent auction is presented by Springhetti Dentistry, and the event design sponsor is Citizens Bank,” Rubenstein said. “We’re excited about all of the sponsors that we have this year. We’re also excited to have Jeff Worrell as our emcee again and as the honorary chair this year. We will advertise the auction on our website with a link where people can register. The silent auction will go live in late February. People don’t need to be present to win an auction item.” In keeping with this year’s TOC theme, “Come Sail Away,” Rubenstein shared that one of the more unique auction items will be a remote-controlled boat compliments of Bonzi Sports in Carmel. Additionally, there will be a Game of Thrones vacation package auctioned off, where the winner will tour an actual film set used for the filming of the iconic fantasy drama series. The silent auction sponsor, Springhetti Dentistry, will also be auctioning off a cosmetic dental package. There will also be THREE exquisite raffle items this year! Must be in attendance to win. Also new this year, there will be a “Last Taste” featuring coffee and cocoa by Just Love Coffee Café and donuts by Jack’s Donuts. This year’s organizers encourage attendees to dress “yachty” or to don your favorite sailing attire! CEF will follow all health and safety protocols outlined by the Hamilton County Health Department. Masks are strongly recommended at this event. The Community’s Support Is Important and Appreciated Given that CEF was not able to fundraise in their traditional formats throughout the early part of the pandemic, the financial gifts and support of the Carmel community matter even more this year than they have ever before. “We want to elevate and expand our grant program,” Penix stated. “We’d like to implement student grants in addition to the grants that we award our schools, teachers and classrooms. We know that our students have some amazing ideas and can be change makers in their schools and classrooms, so we want to put some funding into inspiring those ideas and provide those students with resources to take those ideas and make a difference.” Penix added, “We also want to diversify our scholarship program and include scholarships geared towards students who might not be pursuing a four-year college experience but are looking at vocational schools or starting a business. We also want to be able to assist students who need financial assistance in order to participate in programs like band or other school programs that are cost prohibitive.” This year’s TOC Honorary Chair Jeff Worrell shared why he has continued to support this event and why folks in Carmel should attend this year’s event. “The money that TOC raises is so critical because it is used for CEF grants that drill directly down to the classrooms,” Worrell emphasized. “CEF has so much tradition—it has been around since 1966. I’ve always looked up to CEF because of its history and traditions. I’ve had the opportunity to work with CEF and play a small role having fun emceeing Ghost & Goblins and assisting with the telethons—it’s been a delight and an honor to work with CEF. It is my favorite Carmel event, and even more now that it will benefit multiple schools in the school district via the Foundation.” For additional event and ticket information, visit tasteofcarmelindiana.com.