On a cold November evening, the Taste of the North Country was described by the local DJ as, “the greatest food festival in the North Country.”

Sponsored by the North Country Chamber of Commerce, the Taste of the North Country is an annual event where Chamber members who own chain and local businesses can market their services to Clinton County residents.

North Country Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Jody Parks said 600 to 800 people attend the event each year, making Taste of the North Country one of the Chamber’s most important fundraisers.

“Events like Taste of the North Country, Car Show, St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast, Business Expo and others allow the Chamber to continue to support businesses of all sizes while keeping dues low,” Parks said.

This year’s event was last Thursday at 5 p.m. at the Plattsburgh State Field House. Eighteen restaurants and food vendors of the Clinton County area tabled with brochures, business cards, smiling faces and fan-favorite free samples with everything from maple popcorn and craft beer to baked mac and cheese and spicy buffalo wings.

In the middle of these tables lay hundreds of auction items. Chamber members from across the county donated auction prizes for community members to bid on. The Chamber’s website said over 250 items were available for auction that night, including nine prizes for an online auction.

The majority of these items were available during the silent auction, where attendees paid to get in, received a ballot number and walked around the bidding tables to place their bids. Most of these prizes were gift certificates, gift baskets, local event tickets and even a singing Valentine from the Champlain Valley Sweet Adelines women’s chorus. Online auction items included things like monetary donations, hotel stays and Syracuse University basketball tickets.

“[The people] get excited to hear it’s coming,” Vice President of Marketing for the Chamber Kristy Kennedy said Thursday night. “Our feedback is always positive because people always want to come back.”

Among the restaurants and auction items, local entrepreneur and cook Janice Wheeler was tabling at this year’s Taste of the North Country to advertise her product, Secret Spice Remedy.

After being diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her hands, Wheeler developed a proprietary blend of cooking spices that contain natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. Since then, her symptoms lessened dramatically; she continues to cook while selling her product and educating people about the spice’s health benefits.

“I use to this to keep my arthritis at bay,” Wheeler said. “[I believe] you should really feed your body what it needs.”

Wheeler was excited at her first Taste of the North Country to see people she knew and meet new people interested in her product.

One of the many chain restaurants at Thursday’s festival was Buffalo Wild Wings. Plattsburgh local and PSUC alumna Shanae Jodoin has worked at the chain for almost five years. It was her first time volunteering to run the table at this year’s Taste of the North Country.

Jodoin and other employees were giving away free wing samples with eight sweet and spicy sauces to choose from. Because of the high numbers, the table quickly ran out of food and had to cook more.

“We had about 200 wings, and those went in like 10 minutes,” she said.

Jodoin said the Taste of the North Country was a good opportunity for people to experience something new.

“It’s good for the community to have everyone [walk] around and try different foods, even if you’ve never been,” Jodoin said. “I just had someone [come over] who had never been to Buffalo Wild Wings, so they got to try all the samples.”

Parks and the Chamber continue to raise money for the organization and its members through events like Taste of the North Country.

“It’s a nice thing for the members because all the restaurants get to participate,” Parks said. “It’s a marketing opportunity for them.”

While she works for the Chamber, Kennedy said her favorite part was seeing the community try local products and possibly do their Christmas shopping all in one night.

“I love seeing our members networking and getting together,” Kennedy said. “It’s just another step in educating people about our area.”

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<a href="http://cardinalpointsonline.com/byline/emma-vallelunga/" rel="tag">Emma Vallelunga</a>