The New York City Wine & Food Festival has been serving up tastings of food and wine, intimate dinners with superstar chefs, and cooking seminars for 10 years. Above these obvious objectives there is a charitable purpose – 100% of the festival’s net profits benefit Food Bank For New York City and the No Kid Hungry campaign, with $10.5 million raised to date.

The festival, which went from October 12 to 15 this year, also gives back to our chefs and artisans around the country, welcoming creators of all things delicious with open arms and giving them a platform to show people what they love to do.

One chef we were especially excited about was April Robinson of Butter Tapas in North Charleston, who was featured in the festival’s Grand Tasting, a large convention-style event with hundreds of exhibitors and small bites and sips as far as the eye can see. 

Samantha Buckley

April's background

For April, everything is about love – a love of cooking, a love of spaghetti and smoked gouda, and especially a love of her family. Growing up in Goose Creek, she was immersed in the Southern culinary influence of her mother and grandmother, which is where her cooking chops were first cultivated. “My mom worked full time when I was in middle school,” she recounted, so because of this, she was always cooking dinner. Over time, she grew to love it – “Cooking is my happy place,” she says.

April didn’t always aspire to be a professional cook, but after having a son young and facing limited options, she got into the restaurant kitchen. She later attended the former Johnson & Wales culinary school in Charleston and moved to Charlotte, ready to bring her love of cooking and personal culinary flair to others. Her first big gig was being a personal chef for Carolina Panther Thomas Davis, cooking meals for him and his family two to three times a week.

Eventually, she knew it was time to leave Charlotte and come back home to Charleston, and she took the next step by opening Butter Cupcakes in North Charleston. Her pastry career began by hocking cupcakes in her hair salon to fellow patrons, and after then selling them for a while in this brick-and-mortar location, she decided it was finally time to grow from there and spread in more diverse culinary directions.

Kristen Kornbluth

Next steps

Her establishment eventually evolved into Butter Tapas, a small-plates driven restaurant (offering cupcakes still, of course). When it first opened, she was manning the ship herself. She cooked all the food, served all the tables, and cleaned it all at the end of the service. Why the switch in concept? “I liked cupcakes but tapas were always my first love,” she said.

The mission of Butter is to bring diners together around the table with small plates they can share. A shared memory is powerful, and her goal is to create food that evokes memories or feelings – maybe it tastes like what mom used to make, maybe it evokes the flavors of a foreign country, or maybe it reminds you of home.

Samantha Buckley

Always maintaining Lowcountry roots, the dishes have Southern flair with April’s own spin, sometimes incorporating Asian or Caribbean influence. Going forward, April hopes to keep serving fellow Charlestonians delicious dishes that have this emotional aspect grounded in memory and tradition. In its next steps, Butter will venture wherever April’s self-expression takes it. “Food is love for me. It is an expression of self and my love for people and for memories,” she told us. The menu will evolve to reflect what she finds inspiring, comforting, and nostalgic.

The festival

On her involvement in the New York Wine & Food Festival, she commented that her team reached out on her behalf, the festival invited her to join, and the process of planning began. Going to the festival was a no brainer because her family takes a New York trip every October anyway, so the timing was perfect.

Kristen Kornbluth

In addition to her usual vacation, she would be given a platform to share her cuisine with others. April told us she was most looking forward to serving her food to all the people at the Grand Tasting and receiving their feedback. “A part of why I did the festival was self validation,” she told us. “My chef/restaurant career – life, if you will – is, I assume, different than most. I've never trained or worked in any high end restaurants, so in a sense I was seeking validation.”

When asked about how the festival went, April said it was a humbling and exciting experience – “I'm most thankful for those back home who made it all possible.” Getting everything transported to New York and doing all the prep was difficult and expensive, requiring the restaurant to be closed for a week and the staff to travel. Despite the obstacles, she pulled it off elegantly, slinging bites to countless happy festival-goers and gaining countless new fans.

Samantha Buckley

The taste April offered was a petite raviolo in brown butter sauce with ricotta blue crab filling and grated truffle salt-cured egg yolk and microgreens on top. It was truly delicious, and I’m not biased – her table had one of the longest lines in the entire building, and people said it was the best food they had all weekend.