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A few years ago, Stephanie Bolden didn’t even know what euphoria was, but this year, the private chef and caterer will be attending as one of the nearly 100 participating chefs.

Bolden will be part of the Feast by the Field event on Saturday, nestled between chefs like Katsuji Tanabe, a former “Top Chef” contestant with decades of experience, and Brandon Veilie, owner of Juniper in Ridge Spring, South Carolina and a former SC Chef Ambassador.

Having started her business, Chafanie, in 2020, Bolden has grown through a desire to make people happy through food, but she says, she still doesn’t consider herself a chef.

“I’m nervous,” Bolden said with a gentle laugh. “I’ve never done anything of this magnitude ever.”

But, she’s grateful.

“It’s people who believe in you, and they put these opportunities in these spaces because they know you can do it,” Bolden said. “I’m super appreciative of the people who believe in me and want me to succeed.”

While euphoria has been a launching pad for many up-and-coming chefs, most of those chefs have been similar in background and race.

This year, however, the annual food, wine and music festival which takes place Thursday through Sunday in Greenville, celebrates 17 years, organizers have placed a premium on diversity and inclusion. That effort has meant chefs who might otherwise never have had a chance to grace the euphoria stage are getting to, and with it, exposure.

“I think it goes back to the roots of euphoria,” said Morgan Allen, executive director of euphoria. “People love when we bring in Michelin-starred chefs or James Beard nominated-chefs, but for us, we’re also about supporting local, and I think we really started thinking how can we support local restaurants and small businesses. It was top of mind during the pandemic and that’s just how it emerged as how we could help.”

This year, with the help of Village Launch, euphoria has four chefs, all African American women with food businesses, participating in the festival for the first time. The chefs bring not only greater diversity but also more delicious food.

Euphoria highlights culinary skills and Greenville

Over the 17 years, euphoria has hosted chefs from around the world and throughout the southeast. Many have been big names like Vivian Howard, Curtis Duffy and this year, Tyler Florence.

But the festival has always also been about promoting Greenville, Allen says. The pandemic, she says, helped crystalize that focus even more, and not just the need for more diversity but the impact a food and wine festival can and should have on a community.

Diversity has been a topic at other food and wine festivals across the country. This year, the South Beach Food and Wine Festival made headlines for its concerted effort to add diversity to its chef lineup. The festival hired a diversity and inclusion consultant to achieve that effort.

Euphoria reached out to Rhonda Rawlings, neighborhood engagement director with Mill Community Ministries, for help.

“The chance for these entrepreneurs to be a part of that event, which is one of the most anticipated events in the Upstate, is incredible,” said Rawlings, who helps oversee the organization’s Village Launch program, which provides business training and support for under-resourced entrepreneurs.

Rawlings identified three culinary entrepreneurs: Stufona Latta, with Bake your Mark; Stephanie Bolden, with Chefanie; and, Jennifer Spears, with The African Violet.

“I just really appreciate the intentionality on the part of euphoria for doing that,” Rawlings added.

A steppingstone to do more

A few years ago, Stufona Latta plan was to eventually retire from her career in corporate HR, go to France and take a baking class and then start her own bakery business.

But, in 2019, Latta found herself burnt out by the corporate world and took a leap of faith to become a professional baker. She got a job as a pastry chef for a local restaurant in early 2020, she says.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and everything shut down and her life seemed uncertain.

With the help of Village Launch, Latta built her own business, Bake your Mark, that same year. This year, she will showcase her unique brand of creative baking at euphoria, something she could never have imagined just a year ago.