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Celeb Chef Tennis Players Behind Net FinalBy

This year Taste of Tennis has grown into a feast, expanding from a one-night culinary party into a week of food experiences leading up to the U.S. Open, which starts today. Indeed, associations between food and tennis have evolved greatly since the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza was caught on camera, face smeared by an ice cream sundae, while eating at the National Tennis Center’s food court during the Grand Slam tournament.

The 15th annual Taste of Tennis gala was the signature offering, featuring small plates prepared by several top local chefs, musical entertainment along with appearances by elite tennis players and celebrities. Among the surrounding events was the Celebrity Chef Tennis Challenge, held at the Midtown Tennis Club. The round-robin style mixed doubles tournament paired chefs and restaurateurs with local players. At another fete, Party with the Pros, guests enjoyed food, signature cocktails and live music, while they mingled with top names in tennis.

We spoke with Penny Lerner, CEO of AYS Sports Marketing, the event management company that organizes Taste of Tennis, about the strategy behind the new weeklong ‘food fusion’ program, while we sampled the Celebrity Chef Tennis Challenge event. Below are takeaways.

Celeb Chef Tennis Logo FinalIf you extend it, more will come. “We expanded the Taste of Tennis program to drive more interest in U.S. tennis since major tournament tennis doesn’t come to the U.S. that often”, she said. “We’re providing a platform and building it out so visitors will plan trips around it.”

Guests as spectators and participants. As for specific events, Lerner said they were designed “for all levels to watch and play.” She added, “The Celebrity Chef Tennis Challenge flips the plan and takes the chefs out of the kitchen and onto the courts.”

Go with the event flow. Taste of Tennis also incorporates smaller events with exclusive access, like meet-and-greets with top players. Cocktails with the Williams sisters still made the agenda, but dinner with Rafael Nadal was canceled when he withdrew from the U.S. Open due to a wrist injury. As Lerner noted, Rafa’s fans booked to see him, and for them he’s irreplaceable.

Worthwhile food charity partnership. Taste of Tennis teamed with City Harvest, a well-known non-profit food organization that helps feed the city’s hungry.

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