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Take a bite out of the metro dining scene at Taste of Atlanta

There was a time when celebrity chefs were limited to Julia Child and Betty Crocker. That time has passed.

In the wake of The Food Network, "Top Chef" and the general public's ever-expanding knowledge of the culinary market, chefs have become as illustrious as actors and rock stars.

Culinary hot shots Ted Allen, Rocco DiSpirito and Atlanta's best and brightest chefs - some stars, some rising - will gather at Atlantic Station next weekend to present Taste of Atlanta.

Now in its sixth year, Taste of Atlanta features more than 70 of the area's finest restaurants pushing samples of signature dishes. Slated to set up shop are favorites like City Grill and The Oceanaire Seafood Room, as well as newcomers such as Hot Stix Stir-Fry Kitchen and Wolfgang Puck Express.

"When Taste of Atlanta started six years ago, it was largely due to the rising popularity of The Food Network and celebrity chefs. These days, the culinary world is becoming more popular in the public eye," said Lorrie Campbell, Taste of Atlanta event director. "Atlanta has so many wonderful restaurants to offer, and this is a great way to discover your new favorites."

New to the festival this year is the Harvest Market. Jumping on the local and organic food bandwagon, this addition showcases the metro restaurants that support sustainable cuisine.

"This is a big trend in the food world right now," Campbell said. "A lot of people have heard about local, organic food, but aren't really sure how to get started with the concept. We'll show you places in the area where you can go to eat local foods, as well as hold cooking demonstrations to show you new ideas for how to prepare them."

A silent auction has also been added to the Taste of Atlanta lineup. Spa packages, culinary destination vacations and a range of other items will be auctioned off during the two-day event, with proceeds benefiting the Hospitality Education Foundation of Georgia. Through the foundation, area high school students are paired with chef mentors to help ready the students for a career in the kitchen.

It's usually good to be a very important person, but at Taste of Atlanta, being a VIP has even sweeter benefits. A Wine Experience, featuring tastings of a variety of regional and national wines and gourmet hors d'oeuvres, will be held in Ten Pin Alley for VIP ticket-holders.

"There are so many extraordinary things happening during the festival," Campbell said.

Of them, which is the best?

"I can't even begin to decide," she said. "You'll just have to go and try them all for yourself."

SideBar: If You Go

What: Taste of Atlanta

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Oct. 14

Where: Atlantic Station, 17th St. Atlanta

Cost: General admission tickets are $35; VIP tickets are $60

Info: Call 404-875-4434 or visit www.tasteofatlanta.com