This past Thursday was the fourth annual Audi FEASTIVAL, a glamorous evening where dynamic and cutting-edge artistic performances are united with world-class restaurants, all teaming together to raise funds for FringeArts. In its sixteenth year, the 16-day FringeArts Festival brings contemporary, innovative and ground-breaking art to Philadelphia.
This year at Pier 9 on the Delaware River Waterfront, approximately eight hundred food-and-arts lovers attended FEASTIVAL — considered by many to be the “cultural event of the year.” Governor Ed Rendell (Pa.) took to the stage during the live auction, and the evening was once again co-hosted by three local culinary luminaries: Stephen Starr, Michael Solomonov and Audrey Claire Taichman. Throughout the evening, mesmerizing FringeArts performers danced and entertained among — and even above (on stilts!) — the crowd.
The plentiful drink and food — from almost 80 local bars and restaurants — was too majestic to summarize in a single sentence, although a few personal favorites included: Marigold Kitchen’s peach foie gras push-pops, Russet’s duck terrine, Sbraga’s steak tartar lettuce wraps and Will BYOB’s green pea gazpacho.
Between bites and sips, we set out to find the the stories behind the food industry folk. We asked some of FEASTIVAL’s chefs, bakers, farmers and owners to share their (chocolate covered) memories regarding one question …
What have been your favorite “feasts” of all time? …
Audrey Claire, COOK & Twenty Manning Grill‘s owner Audrey Claire: My favorite feast was held recently at my restaurant, Twenty Manning Grill, and was prepared by dear friends Rob Wasserman and Michael Solomonov, as well as my team. We enjoyed a beautiful brunch with all of my closest friends and family, celebrating the birth of my son Jack.
Bistrot La Minette‘s owner John Woolsey: My father was a scientist and every year went abroad to international meetings. One year he would take mom, the next my older brother, then mom, then me and so on. The meeting in the Netherlands was preceded by a trip through Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, and Belgium, mostly visiting scientist friends of his. In Paris, his friend took us to a local bistrot, a long narrow room with all sorts of stuff contributed by the patrons hanging from the ceiling. If you sat more than half-way back, they brought opera glasses so that you could read the chalk-board menu in front. Our host ordered the following meal …
The app was a generous mound of frog’s legs piled on a platter, simply sautéed golden in butter and garlic. They were very small the bones were wonderfully crisp. That was followed by a rolled veal roast, done with white wine and mushrooms, and I am sure some other garnishes that I forget. Then came a big platter of cheeses, from which you took what you wanted. To my eye then, they were a bit alarming because several of them were the runny, oozy kind. I don’t remember the names of the ones I ate, but they were a revelation after the few varieties of cheese at home in Wisconsin. That was followed by a huge bowl of Fraises de Bois, the fragrant tiny French strawberries with crème fraîche and sugar. Then coffee. All regulars in the restaurant had their own cups. I was 17 at the time, and had some wine with lunch, but with no real knowledge of wine, I had no idea of what I was drinking. It didn’t matter. The food was fabulous.
Border Springs Farm‘s owner/shepherd Craig Rogers: My favorite feast is our annual Lambstock Festival on our farm where chefs from across the country camp in our sheep pasture for three days of cooking over open fire, music from artists from NYC to Nashville and points in between and good drink. It is a gathering of the industry, where good food inspires great conversations and friendships, and it all occurs where their food comes from — our farm.
Brauhaus Schmitz & Wursthaus Schmitz‘s executive chef Jeremy Nolen: A great one would be my wedding. Jess and I both work in the industry, and my father is also a chef. So we wanted to do something unique. I’ve worked so many weddings while at the hotel and the catering company I worked for, so I wanted to do something different and more casual. Wedding food can usually be pretty boring and not that tasty, so we decided to do a feast. It was awesome. It was an all outdoor wedding in my parents’ backyard. We roasted a whole pig, had a raw bar, many different salads and sides, beer, wine and more. My dad and I cooked everything. It was really casual and a great time. And obviously the food was great.
Another one that was pretty awesome was this medieval feast in a 14th century castle in Ireland when I was about 21. It was a family trip, and we had dinner in this really cool castle. It wasn’t cheesy like Medieval Times or anything like that. It was all candlelit, had wine and mead out of goblets, whole roasts of duck, pork, tons of different sides, soup and whiskey. It was great to be in that setting as well.
Metropolitan Bakery & Metropolitan Cafe‘s chef James Barrett: My favorite feasts have to be holiday meals at my Italian grandmother’s house in Philadelphia. She would cook along with my mother and aunt, and the meals would go on for hours. Pastas were from scratch, slow-cooked sauces and then plenty of dessert — pine nut and date cookies, rum cakes and panettone, finished with grappa. And someone would play the ukulele and accordion, so there was always music.
Miss Rachel’s Pantry‘s owner/executive chef Rachel Klein: My favorite feasts are our low-key Thanksgiving dinners my ‘gent and I host every year. I’m too tired to travel after T-day catering, so we have our moms and our friends over for a giant vegan feast … and I am never more than a few steps from my couch or a bottle of wine.
Russet‘s chefs/owners Andrew & Kristin Wood: Last time we were in Italy, it was springtime, and like every other trip we’ve ever taken together, we focused on food. We found ourselves in Assisi on Easter Sunday. We didn’t plan it that way, but there we were. Unbeknownst to us, Assisi is a popular spot for Italians to visit on Easter. The city was packed. We wandered around trying to find a place to eat with no luck. Eventually, we left town, and Kristin found a restaurant in the outskirts called “la stalla.” She has an incredible nose for locating good restaurants by scent alone. It means “the barn” in Italian, and that’s exactly what it was — a huge, old-stone barn with a long line of people at the doors. We decided to wait. As we got closer, we realized that this was a good decision. We could see into the kitchen, which consisted of a gigantic fire pit with movable grills and four old Italian nonnas in blue aprons meticulously cooking sausage, polenta and other regional treats. The line moved much faster than we expected. We couldn’t yet see that inside there were huge communal tables that allowed for many people. Soon we were whisked in to one of these tables where we were sat with 13 strangers, only two of which spoke English. We were on opposite sides of this table and slightly offset. The social awkwardness was short lived, as these people were friendly and hungry. Our companions swiftly took care of ordering our meal. The wine appeared promptly, and we discussed, of all things, the NBA (an Italian obsession I was unaware of until that day). Then the food started to appear. Simple ingredients transformed by fire and love into delicacies. Onions, grilled into agrodolce that I can still taste; polenta and beans, served on a wooden board with a delicate scent of garlic; potatoes, cooked in mounds of ash, served in their jackets with homemade vinegar; grilled, tangy sausages with a heavy aroma of wild fennel; roasted pork loin with herbs and much more. We ate and felt at home, not like tourists. Then, after we thought we could eat no more, they brought us the “torta” — a gigantic, grilled flat bread that took two people to stretch onto the grill and, when presented, covered at least half of the table. They gave us salt, olive oil, some cheese and more onion agrodolce to eat with the bread. We then truly broke bread with our table mates, and all was in harmony.
Sbraga‘s owner/executive chef Kevin Sbraga: My favorite feast of all time was Thanksgiving growing up. It was such an amazing spread of food — from biscuits, salad, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, turkey and of course we had to have spaghetti, because I grew up in an Italian American household.
Tinto‘s chef/owner Jose Garces: My favorite feast has always been Thanksgiving. When I was younger, my parents would make this incredible array of both American staples like turkey and chicken giblet gravy and Ecuadorian specialties like empanadas or humitas (which are basically Ecuadorian tamales). As a result, I really came to love the Thanksgiving feast because it was this time of cross-cultural sharing and of coming together as a family. Now every year we get together with a few other families, and everyone brings something different. I try to get all of my cooking done really far in advance because the best part of a feast is just sitting at the table and enjoying the company of those around you!
Tria Cafe‘s events coordinator/cheese director Sande Friedman: One of my favorite “feasts” was the Murray’s Cheese Boot Camp, which I attended when formally taking over the Cheese program at Tria. It was three days of intensive cheese eating, which is quite a different experience than an intensive beer/wine tasting. It’s not socially acceptable to spit cheese, and the only thing that feels intoxicated are your stomach muscles! However, it’s amazing to really sit and delve into the little teeny tiny nuanced differences between this goat’s milk chèvre from Vermont versus that one from the Loire Valley. Of course you also need to eat regular food throughout the rest of the weekend, which I interpreted as a steady diet of oysters. Now that my stomach muscles no longer feel distended, I would love to do it again and again!
Will BYOB‘s chef/owner Christopher Kearse: This is an incredibly hard question, but I’d have to say that my all-time favorite feast would have to be my first time at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in England. It was truly a life-changing event. Also, I can’t forget about my twin brother’s wedding dinner. I was his best man, and the entire family was together for a evening of food, music, love and laughter.