This past Thursday was the fifth 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 seventeenth year, the 16-day FringeArts Festival brings contemporary, innovative and ground-breaking art to Philadelphia. This is “the first year that FringeArts has its own building,” says FringeArts Board President Richard Vague. “With that, we will expand from 16 days to well over 100 days of performances annually.”
This year at Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River waterfront, FEASTIVAL hosted approximately eight hundred food-and-arts lovers for — what many consider to be — the “cultural event of the year.” Auction items included private dinners with renown chefs, 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 floated in mid-air above — 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 (couple) handful of personal favorites included: Audrey Claire’s leche flan with coconut whipped cream and dehydrated pineapples; Charlie was a sinner.’s Maryland-style “crab cakes” (vegetarian); CoZara’s Hawaiian tombo poke; Morimoto’s diver scallop ceviche; Russet’s duck rillette; Sancho Pistola’s pork belly tacos; Square 1682’s chilled purple potato soup with cured salmon and crispy leeks; V Street’s langosch; Will BYOB’s chilled New Jersey corn veloute; and Zama’s yuzu miso salmon.
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 …
If you could excel in the arts (dancing, singing, etc), which one talent would you choose and why? …
Bistrot La Minette & La Peg‘s chef/proprietor Peter Woolsey: I’ve always been jealous of musicians who can play their instruments like they breath, walk or talk. How great it would be to sit down at a piano and join-in [just] like sitting down and joining a conversation? I imagine, pretty great.
- owner/shepherd Craig Rogers: My unfulfilled fantasy is to be a singer, singing the National Anthem at a major league ballpark. I have actually sung in Carnegie Hall, Royal Albert Hall in London and Notre Dame in Paris but never in a major league ballpark. I did sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at every home game of the [now defunct] Martinsville Astros years ago. We all have dreams however!
- chef Nick Macri: Ah, the arts. I am, what you say, a jack of all trades in this field. It started young for me, when two upstart Canadian comedians, you may know them as Jim Carey and Mike Myers, had a brief comedy series about two bachelors raising a small baby. I stole the show falling over and spitting up on myself, generating laugh after laugh. Unfortunately, it never really took off, but mysteriously a movie of a similar theme was soon released just prior to my third birthday. They added a third guy with a mustache. My Canadian brethren and I were left disgruntled awaiting royalties that never came. This all-too-familiar tale of showbiz soured me, leaving my potential comedic genius in the dust, along side my diapers and pacifiers. Jim and Mike, those brave souls, carried on and did alright. Fast forward to the summer of 1991, when my free time was spent in a garage perfecting my drumming for my now-defunct grunge band, Winter Flannel. We played a few club shows and got steady play on college radio, but the potential to go mainstream like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Nirvana tore the band apart. Some wanted fame; some wanted the drugs and booze. I just wanted to rock out. We were lucky enough to have Neil Young close for us on our last gig! Well, that might have been [Neil Young playing on] the jukebox, but I guess “it’s better to burn out than to fade away.” When 1999 rolled around, saddened by the retirement of the great one, I locked myself in my room for 99 days. When the angry teenager emerged, so did one of the greatest masterpieces on canvas. Every gallery on the east coast was pounding down my door. They wanted more, but I had to tell them, “No. My art was for me.” I burned the painting, and there is no record of it to this day. A few years passed, and with my rage turned down to a constant simmer, I found solace in the kitchen. I honed my skills and listened to well-traveled cooks speak of their pilgrimages to Europe to eat and learn from the finest of chefs. I packed and went to Spain only to find out the famed elBulli was not open year round. I pulled and pulled, but the doors were locked. I turned around, wanting nothing to do with Catalonia and “thumbed it” to Andalusia. I owed my ride a favor and bused tables at his tavern, sucking down half-empty glasses of sherry throughout the night. Sadly, for that evening’s entertainment, my drunken demeanor had me neglecting my sweeping duties, and just like that Pedro, one half of the flamenco duo, slipped and twisted his ankle. As anyone knows though, the show must go on! The rhythmic guitar took over my soul, and Isabel and I danced to the adoration of the crowd. Francisco, my chauffeur into this fino-drenched adventure, begged me to stay on as the in-house entertainment and promised all the jamon a chubby man could ask for. I had responsibilities back home and a station to work, so I left at sunrise while they all slept off their hangovers. So I’ve been blessed to try my hand at many art forms. I always thought about writing short fictional stories but never really got around to it.
Brauhaus Schmitz & Wursthaus Schmitz‘s executive chef Jeremy Nolen: As far as arts go, music would be for me! I’ve been playing guitar since I was 14 years old and played in many bands that did pretty well locally. It would definitely be something I would be interested in doing if I wasn’t cooking. It’s a hard business to be in, because there is so much competition to make it and you need a lot of talent, marketability and some luck to do it!
CoZara‘s chef de cuisine Chris Paulikas: My initial response was a silly thought that I would like to learn how to tap dance in order to relay messages through Morse code. In all seriousness, I think I would like to be able to sing and play an instrument like piano or guitar. That way I could rock out like Meatloaf!
La Calaca Feliz‘s chef Tim Spinner: I choose dancing. I would love to have Michael Jackson’s skills. It would make for great entertainment at weddings.
Metropolitan Bakery & Metropolitan Cafe‘s chef/co-owner James Barrett: Well, since I am already an amazing singer — everyone says so! — I would have to choose dancing. I would complete my one-man show and take it on the road!
Russet‘s chef/owner Andrew Wood: I’ve always wanted to play the piano. My uncle could play “by ear,” and he was always the life of our family gatherings.
Square 1682‘s executive chef Caitlin Mateo: My first thought was that, as a former gymnast, I would travel the world with Cirque du Soleil. But now I think I’d be a hardcore ballerina for the extreme discipline. It takes so much work to look that effortless. The reality is you live, breathe and work out for the show. It consumes you. It’s a lot like what we do at Square 1682. We work hard to make it look easy.
Tria‘s owner Jon Myerow: I would be a guitarist, for sure. Singer-songwriter, rock, possibly jazz. I think many restaurateurs are frustrated musicians or music promoters — in both fields, you’re putting on a show. I still pick up the guitar from time to time and dare to dream. I went into the restaurant business over the music business because I thought restaurants would be a much safer and saner way to make a living. Naivete, pure and simple.
- owner/chef Kate Jacoby: I would be a singer in a Guns n’ Roses cover band.
- owner/chef Rich Landau: If I had to pick one thing to excel at it would be playing guitar in a rock band. I am a drummer, but drummers sit down and hide. We keep the beat and anchor the band. Guitarists are up there vulnerable and wide open to the crowd with no wiggle room for mistake or embarrassment. I already have the girl of my dreams, so it’s not about the chicks. I just want to really be able to play the guitar like a fucking rock star. And come to think of it, I wish I could sing, too. Greed …
Will BYOB‘s chef/owner Christopher Kearse: I wish I could draw and sketch! I am horrible at it. I have these visions and ideas in my head, and to be able to draw them would be amazing!
Zahav‘s chef/owner Michael Solomonov: Singing, so I could serenade Audrey Claire.
Zama‘s chef Hiroyuki “Zama” Tanaka: Singing … because I love karaoke.