First things first! All that jam making I did a few weeks ago paid off this past weekend at the Eat Real Fest in Oakland when I won the DIY Preserves contest! Whooooo! And I have not one, but TWO, Golden Chicken statues for my efforts! This is about as exciting (for me, at least) as when Charlie Bucket found the Golden Ticket in his Wonka Bar!
I don’t even remember when the last time I won something was. I don’t think I’ve ever won a contest. I think I gave up on even trying to enter contests when I was about 7 or 8 years old and the local radio station ran a contest where you could call in and get a free Big Mac at McDonalds if you could recite the whole “two all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun” jingle in under 30 seconds. I called the station at the wrong time and the DJ chastised me for doing something wrong, so I gave up even trying again because I didn’t want to get yelled at again or f* it up.
I’m not sure if it was my strategy of multiple entries that helped me take the prize but I won both Best Jelly (for my Rosé Wine Jelly with Hibiscus and Lime) and also took home Grand Champion honors for the entire preserves category when the jelly won best overall submission. I was also given some props for my Chardonnay Lavender jelly!
Actually I was surprised my jelly entries got the props because I sort of liked my fig and green zebra tomato jams and the yellow tomato and apple chutney better than the jellies, but then what do I know? I wasn’t one of the judges. And winning actually made me a bit flustered! Since I don’t necessarily like to be the center of attention, I was sort of embarrassed to be called up on the stage. I think I blushed about as much as I did when I was in 5th grade and the local Officer Friendly visited our class and kept calling me “red” for how much I blushed when he called on me. (He seemed to get a kick out of that!) It’s all a blur now—all I can remember is saying “thank you, thank you” repeatedly and “You mean I get TWO golden chickens?” Now I (sort of) know what Oscar and Emmy recipients who haven’t prepared a speech beforehand (or who are actually introverted actors) feel when their name is called!
Anyway, I was also the recipient of a few fabulous prizes in addition to the awesome Golden Chicken statues. (And let’s face it, who wouldn’t want a Golden Chicken status on their mantel?!?) I’ll soon be taking a tour of the Oakland food scene courtesy of Savor Oakland, and I also received a pretty substantial cherry pitter and my very own jam pan—no more making jam in the stockpot!
So, thanks to the Eat Real folks and judges for making my week and for providing validation for my food experiments enough to make me feel like I’m heading in the right direction after having left my day job this summer! I want to give props and a shout out to everyone else who submitted in the Preserves category and the grand champions in all the categories – the stuff they made sounds amazing and it just goes to show what great things are happening in the Bay Area food scene!
Chutney Si-Eun Chung, Mint Coconut Chutney
Jams Mike Charlton, Apricot Lavender Jam
Marmalade Carolyn Yeh, Ginger Meyer Lemon Marmalade
Preserves Lisa Melsted (moi!), Rose Wine Jelly w/Hibiscus and Lime
Pickles Coral Henning, Sweet and Hot Asian Style Pickled Carrots
Beer Eric Smillie, Sweet Season Saison
Booze Greg Robles & Kelly Naughton, Shanghai Shirley 5-Spice Bitters #2
The bad thing about food fests as large as Eat Real is that there’s simply no way you can sample everything there unless you have a ridiculously huge stomach, stay there all day and nosh your way into oblivion, or you have the stamina of one of those skinny, 20-something guys who enter food contests and are capable of eating 100 hot dogs in the span of five minutes. Unless you’re one of those people, you just can’t take it all in!
I can’t eat that much, nor did I want to, so I went the picky and choosy route of traversing the food trucks and booths. As I’ve mentioned before, I prefer to try food trucks (or booths) that are making something a little off-the-beaten-menu rather than just go for yet another version of sliders and fries. So I went with the strategy of trying things that sounded unusual and interesting or that were somewhat healthy. I also found out that I have indeed been forever spoiled enough by eating the 20-hour broth ramen once at Ramen Yamadaya in L.A. that all other ramen has become sorely disappointing in comparison. Let’s just say the Bay Area has something to learn from the Southland in regard to ramen and I won’t point fingers at any vendors.
Here are the offerings I tried that I thought really stood out at the festival.
Holy Cow Pav
This sandwich is technically a sacrilege for most of Indian culture, but it’s a piece of heaven for the rest of us carnivores. Wow. Smoky cardamom-spiced short rib with cucumber raita on a turmeric bun. I don’t eat a lot of beef; I don’t eat short ribs that often; and I made an exception to the slider rule for this that was well worth it. As the risk of sounding apostate, I daresay this sandwich could cause instant conversion experiences for an entire culture if they tried it. Excellent!
I don’t know about you, but the idea of Jewish soul food warms my soul. Old World Food Truck was serving a really great deconstructed Reuben—savory rye bread pudding, topped with sauerkraut and Russian dressing with a piece of corned beef on the side. I can’t always take the richness (read fattiness) of corned beef anymore on a regular Reuben sandwich, but this was more tender beef than fat, and the bread pudding was really nice. I’d go to this truck again.
This truck has gotten a lot of props as for being one of the better food truck in San Francisco, so I had to try it. They’re known primarily for “bao,” a Taiwanese street food that consists of a some sort of protein in a steamed, soft, white Wonder-style flat bread. (Think pork bun with the outsides wrapped up taco-style rather than hidden in the bun.) I tried both the Coca-Cola pork and the miso tofu. The pork is served with a mustardy slaw that, together, make a party in your mouth. Millions of SF fans are not wrong about this truck. Eat here.
At last year’s Eat Real, I was psyched to watch Minh Tsai of Hodo Soy give a homemade tofu making demo. This year the demo I was looking forward to was Charlie Hallowell of Pizzaiolo. I wasn’t disappointed this year either. What was actually even more interesting than his food demo (chicken liver pate with chicory, fig and pancetta salad!) was Hallowell’s storytelling. He’s super-opinionated about everything from salad dressing (“why is there such thing as bottled salad dressing? You’re being sold a crock…”) to television (“Kill your TV.”) to meditation and being present in your life (“meditate daily”). Not that any of these are bad things, at least not IMHO. As a woman standing next to me commented, “He’s hilarious!” He totally is. And despite protestations of being an introvert, a good storyteller with a great stage presence. He is, as my old friend Betty Ann Murphy, would say–a SNAG (sensitive new age guy). In fact, he’s sort of a Super SNAG. And according to his bio, he was an English major. (I should have guessed that!)
Reader, I may be chef crushing a bit…
I was already a bit of a fan after having eaten at Boot and Shoe Service, but I’m more so now. He was even kind enough to go out into the audience and serve everyone individual forks full of his chicory, fig and pancetta salad himself. When he ran out of forks, he made everyone their own little lettuce cups. The chicken liver pate was dee-lish. I can be a tad squeamish about the taste of pate at times, particularly chicken livers. I often feel like there’s just a bit too much urea taste in chicken livers for me, but this was really smooth and I particularly liked the shallots in it. Watching it being made was pretty fascinating, too – lotsa buttah!
Hallowell also talked about his upcoming restaurant Penrose and Sons, which will be on Grand Avenue in Oakland across the street from Boot and Shoe Service. This sounds like it will be an interesting departure from the two pizza restaurants. He said the flavor profiles will be more Moorish and North African—an homage to his great grandfather who was an Irish Quaker abolitionist that helped lead the Massachusetts 54th regiment (the first all black regiment to fight for the North) in the Civil War.
I’ll be looking forward to that opening!
And I’m just sorry Eat Real only happens once a year! Until 2014…
All recipes and photos copyright of Foie Gras and Funnel Cakes unless otherwise noted.