Craved: Looking Back and Forward After Year 1

Crave Lexington Food+Music Festival: Celebrating Everything From Scratch—for 2013, your birth year, you're in the (reusable) bag. Past tense. Toast. Finis.  History. And what a grand, messy, rich, imperfect, productive, worthwhile, promising festival you proved to be.

Savoring Kentucky's 2013 highlights: 

  • The idea of local met new locals. Lots of them. Credit: the initial vision of festival organizer Robbie Morgan and sponsor Smiley Pete Publishing. They decided to hold Crave in a new, south Lexington setting, the circle at Beaumont and the Moondance pavilion. Since most festivals happen in easy walking distance of my life, I did not love this decision to locate the festival 5.4 miles away. It worked, though. Evidence: Foodchain, slated to be the main nonprofit beneficiary of the 2013 festival, reported meeting hundreds of potential new friends, including many people who had not previously learned about their stellar aquaponics venture.
  • Sheer beauty. Elegant flags, always in fluid motion, and slightly swaying bamboo canes defined the event space. The flags' waving, almost watery motion celebrated every sky: blue, cloudy, red-gold sunset, night-dark. Music, too—I didn't hear much of it, but caught bits that pleased the ear.
  • Food leaders. Sullivan University's Lexington Culinary Arts staff and students, and Executive Chef John Foster, culminated months of preparation by working in outdoor kitchens for two rugged days and one long night, contributing knowledge, polish and flavor, and conferring credibility. Experts from the University of Kentucky and  Cooperative Extension, nonprofit gurus, gifted home cooks and acclaimed restaurant-based chefs filled four stages with practical, interesting food demonstrations on Saturday.
  • Successful ticketing and pricing. For food, tickets purchased in $1 increments and used for $1, $3, and $5 tastes created lots of options and flexibility.  
  • New flavors, familiar tastes, generous portions. Eventually I could taste no more, but over the course of about five hours, I tried these foods I look forward to enjoying again:
At Jasmine Rice: flavor-rich laab
At Nick Ryan's Saloon: short rib on mashed potatoes, shrimp and grits, and the perfect, small sample of Buffalo Trace ice cream, calling to mind a frozen Bourbon ball 
At Yamaguchi's Sake and Tapas, splendid fresh pickles, char-grilled pork jowl with house-made garlic miso, spareribs and daikon in a delicious broth
At a la lucie, kale salad with fresh soybeans and cranberries, and watermelon-limeade cooler
At Thai Orchid Cafe, a perfectly sized, perfectly seasoned taste of Tom Kah soup, my favorite food of the festival
 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    Every first-time event points the way toward improvements for the next event. Event organizers will undoubtedly reflect, listen, and plan changes for the future. My top picks for areas of focus in the future:

    How green can Crave be? Food-based events need to use lots of power and generate lots of mess. What are the most earth-friendly ways to produce future Crave events and other similar festivals? 

    How great can Crave be? The very first Crave drew thousands, and many of those present already feel the event belongs to them. What could be invented and produced, for the benefit of our region and our state, if that sense of joint ownership is cultivated and sustained? 

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

    The first Crave took place on a weekend of extraordinary options. Being at Crave meant not being at Festival Latino, or Oktoberfest. It meant missing the Midway Fall Festival, where my friends at Country Rock sorghum made and sold this year's fresh syrup. It meant giving up on much of Boomslang and the new, exciting Follow the Food tour. Most important to me, it meant passing on the encouragement and camaraderie of the beloved Kentucky Women Writers Conference. (Just between us, I can pretend that being committed to Crave kept me from taking part in the Bluegrass Mud Run. Since I just had my "Will you still need me/Will you still feed me" birthday, you can evaluate the likely truth of that claim.)

    Crave needed to be good—on its way to great—to justify the opportunity cost. And, for me, it was. The very best part for me was just a little bonus, a courtesy the wonderful, inclusive, kind heart of Chef John Foster extended, as he has fostered so many other excellent learning opportunities for hundreds of chefs-in-training (and eaters) across a couple of decades. Chef Foster allowed my Main Man and me to "volunteer" at the 10- (or 11- or 12-) course High Lo Slow dinner, a Crave capstone event that took place on Saturday night.  

    In our case, "volunteer" meant having a prime standing post in the most interesting place in the world—a busy kitchen full of skilled cooks producing delicious food. This kitchen, of course, sat outdoors, in a nook beside the Moondance Pavilion. Sullivan equipment, including full scale coolers, counters, tables, and burners, filled the space. About 15 people worked at tasks they understood well: Sauté. Wash. Taste. Scrape. Deliver. Season. Arrange. Garnish. Wipe. Squirt. Drizzle. Toss. Flip.

    Our great privilege was to stand in the way of some of it, shoot some photos, and "help" plate a salad dressed with Holly Hill Inn Chef Ouita Michel's superb Sorghum-Bourbon vinaigrette. I had produced the vinaigrette as part of a sorghum cooking demonstration earlier in the day.

    It was as if someone opened the door of the best sorority/fraternity on earth and invited me and my beloved Plus One to be honorary members for a couple of hours. Under stars. Surrounded by fluid flags. In clear cool sweetness. Accented by a moon as big and gold as a blessing. Wrapped in smells of caramelizing this and browning that. Problems presenting, problems resolving. Smiles, really, everywhere. That taking part, that communion with other chefs and cooks and great ingredients—that's what I had Craved.

    Much gratitude, and plenty of anticipation.

    Holly Hill Inn sponsors Savoring Kentucky.


    Rona RobertsComment