New Festivals Crave Fan Trust, So A Complicated Meal Proceeds In Ark-Tic Conditions

Crave Lexington food + music festival turns two this year, and the weather threw an age-appropriate tantrum for the first big 2014 festival event. What's a young festival to do? The Crave crew chose "Keep Moist and Carry On." Great festivals must earn fan and sponsor trust to embed their event successfully in a region's annual calendar of mandatory, must-do-this activities, so in the face of epic rain, the Crave Sunday Fare team never thought of any other option than make it work somehow.

Water courses into The Tack Room at the Kentucky Horse Park, the alternative rain location for Crave Sunday Fare 2014.

Organizers had intended last Sunday's "Smoke and Strings" meal  to unfold in an idyllic outdoor grotto on a fabled farm, with adornments by Town Branch Tree Experts Jesse and Sara Hesley. I had imagined it as one of those legendary outdoor meals at long tables with white linens, under and among trees—and we have such splendid trees in the Bluegrass—alongside lovely aged limestone masonry work. And no insects, of course.

The grotto. Photo by Tim Dobson/Dobson Designs

Not this year. Not the year of 5.36 inches of rain—the fourth wettest day in recorded regional history. So, the team producing the event picked up and moved from the idyllic to the prosaic: a nice protective tent at the Kentucky Horse Park. All the patrons received emails about the changed venue and the meal went forward, in spite of rain coursing through the food preparation area, in spite of a level of dampness in the air that must have wreaked havoc with the variety of smoke treatments intended for each dish, and in spite of a sense that all of us might be the first humans to experience living inside water.

Here are 11 seconds of the rain in motion. Email subscribers: here's the video.

Crave Festival director Robbie Morgan says of the do-it-no-matter-what attitude the team manifested to pull off the meal, "Part of the reason I think this happens with Crave is because it is a unique thing that has the right attitude. This really is about celebrating what happens around the table....the work it takes to get there and the work to make it great." She credits two extraordinary pillars of Lexington's developing local food economy, Chef John Foster and Libby Allen, both of whom work at Sullivan Culinary and volunteer their time and expertise to underpin the success of many local food events: "And I have to say, much of the success of Crave Lexington is because of the relationship I have developed with John Foster -- observant, kind and always, always at the ready to solve a problem -- and Libby Allen, who will weather every storm and get every plate there on time with a handful of volunteers and things being done on the fly."

Savoring Kentucky has its own golden treasury of experiences with these two. They say "Yes" to any positive endeavor, and then make it work no matter what. That's exactly what Crave Sunday Fare required this year. When I asked Libby to name the primary challenges she faced in carrying out her portion of the work to deliver this meal, she included these two among others, "Using volunteers and having only half show up," and "The weather. We had already planned for inside the day before, but even with that when the rain hit again we had water at the drink station." She says the most important resources for dealing with the challenges were "the competent group of volunteers- from Sullivan culinary and event management students." 

Crave Festival director Robbie Morgan, left, looks on as Sullivan student chefs Laura Vogel and Will Unseld describe their meal opening trio of smoked soups.

"Three Chimneys" Trio of Smoked Soups, clockwise from bottom left: Chilled hickory-smoked tomato gazpacho, chili-smoked summer squash puree, and bourbon barrel-smoked sweet potato and sorghum bisque

Chef Foster said, "The weather by far was the biggest obstacle, not just the rain which robbed you all of a wonderful space to eat in (the grotto) but also the incredibly muggy weather after the rains stopped." And, like Libby, he credits the "dedicated few" who made the lunch happen in spite of every obstacle. He added, "The resources as always were centered on the local ingredients and local talent that seem to rise to the occasion. I always say that my job is made easier by the wonderful food we grow and harvest here in central Kentucky and it was on display today."

Bluegrass Banchan: Middle Fork Kitchen Chef Mark Jensen's sassafras smoked farm egg atop cold kansui noodle, with assorted fresh pickles, not shown

Field & Flight: Kentucky Horse Park Chef Adam Wade's apple & cherry-smoked lemon thyme Kentucky quail and pecan, smoked Kentucky Lamb (producer Eileen O'Donohue) with a coriander espresso rub, and collage of fresh garden vegetables and mushrooms

A quick poll among my seven newly met table mates gave particularly high marks to the soups and the lamb. My own measurement of the event's success stems from the way the conversation at my table concentrated on food and drink. In other words, normalcy reigned, instead of distress over the somewhat difficult conditions or worry about the capacity of the Festival. The dedication, verve, and persistence of the Crave Sunday crew notched one more milestone in Crave's necessary quest for credibility and reliability. Chef Foster said, "There was never any doubt that this Sunday Fare would go off because of the tenacity of Robbie Morgan and her ability to get extra effort out of people, places and things."

Here's a 30 second peek at the lunch tent just after diners had sat to enjoy Bluegrass Baking Company's good bread and prepare for the first course. Soundtrack by happy patrons, Mother Nature and Small Batch. Email subscribers, here's the video.

Crave Lexington's main event takes place September 13 and 14 in MoonDance at Beaumont Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Crave Lexington is a project of Smiley Pete Publishing. Learn more here. And think clear, fine weather for this festival that has already proven it can walk on water.

Rona RobertsComment