Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cultivate Festival

While I like Chipotle, I would never blog about the restaurant as such because they are everywhere. I don't think I need to tell anyone about it because people already know about them and they can make their own opinions. I will, however, talk about the Cultivate Festival presented by Chipotle which was in Chicago last Saturday. The Cultivate Festival was a celebration of the farmer and sustainable farming practices. Chipotle had several booths selling food and trying out new recipes (at a very reasonable price). They served chicken and steak soft tacos with blue corn tortillas, fresh vegetables, and salsa which was just as good as the stuff that they sell in their restaurants.
They also had carnitas tostadas which, while it tasted pretty good, was pretty messy. It was kind of like trying to eat well covered nachos with your hands. They were also selling pozole and barbacoa chili. I tried the pozole and while it was really good, it had no meat. While I realize the key ingredient in pozole is hominy, all of the other pozole that I have ever had has also included some sort of meat, usually pork. I didn't try the chili but I'm sure it was good as well. In addition to their food tents, they also had five stations where they talked about sustainable farming practices and practices that they promote. If you visited four of these stations, you could get a certificate for a free burrito at any Chipotle.While Chipotle was sponsoring the festival, they were not the only game in town. There was an artisan tent where artisanal food vendors like Seedling Fruit Farm, Black Dog Gelato, Rich Chocolates, and Joe's Blues that were there to promote the way they did things and obviously to sell their wares. There were more vendors there than I could try, but I did my best. Joe's Blues was selliing something that didn't sound like it should work. It was a corn cake on top of which was a pulled pork stew. This would have been great but when they topped it with blueberries, it was weird enough that I had to try it. In my mind, it shouldn't have worked but it was really good. There was also a brewers tent with 15 local brewers and vintners. The beer was sold by the pint or the 3 oz cup. I like trying several beers so I liked the 3 oz pours.
The entertainment was very well coordinated. There were two tents doing chef demos bringing in chefs that are both well known locally and nationally and pairing them with a local farmer. The chef, some of whom had existing relationships with the farmers with which they were paired, would make something with something that the farmer would provide. There were five demos in each tent and it was a combination of local and nationally known chefs doing a demo every hour and a half. The demos would last 45 minutes and some pretty good bands (including White Rabbits and Calexico, who finished the festival) played on a separate stage between demos. One of the demo tents did demos, the other tent, where most of the local chefs worked, also provided samples. I saw five demos, three with samples, two without but it was okay because they were still good. Jonathan Waxman essentially made a Dietzler Farm strip roast. He was funny and the steak looked good. I then went to the other tent and saw Paul Virant (Vie, Perrennial Virant) making a Panzanella with Dietzler Farm steak. It was very good and I forgot to take a picture of it. I did, however, take a picture of my next sample, a Kabocha Squash Cutlet with Pumpkin Seed Coulis (like curry), with apples and pecans by Bruce Sherman of North Pond. It was really good and it was nice that he gave the audience the recipe. Tony Mantuano made pasta and a kale pesto which looked good but unfortunately he did it in the tent that strictly was doing the demos.The last demo I went to was a beer and cheese tasting by Goose Island Brewery's Education Director, Susan Wolcott. We had a Matilda and a Sofie paired with a creamy goat cheese and a white cheddar. Both of the cheeses were local but I don't remember what dairies that they came from. We learned how exactly to taste the beer and cheese together and saw that they had very similar flavor profiles. It was fun and good and I learned something.

This was a very cool festival and I hope it comes back next year. It was very well coordinated, it wasn't that crowded, and it was free to enter, see the bands, and the chef demos. The food and beer did cost some money but everything was reasonably priced. It was a very long day but it was a lot of fun.

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