Monday, July 25, 2011

Eat Real Fest - OFF (Organized, Free, Fun) the Hook!

'Carmageddon' turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to people who like to be out and about in Los Angeles - regardless of 'little' obstacles like possible doomsday style traffic congestion.  As warnings for the masses to keep their vehicles off the streets last weekend worked their magic on most of Los Angeles - those of us ready to pursue good eats, and great fun, no matter what it took, lucked out with a utopic state of free reign over the city's uncharacteristically clear roadways.

Although the closure of the 405 freeway should have impacted us San Fernando Valley dwellers the most - especially when trying to get to the Westside - emboldened by the clear streets on Saturday and armed with my handy free Waze app, I decided to take a chance Sunday and head down to Culver City for the Eat Real Fest.

It was the least traffic I have ever encountered during normal waking hours. And everything ran perfectly from there.  I was impressed immediately with how well the event was organized, especially for its inaugural year in LA. There were clearly marked maps of parking lots, and school buses serving as shuttles with frequent pickups throughout Culver City. At stops clearly marked with ERF signage. And all info was posted on the site for easy access well before the event date. All this for a festival that is FREE to attend - yes, FREE - and food for purchase at $5 a plate.

I had been excited about this event from the minute I first read about it  - it was to be a celebration of food in all the glorious ways that we interact with it, bucketed into 4 key categories: Eat, Drink, Make and See.  Not only were there gourmet food trucks (which are ubiquitous nowadays) but DIY workshops, talks and demos where you can learn everything from how to raise your own bees and chickens, growing your own mushrooms, making your own kimchi, to how to butcher whole pigs and smoke them at home.  It sounded like a fun weekend of tasting and learning - and as you'll see below it by far exceeded all my expectations!

EAT/DRINK: Since I had the Extravaganza for the Senses event to go to Saturday, that left Sunday for ERF.  My friend 'Designer' lives within walking distance of Culver City, spent all day Saturday at ERF - and liked it so much that she wanted to go back Sunday.  So she became a great tour guide for our group, making sure we took a strategic approach to maximize our experience: like hitting the Carlsbad Aquarium booth before they run out of their fresh shucked Luna oysters.  We only felt the slightest tinge of guilt, for all the shucking the owners had to do, when we ordered a dozen oysters EACH (3 for $5, 8 for $10, 12 for $18. So I guess the $5/plate price was the 'starting' price, which makes sense.  Still a great deal).  We got over the guilt quickly though as we tasted the incredibly fresh oysters - which one owner described as 'more briny than other oysters, with a bit of melon-like flavor'.  The first part was definitely spot on, but personally we could not really taste anything that resembled melon (which was good, we didn't really want any sweet flavors with our oysters).

It probably took the owners 10 minutes to shuck two dozen oysters for us, and about 2 minutes for us to scarf the plate down whole.
The ERF was spread throughout the Helms Bakery space, and had a great flow where sections were broken up into digestible bites.  So after oysters, we walked around the stalls in the immediate indoor space, checking out all the cool small batch, local producers - everything from spicy pickles to infused kombucha (fermented tea that tastes vinegary) to Jamaican Jerk sauce. 

In the outdoor sections were gourmet food trucks, beer gardens, a farmers market style stand offering stone fruit (bought some amazing pluots!) and stages with various musical performances or food demos, with giant haybales for seats.  At around 11am, at the Main Stage they had burlesque and salsa dancers - it was an unexpected thing to do so early Sunday morning, which sort of added to the charm of the performance and the randomness made it all the more fun and amusing!

One of my favorite outdoor demos was from Olio Pizzeria's Bradford Kent, who brought a mobile wood-burning oven (yes, you read that right), and demonstrated how to make pizza from scratch - offering of course then his fresh from the oven margherita pizza for guests to sample.  He also generously offered a home-cook version of his dough recipe to anyone who was interested - I can't wait to try both the recipe, and other pizzas at the restaurant!

MAKE:  Which brings us to another key bucket of activity at ERF: DIY workshops. The ones we attended were tons of fun - starting with the Watermelon Rind Pickling workshop - where we got hands-on to create jars we could take home.  Ours turned out pretty gorgeous, if we do say so ourselves. 

I will share the recipe in a separate post, to prevent this one from going novel-length!

There was also a pesto-making class, but I figured that would just be a lot of chopping, so we skipped in favor of seeking other eats.  Later in the afternoon, we checked out the Bitters class and learned about their history, how to make them at home, and of course had some handcrafted samples from our 'trainer'.  I thought the class was interesting, though I didn't have the taste buds to appreciate bitters outside of cocktails - it all tasted a bit medicinal, and um, bitter (duh!) to me.

SEE: Two really intriguing cooking demos were the pig butchery (which I'd already seen at a previous Artisanal LA show, really cool) and noodle-pulling (where a chef demonstrated techniques from 'knife flick' to 'handpull', then let us sample each so we can tell the textural difference).  There was also a 'how to smoke meat in your garbage can' demo, which we didn't attend but reaped the benefits of hours later, when a huge leg? of pork was rolled out  in its roasting box - and the chef carved out big slices for the crowd.  That pork was so juicy and full of natural flavor, that we shamelessly went back for third helpings (hey, there was a huge hind of pork and they weren't going to take it home!)

Other sights to see were cute farm animals from ducks to chickens to piglets, and various herbs and veggies planted in the display gardens. Oh, and live bands on two stages throughout both days!
Last thing I want to mention:  I really have to say event organizers did a stellar job with infusing every element of the event with a consistent message:  support the local, sustainable, green and eco-friendly.  There were the suggestions and incentives for alternative transportation, like bike valets and free shuttles.  There was a 'Zero Waste Zone' and recycling stations everywhere you turned.  Not only were the recycling stations split by compostables, landfill items and recyclables - there were volunteers manning each station to tell you which bin to put each type of trash in - so that it became a point of interactive learning as well. The event not only promoted a 'nose to tail' philosophy, but walked the walk with a 'farm to finish' approach to the experience as well as sort of educating people about how they could go green at the event.

All in all, one of my favorite events of the year and by far my favorite FREE event.  I loved that they had guest relations people on site taking surveys to get an immediate read on people's experience of the event, and asking questions about improvements they'd like to see - mad respect for that approach!  My answer to the improvement question: have more beverage sampler stations (to mirror the amount of food being sampled) and to hold this event more often!!!

ERF, hope we'll see you again very soon!!!

[See more pics from the Eat Real Fest in my photo album on Facebook!]


Eat Real Fest
Saturday July 16 10:30am-9pm & Sunday July 17 10:30am-5pm

Historic Helms Bakery District
8800 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90034
Event Website:

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