Sunday, September 18, 2011

Good Food Festival and Street Fair - Eat Well, Do Good

Farmers Markets are about eating local, supporting small farms (and people who produce food as passion projects), sustainability and community.  I love being able to meet the farmer who grew the veggies/herbs or raised the cows (steak) / caught the seafood I buy - and learning something new from them every time I go.
This year, the market most frequented by the best chefs and mixologists around the city, Santa Monica Farmers Market - is celebrating its 30th anniversary with the Good Food Festival & Conference, which kicked off Wednesday September 14 and runs through today.  The festival showcases locally and sustainably produced food and innovative leaders from the good food movement, and focuses on educating people about issues integral to local food systems, and benefits of good food.

The five days of events consisted of speaker panels, chef demos, a financing fair, trade and consumer shows, food policy summit, film screenings, and an oceanside “Localicious Gala”. I missed all weekday events due to work and budget, but was excited to be able to check out the first of two days of the Good Food Festival Street Fair (loved that admission is only $10!).

The Street Fair is held at Santa Monica High School, featuring exhibits from family farmers and artisanal food producers, street food from vendors who source from them, demos from some of LA’s best chefs (and book signings), and other sustainable and food focused vendors.

There are also demos and hands-on workshops on gardening and urban homesteading, and agricultural art on display featuring paintings by Works Project Administration artists from the 1930’s!

I started the day by strolling through the tents on campus, some from vendors from my favorite farmers markets, and lots of new ones I hadn't seen before.  Here are the highlights:
Raw Cane Juice is a familiar sight, and sampled their all-natural, no chemicals, no GMO juices.  I love their "detox elixir" with lime as well as ginger juice and cayenne for subtle heat and lovely layered flavors.  Also on offer are straight up raw cane juice, and an "Alkalizer Tonic" with lemon & lime juice, and chlorophyll, that balances your body pH.

They are offering show special pricing on glass bottles of cane juice - $5 for small and $10 for large.

You can also find Raw Cane Juice at farmers markets around the city (I get mine from Studio City!).

Other good drinks: O.N.E. Coconut Water was promoting their Active line, which has more herbs & antioxidants than the regular line. And they were selling both their regular and Active coconut waters for $1 each!!!! Those who buy coconut water regularly know this is a steal - they are normally up to $3 at the grocery store! I definitely stocked up - and I think shocked the rep by buying basically 2 cases of them.

For kids of all ages: a line of 100% clementine/tangerine juices from Cuties, a California juice producer which had adorable packaging and a variety of fun flavors from tangerine-kiwi to tangerine-coconut.

My friend 'Designer' joined me after a few hours, and we noticed a lot of vendors were featuring Padron Peppers, a new item to us.  Capay Organics had a nice display of them, but Weiser Farms actually had roasted peppers for us to sample (and sold plates of them for just $1).  Padron peppers apparently pack a lot of heat for their size!  But without the biting heat of jalapenos - it was intense, but smooth if that makes sense?

LA County Master Preservers Karen Hobert and Laurie Dill also featured Padron peppers in their fall veggies pickling demo, and handed out raw samples for us to try at home! (Preparation is simple: just saute in pan with olive oil until nearly brown, then sprinkle generously with sea salt!) I'd loved their DIY pickling session at Eat Real Fest, and was telling them about challenges with finding allspice berries at my local stores - when the previous presenter, Joe, true to the spirit of the event kindly volunteered to give me some from his stash! 

With samples and inspiration, Designer and I headed back to the tents to check out other vendors.  Although the intent of the Street Fair is to showcase breadth of good food movement supporters, I did wish there were just a few more actual farmers in the exhibits, showcasing produce people may not have seen before (I love discovering new items at places like Hollywood Farmers Market).

Ventura Fish Co is another familiar sight - as a regular at Studio City Farmers Market.  A family-owned business, they source fish from local fishermen with sustainable practices.  Then smoke them and make them into delicious pates. Our favorite was skipjack, mixed with peppers for a bit of crunch and light heat. 

Ray explained they catch their fish 'deep set, long line' - fish are allowed to swim around 'on the line' at a distance from the boat, after they have been 'hooked' - a way to give them time to calm down after the trauma of initial contact.  This allows them to destress a bit which is more humane and better in the end also for our food. 

The thing I was most excited to learn, is that five times a year Ventura Fish Co brings their boat into harbour, and allows customers to board and buy fish that just came in straight from the ocean.  There's no charge for admission and the next Fish Market will be sometime in late November / early December (timing depends on weather, size of catch etc. so they can't specify just yet) - to learn more about this when info is available, sign up for their mailing list!

Closeby to Ventura Fish Co. was The Santa Barbara Cheese Company - who produces artisan cheeses that are 100% cows milk that's rBST hormone free - who sampled three white cheeses. Our favorite was the "Montecito", a 'gouda-like' cheese that has been aged for 60 days - a semi-soft cheese that's sweet and nutty.  Loved this and bought a slice to take home!

There were also lots of sweets vendors who use natural and/or local ingredients.  Les Macarones Duverger had a beautiful table that I couldn't get enough shots of - including a display that made me wish macarons really did grow on trees!

They didn't have samples, but offered a show special:  $1 for the first macaron (vs. $1.75).  They use all natural ingredients and could give Paulette a run for its money with the light, Parisian style macaron that didn't at all taste coconut-y or collapse/clump together on first bite.

Lemon Bird Jams had some amazing sounding jams - from pomelo ginger and urfa biber, to orange and buddha's hand mostarda, to flower jellys.  I really wanted to love these unique creations, but the flavors for me did not meet expectations of nuanced layers suggested by the product names.  I'm rooting for them to keep working on the flavors though, and to start getting into farmers markets (right now they are just online) to get the visibility and support - love the creativity (and lovely packaging) and want them to succeed!

It was also good to see Creme Caramel LA there as well.  They had a special creme caramel flavor for the show - ube macapuno - which unfortunately sold out by the time we got to the booth.  Hopefully they will bring the flavor back another time!

A handful of restaurants were on hand to sample their farm fresh dishes - one of our favorites was from Paul Martin's American Bistro, a lovely smoked salmon lettuce cup that impressed us even as people who are not big fans of lettuce!

Malibu Pies sampled several pot pies, including an amazing curry beef pot pie that I wanted to sit and eat all day (for $7 you can get a full sized pie to chow down on at the event or to take home). 

Another highlight of the show were the cooking demos from some of the best chefs in LA.  I got to see Sherry Yard (renowned pastry chef at Spago) demo a giant apple strudel for 35 people - with help from sous chef Sally Camacho, who you might know from this season's Top Chef Just Desserts!

It was a fun demo, with Sherry's very liberal use of (and advocacy for) butter!  A helpful tip we got from the demo about pastry making - use a spray bottle to get clarified butter spread evenly and lightly over pastry to keep it moistened.
You can see the recipe for Sherry's apple strudel here.

Later in the afternoon was a fantastic demo from Suzanne Goin (Lucques, AOC, Tavern) who showed us how to make a simple, yet amazing meal of heirloom tomato and eggplant salad, and seared wild salmon with summer succotash and cherry tomato brown butter sauce.  I'm a big fan of Lucques Sunday Suppers, sophisticated and artistic creations, yet unencumbered and designed to let the natural flavors of her farm fresh ingredients be the stars.  At this demo, we died, just from the description, before a pan ever got fired up.
Suzanne was a truly great teacher.  She showed us exactly how to do each step and gave tips from storing ingredients (e.g. don't let tomatoes touch each other - store in individual peach crates or wrap each in newspaper), to how to get a nice sear on fish (put small weight on top - not enough to crush, just enough to press - when fish is in pan, skin-down, to get nice flat crisp sear), to how to tell when a piece of meat / fish is done (when juices start coming out, you're arriving at 'medium' / when white bits of fat start to come out from under skin, you should be about done).  The dishes seemed simple enough for the home chef, yet sophisticated and tasty enough to entertain with.

And as top chefs always advise - always taste your food: "If you're cooking and you find that you're hungry as you're finishing up, that's a bad sign.  You should have been tasting throughout the cooking."

She also brought out her favorite supplier from Shaner Farms, to answer questions about the farm!  It was lovely to hear their story about the 17 year relationship - farmer and chef are close partners, both passionate about their work, and each cannot do what they do without the other. 

A pretty funny anecdote Suzanne shared about her first time visiting the farm: "it was too cool for signs and street numbers", so when she couldn't tell which was their house, she tried to identify them by the avocados in their fields ("those look kind of like the ones I buy from them")!  Home chefs can also get access to quality ingredients - you can find Shaner Farms at Santa Monica Farmers Market on Wednesdays.

Right on theme, while cooking the salmon Suzanne talked about sustainable seafood, and how to find out where to get it - Monterey Bay Aquarium maintains a running list with a red-yellow-green light system to show at any time which species are ok to eat, or when we should refrain to allow populations to build back up.  You can download their Seafood Watch iPhone app to help find businesses and restaurants in your area that support sustainable seafood.

When the demo was done, the audience was invited up to the stage to sample the food - the salmon was absolutely divine, and I usually don't even like cooked salmon!

(For those going to the event today - chef demos include Susan Feniger, Ilan Hall and Nancy Silverton! Demos take place in the amphitheater, a little hard to find yesterday without signs - just head into the alley on the right, between the first area of tents by the entrance, and before you go up the slope to the second area of tents on the hill)

Aside from chef demos, there are also workshops and other fun events throughout the day - including a Mystery Lunch Box Cook-off.  We stumbled on this mid-afternoon, when a crowd gathered around a table with several silver platters of food. 

We somehow got ourselves into the judging panel, and went round the table with the crowd sampling the gourmet looking dishes, and voting for our top 2 with marbles. 

The dishes were beautifully presented: spinach egg lasagna, orzo tomato salad with strawberries and avocado, rice salad with tomato and squash, a gnocchi dish and a fettuccini dish.  All were vegetarian, but you wouldn't be able to tell from the rich flavors and sumptuous textures (yes, I'm generalizing that vegetarian dishes are usually bland and boring). 

I also thought that the dishes were created from different vendors - but turns out they were all made by teams of students from Santa Monica High School - definitely a very talented bunch! 

My favs were the spinach lasagna and rice salad - in the chaos of the crowd we weren't sure who actually won in the end - let me know in the comments if you were there and know the results!

Though we were filled up on the SaMo HS cookoff deliciousness, we couldn't pass up the Applegate full sized hot dogs - made with grass-fed, natural, humanely treated beef! So good, all around (except for the bread) - and apparently these don't cost that much either to buy at the grocery store - we were told $4-$5 a packet, and they were handing out $1 off coupons at the booth!

Before leaving, we scored samples from Nature's Path (flax seed granola and strawberry bars). 

All in all, certain elements of Good Food Fest Street Fair reminded me of Eat Real Fest - another event promoting local, sustainable food.  Except Good Food Fest didn't have some of the cool vendors serving up oysters shucked to order, and slick cuts of meat from Lindy & Grundy; is not as savvy with marketing (social media & signage); not in as 'chic' a venue as Helms Bakery; not as organized (it was hard to find different branches of the event, spread out over campus without much directional signage); not as many hands-on cooking workshops; and not free. 

That said, I still very much enjoyed Good Food Fest - it may not be as organized, or polished, as other similar events - but it genuinely, from the heart, celebrates community, and the symbiotic relationship between farmer, chef and eater, from farm to table. The event attracts A-list chefs for this reason.  At the core - it's about doing 'good', a passion project, authentically focused on changing perspectives, informing, and spreading the word about good food from people who are on the front lines advocating for the movement - among other things, to ensure that we take good care of what we have so that the bounty is there for future generations to enjoy.

Hope you'll get to check out the event today!

[For more photos of the event, check out my album on Facebook]

Good Food Festival and Street Fair
September 17th & 18th 10am-5pm
Santa Monica High School, 1801 4th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Admission: $10 at door

Parking: $3 flat rate at Civic Center lot (333 Civic Center Dr) - across from SaMo High School entrance (sign at entrance says $9 daily max, but sign at ticket machine confirms $3 flat rate Saturdays & Sundays)



  1. Sorry I didn't get to say hi! You were busy with lots of customers so I thought I'd just catch you another time. Congrats on another great event!



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