Between the Gold Standard, Taste of the Nation L.A., and the Grilled Cheese Invitational, Los Angeles has hosted enough themed foodie conventions to provoke Christopher Guest's next mockumentary. Next weekend, the first annual Korean BBQ Festival and Cook-Off kicks off in K-Town, and on August 20th, Sustainable L.A. brings the slow food movement to downtown, giving us plenty of excuses to put our money and our mouths where our blogs are.
For some, the idea of sampling food from fifteen, thirty, or fifty restaurants in the course of an afternoon with thousands of other foodies, running around with their forks out, charting festival maps with pens as though they were making the roller coaster rounds at Disneyland, doesn't really sound very appetizing.
There is the fact that you do not sit down, except, perhaps, at a cheap plastic table littered with Dixie cups, or maybe a lawn littered with the same. There are the rationed portions, the disposable, fairy-sized utensils and plates, the wine in plastic goblets, the forks and knives too flimsy to spear a falafel or cut through a tough bit of pork belly. If it's outside, there's the weather. The late summer sun will affect the time you have to enjoy the segregation of elements in an affogato, or the calculated slush of a nitro margarita.
The experience of a food festival is not relaxing. You will not be waited on. You will wait in lines, and you will have to walk. You will be denied the privilege of ordering, and there are no substitutions. Like large music festivals, where you get brief glimpses of great bands with an emphasis on beer over acoustics, the food will be good, but you'll have to drop all preconceived expectations of ambience. You will be eating Nancy Silverton's butterscotch budino en route to the Jitlada booth with a spoon recycled from your Hungry Cat ceviche.
Despite the dissolution of an intimate dining experience, food festivals offer a sampling of food from some of the best restaurants in Southern California. The key, it seems, is pace. Give yourself enough time between booths, and hit up your top favorites first. The best part is, the bill precedes the meal (ticket price), so you won't be surprised. Plus, you don't have to do the dishes.
Survival Guide to Los Angeles Food Festivals
Pick up a bottle of water and carry it with you to wash down food and hydrate, especially if the festival is outside and you are drinking. It is best to bring a purse or wear something with pockets, so you can save your hands for cups and plates.
2. LEAVE NANCY ALONE
Do not stalk your favorite chefs, baristas, or food critics. You are a self-proclaimed foodie. Perhaps you have had dreams about toasting with Eric Alperin from Varnish or harbor fantasies of a photo with Nancy Silverton. If you cannot limit your lens to the plate, leave the camera at home.
3. PACE, PACE, PACE!
Don't go happy too early on in the game. It's good to start off with your top destinations, but stagger your courses so that you are able to enjoy every bite.
4. TAKE YOUR SWEET TIME
If you're the sort of person who sees no problem with cupcakes for breakfast, it's not necessarily wise to save dessert for last. Either save ample room for a mango with sticky rice session after sliders and oysters, or take breaks from the savory with a cup of tea and a cookie before heading back for steak tartare.
5. WHY IS THIS PORK BELLY DIFFERENT FROM ALL OTHER PORK BELLIES?
Don't be afraid to ask! Take advantage of the people behind the booth. Each restaurant chooses to feature one or two dishes for a reason, and your interest in special ingredients or the process is usually considered flattery.
6. RECYCLE YOUR UTENSILS, CUPS
If a mole-tinted fork doesn't offend your fried rice, reuse the plastic ware to reduce waste.
7. BRING BACK THE BIB
You're going to be eating a lot, and there's no reason to let the tightness of your pants get in the way of you and a bacon doughnut. Ditch the belt for a good old elastic waistband. If you're a genuine appreciator of fine food, you know that your victual vocabulary is much more important than your designer dress. And let's face it: wearing white always leads to regrets. It's survival of the fittest at the foodie farm: wear a bib.