Photos and Words by Cat Lau
Come rain or shine, nothing gets in the way of Bostonians and their food. Ominous clouds circling overhead? Certainly didn’t stop me or the other hundreds of food lovers from going to the third annual Boston Local Food Festival held at the Rose Kennedy Greenway. From numerous tasting booths, food demonstrations, competitions, live music and petition booths, it was an exciting day for any foodie. For those who missed out on this year’s event, fret not; I have compiled a list of highlights from the day. With chocolate tasting stalls here and cheese tasting stalls there, I soon found myself in an eating frenzy; but a quick glance at my packed itinerary reminded me to get to the lamb cutting demonstration.
Jason Bond, chef and owner of Bondir Restaurant in Cambridge showed festival-goers how to cut a whole lamb the right way. Before starting, Bond removed the head of the lamb and placed it on a table, leaving it to grin at audience members. Along with entertaining commentaries, Chef Bond effortlessly cut through the lamb’s stomach with a surprisingly small knife and explained that the “natural seam” of the animal should guide you the right way.“ It should be easy, if its not, you’re doing it wrong.” said Bond as he sawed the legs off the lamb. Like a magician pulling a rabbits from a hat, Bond effortlessly pulled out ribs, liver, heart, kidneys and threw them onto the grill, proving that nothings goes to waste. Bond said that the kidneys are a good indicator to how fresh an animal is. He cooked them medium rare with the fat cushion attached to it to keep the juice. The roasted and herby flavor offset the delicate, soft and creamy texture of the kidneys. It went deliciously with a simple piece of bread.
Every part of the lamb can be roasted in tin foil, but what if you wanted something a little fancier? Bond recommends braising lamb shoulders in an oven with red coffee and lavender at 250 degrees Fahrenheit over night. Remove the meat from the bone the next day and roll up the meat into logs in a plastic wrap. Cut them into medallions and sear them in a pan.
So how many people can a whole lamb feed? The percent yield is usually around 50%. Bond estimated that the $200 lamb he bought initially weighed 30 pound but will yield about 15 pounds of meat. He also suggested some tips to better cook the meat:
- Lamb chops: use a towel to pull down the meat from the bone for better presentation.
- Nothing goes to waste: Always save bones after roasting and make a dark and flavorful stock with it.
- Keep summer alive: Bond uses dried herb salt or fennel with olive oil to season, a good way to use summer ingredients in a processed way to use all year round.
As Bond was wrapping up, two men were hauling a 300-pound pig over to the table and I saw it as my queue to move onto the next event. I headed to the “Seafood Throwdown” where Chef Colin Targett from the Boston Children’s Hospital and Chef Akeisha Hayde from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center battled to create a dish with the secret seafood ingredient: Skate fish. What fish? It belongs to the same family as rays, and the judges explain that it is almost indistinguishable to the meat of scallops.The Chefs were given 20 minutes to find any three ingredients they needed for their dishes.
Chef Akeisha arrived back at her station first with limes, quinoa, peppermint and oregano. Her plan was to make an infused mint quinoa, sautéed vegetables, with jerk marinated skate and a fresh carrot and beet salad as garnish. Chef Colin came back with the inspiration to create a “fall, autumn feeling” with his dish and pulled out white wine, local bacon and butter from his basket. His plan was to create a potato, apple hash with grilled Skate and Beurre Blanc sauce. As the chefs got busy preparing their dishes, the judges sat down at their panel and introduced themselves.
Reality check! I wasn’t watching Chopped or Iron Chef; I was witnessing a fierce culinary battle live. Chef Akeisha’s dish was up first; judges said her dish had a “wonderful aroma.” All of them were impressed with the texture and heartiness of the quinoa, which according to the judges paired well with the jerk spices. As for Chef Colin’s dish, two of the judges joked that he had an “unfair advantage” because he used bacon. We all know makes everything better.
“Both were different but Colin’s speaks autumn and seasonal.” Said a judge. When it came down to announce the winner, Chef Colin won the title at the “Seafood Throwdown” this year.
I had conquered land and sea and then it was time to satisfy my starving stomach. The endless stalls of food had me sampling rosemary and sea salt flavored popcorn, creamy jersey milk, Taza chocolates, chai caramel, local cheeses, artisan breads, soups, peanut butter, maple syrups and macarons. But what struck me were all the unique pairings of flavors at the festival; sustainability forced the chefs to become more innovative with seasonal flavors. Like the crab apple and parsnip soup for example. The fragrant and slightly sour soup called for autumn olive, beach roses and breadcrumbs that gave it a creamy yet floral flavor.
Speaking of soups, I had been eyeing the lobster bisque at Red’s Best stall for a while and decided to give it a try. A taster cup will set you back $5 while a bigger cup cost $10; a reasonable price considering the generous amount of lobster meat in the bisque. Jason Tucker, the farmer’s market manager at the Boston Fish Pier was kind enough to list all the ingredients in his bisque. He used butter, carrots, onions, celery, cognac, cherry tomatoes, parsley and thyme, lobster shells, sautéed garlic onions and tomato paste for color. “The lobster doesn’t make the stock red, it’s just an illusion” he said. Lastly he added the flour and cream, and then strained the bisque for a smooth consistency.
The creamy and velvety texture of the soup was complimented by the slightly spicy and herbal flavors of the stock; what made the bisque so special were the well-balanced flavors and the tender lobster meat. The hearty soup kept me satisfied until I realized that I was missing dessert.
I quickly came across a stall called The Fireplace, which offered two types of fried pies. My eyes darted from the words “Apple Blackberry” to “Fried Pies” and it took me a while to realize that I was in heaven. And that would make Jim Solomon, chef and owner of the Fireplace, God. I asked him how he got the idea of frying pies.
“First and foremost, I wanted to celebrate the bounty of New England, secondly I wanted to pay homage to president Franklin Peirce of New Hampshire- he liked fried pies.” He said.
In July he holds a “Dine like a President” brunch, lunch and dinner at his restaurant in Brookline. Solomon has done his research of dishes that presidents have enjoyed. He has served John Adam’s Indian pudding, JFK’s Belgian endive salad and George W. Bush’s BLT with mustardy mayo. But back to the apple blackberry fried pie. It was warm and buttery with a crunchy puff, the filling was smooth, slightly sour and syrupy from the apple and blackberry compote.
I left the Boston Local Food Festival with a new appreciation for cooking and eating sustainable and seasonal food--along with a full stomach! It was an eye opening experience to see what people in the local food field are doing for a greener earth. So now that you know what you missed out on this year, don’t make the same mistake next year. Look out for me at the festival, I'll be the one pushing and shoving people for free samples.