Is it possible to have a food festival that doesn't feel like a food festival? One where the food gets more attention than the celebrity chefs? Where farmers get recognized as the superstars that they are? The answer is yes and the proof was on display in Dallas this past weekend.
In a town known for black tie affairs filled with oil barons and their peroxide pals, this weekend's Chefs for Farmers “Down & Dirty on the Boulevard” festival was a sight (and sound and taste) for sore eyes. Billed as “the down home, no fuss, culinary event of the year,” it delivered with an afternoon that felt more like a community picnic than a highfalutin food festival. Dallasites brought their own glassware and set up blankets throughout Robert E. Lee Park as rockin' bluegrass covers of Snoop Dogg and Sublime made the whole afternoon feel almost like an outdoor concert with an incredible food component.
That food came from more than 30 Texan chefs serving a variety of dishes that went well beyond the standard pork belly/short rib/ceviche shortcut dishes you usually see at these things. The best dish of the day was awarded to chef Jill Bates of Dallas stalwart Fearing's for her supremely tender red chile-braised rabbit enchiladas with green chile salsa and a carrot/jicama slaw. It was exactly the type of complex dish you don't see at events like these. Festival organizer (and recently named Best Chef in Dallas) Matt McCallister of FT33 teamed up with Andrew Wiseheart of Austin's Contigo and they both went whole hog with a full-on charcuterie spread that showed the magic of cured pig parts with hazelnut salami, face bacon, pancetta, and more. There was also an incredible wagyu “brisket on a biscuit” with housemade pickles to off-set the richness from Robert Lyford at Patina Green and ultra-delicate pumpkin fritters with bacon mayo from Jon Stevens at Stock & Barrel that had the whole crowd going back for seconds. Overall, the variety of food served was a big testament to the burgeoning Dallas culinary scene.
Perhaps the coolest part of the Chefs for Farmers event is that not only do the chefs pay tribute to the farmers they work with every day, but the farmers were there as well with their own tables educating the public on what they do. While most chefs these days pay lip-service to the concept of farm-to-table, it's really refreshing to see that organizers Matt and Iris McCallister have taken their support to the next level with event proceeds going directly to the farmers as well as the North Texas Food Bank and juvenile offender rehab spot Cafe Momentum.
A food festival without pretention or attitude? What a good idea.
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