Cleveland Garlic Festival

Pass the breath mints.  It’s time to consume garlic with reckless abandon.  The Cleveland Garlic Festival is the annual fundraiser for the North Union Farmers Market. The two day event allows the market to operate weekly throughout the year in Greater Cleveland.  I’ve gone for years.  But this was the first year I got to participate!

garlic fest raw

The funds generated help them administer and expand their educational and charitable market programs, which include Food Stamp enhanced purchases/EBT-SNAP, Music at the Market, Chef at the Market and the Mighty Locavores K-2 educational programming in Cleveland Municipal School District.

As you make your way around Shaker Square, which hosted the festival, you could sample countless varieties of the vampire repellent.  Purple, elephant, you name it.  Plus local producers had samples of the other products they make from it.

Even more popular were the stands that incorporated garlic, like garlic fries, garlic pickles, garlic burgers, even ice cream and cotton candy.

garlic fest chef demo

Throughout the weekend, there was also a series of demos, and competitions, the Top Chef Garlic Grill Off.  Local chefs were asked to bring their A game and feature various combinations, highlighting garlic.  I was asked to judge the pasture raised pork and garlic round.  Don’t mind if I do?!

Everyman chef, Mike Downing, of Garage Cookin’ presented his “tacanini,” or a cross between a taco and a Panini.  The smoked pork had just enough subtle garlic and smoke flavor to it, and it was very tender.  Loved the touch with the pickle, too.

Table 45 Chef Matthew Anderson gave us a dynamite pulled pork slider using pork butt, garlic used three different ways, a carrot slaw and a killer aioli.  Can you tell I liked that one?

garlic fest winning dish

Chef Cameron Krahel, from Canal Tavern of Zoar, took the classic pork and beans to a new level, and even found a way to incorporate garlic in to the peach garnish…a great surprise.  The vinegar-based barbecue sauce that he provided on the side was a better choice compared to a heavier, ketchup/tomato based one.  And the beans were cooked to perfection.

pork tenderloin

Finally, Chris DiLisi, from Willeyville in the East Bank of the Flats, plated up the prettiest dish of the competition, using pork belly and tenderloin, among other ingredients.  It not only packed the boldest garlic punch of all the dishes, but it also displayed many difficult culinary techniques.

The surprise bonus to those watching the competition? There were samples (full sized ones!) of all of the “contestants” provided to the audience in the demo tent. Admission to the festival was only $9, plus a whole meal’s worth of taste tests.What a deal!

We were asked to judge the dishes in five categories (flavor, texture, appearance, creativity and use of garlic). In the end, the scores were quite close, but my fellow judges (Tricia Chaves of Fresh Water Cleveland and ptaom.com, and Michael Feigenbaum of Lucy’s Sweet Surrender) and I chose Chef Krahel as the winner.  The small town chef was genuinely surprised to nab the win, but he deserved it.

garlic fest winner

What a great way to spend a sunny Sunday.  And I have 3 more cooking competitions on my calendar coming up the fall.  Not a bad line up ahead for me!  Think I could make a living with gigs like this??  I’m working on it!

 

 

 

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The Feast!

I spent most of Sunday with a glass of homemade wine in my hand, and sat at an old kitchen table stuffing “Aunt Sue’s” hand made cannoli.  That can only mean one thing-time for The Feast of the Assumption.  It’s a holy day marking Mary’s ascension into heaven.  And for Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood, it’s the busiest week of the year.  Marrying food, faith, family and heritage.  For me, it’s a can’t miss event.

This year we returned to the house that belongs to my future sis-in-law’s great Aunt Sue.  The 90 year old cooks enough to feed an army, and opens her home, adjacent to Holy Rosary Church (the center of the celebration), to dozens of people…whether or not their last name ends in a vowel.  The home made spread was hearty and true to neighborhood.

Pizza, Cavatelli and meatballs, Eggplant Parmesan, Caprese salad, Stuffed Peppers, Breaded Chicken, Sausage, Pepperoni Rolls and Beef Braciole.

I sampled everything on the table, of course!  My kids went right for the meatballs.  But quickly moved on to all things sweet, most colorful of which was the layer cake made like the Italian flag.

When I was done with round one…after all, this is a marathon, not a sprint, I eagerly volunteered to help my Alisa fill her grandmother’s hand made cannoli shells.  She was so grateful for the help, she even shared the secret ingredient to her cannoli filling (Dream Whip)  and invited me back to do the same job on Christmas Eve.

It was time to walk off some of our feast and check out the rest of the action.  We walked through the carnival portion (with short detours for a Ferris Wheel ride, and obligatory gambling at the church…we’re Catholics, after all) then past the gauntlet of food stands and vendors all serving up the neighborhood’s best.  Sausage and peppers wrapped in pizza, steamed clams, Stromboli.  You could linger for the entire length of the four day festival and still not eat everything you can smell as you walk down Mayfield Road.

We stopped by the historic Alta House, a community center that once served as a place for Italian immigrants to get help with housing, employment and language skills.  Now it’s mostly a recreation center, including several bocce courts that played host to a coed tournament.  But before we could take off our belts, to help determine who was closest to the “pallin” (really spelled pallino)-common practice-it was time to head back to Aunt Sue’s for the private concert in Sue’s driveway, courtesy the Italian Band of Cleveland.

It was such a treat, not only to listen to this charming group, but also to watch generations of people enjoying it together.

 

I’m so pleased to have spend another weekend among good people, great food and strong traditions.  Buona Festa, everyone!