If you want to see a bunch of food writers turn into divas, make them stand outside in the heat and mud and don't feed them.
The first day of Free Press Summer Fest saw some ticketing hiccups early in the morning before the annual preview breakfast featuring the musical stylings of Bun B paired with food from Uchi. The fact that we weren't able to get into the lovely air conditioned tent for about an hour after we arrived just made us more happy to see the food, though, and Bun B was just about as gracious a host as you can imagine.
Cocktails were created by Justin Burrow of Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge, and the lemon and vodka one with a greenish hue prompted Bun B to start chanting for "more green drink" as the breakfast service was beginning. The breakfast was a collaboration between Philip Speer and Kaz Edwards of Uchi and Ja'Nel Witt, winner of Hell's Kitchen. If the event itself was a bit unorganized, the food service was exactly the opposite. The runners from Uchi were just about the fastest and most competent I've ever seen.
As we were running a bit behind schedule, the courses were served in quick succession. First, a play on bacon and eggs: A pickled quail egg atop a chicharron with bacon powder and a semi-dehydrated blueberry. The single bite didn't quite evoke bacon and eggs for me, but I'd go to town on a plate of those pickled quail eggs in a different context.
The next course was a Thai coconut pancake created by Witt. It was topped with curry, ginger butter and kaffir syrup for a sweet but exotic twist on a classic breakfast dish. During these courses, Bun B took the mike and rapped about the experience while Dan the Automator provided tunes. "It's not just music, and it's not just food," he spoke, "it's the combination that will put you in the right mood."
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The third course definitely put us in the right mood. It featured fried chicken dumplings on a bed of kimchi with yuzu kosho, a spicy sauce made with the peel of the yuzu fruit and chile peppers. If they would have brought me five courses of that same dish, I would not have been disappointed.
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In the few minutes between the third and fourth courses, I got up to take a vine video of Bun B rapping about the next offering, a corn pudding with fennel sausage and potatoes with fermented black bean sauce. That never happened, because no sooner had Bun B inhaled to begin his verse then the power went off in the entire NRG Energy tent (#irony).
"Well, I guess that's the end of the music," Bun B yelled, now without the assistance of a microphone. "And it's the end of the air conditioning. So eat up!"
Apparently a belt on the generator snapped, so it wouldn't be a quick fix. Instead of plating the liquid nitrogen ice cream with much fanfare, it was done quickly so as to get everyone either home or to another air conditioned tent (or out to the music, where it was going to be hot and muddy anyway). It would be poetic to say that the deflated flowers adorning the ceiling of the tent were a metaphor for the breakfast itself, only once the event was over, I heard and felt nothing but positive things.
Yes, it took freaking forever to get in to the actual tent, and once we did the AC didn't last long, but that's not what the preview breakfast was about. It was about playful and delicious food and fun rhymes, and in that sense, it totally delivered. And it certainly didn't hurt that Bun B abandoned the non-working mike to take selfies with just about every one of the 200 people in attendance. That's how you work a room.