Salute to Summer Food Festivals

Published in Gourmet Live 05.23.12
We’re kicking off Memorial Day weekend with a new fair-inspired menu, plus behind-the-scenes tales and tastes from the food-festival circuit

Summer’s so close we can smell it— a heady mixture of sea air and sunscreen, along with the nostalgic scent of salty-sweet eats and treats, the kind served up at summer fairs coast to coast.

But, wait—is that a whiff of something bitter in the breeze? Indeed it is, as Elizabeth Gunnison, a former assistant to super-chef Tom Colicchio, shares an amusing contrarian view of the “walk-around” food festivals and charity tastings that have become so popular in recent years. Gunnison’s take on these events—where droves of restaurants serve small tastes to people who have paid handsomely to jostle one another and juggle miniature plates—has cooled further now that she’s on the consumer side. “The format turns the act of eating—which, at its best, should be pleasurable, relaxing, even thought-provoking—into a competitive sport,” she contends. But if you’re determined to play, especially in this season of outdoor megafests, take note of Gunnison’s tips for success.

Nichol Nelson, a former editor at Gourmet magazine, shares another insider perspective on the food-festival scene as she reminisces about a summer job from her teen years at the Minnesota State Fair’s all-you-can-drink milk booth. However wholesome and bucolic this scenario sounds, Nelson reveals the fair to be a glutton’s dream, and a sloppy business indeed for the overworked milkmaids and their fast-food-flinging comrades in arms.

From underbelly we segue to filling bellies, Southern style: In anticipation of an annual event steeped in local food with a side of folk art, Sara Bonisteel, our colleague at sibling site Epicurious, leads a visual tour of the Louisiana Catfish Festival. This tribute to the king of the Mississippi takes place every summer in the Catfish Capital of the Universe—a.k.a. the small town of Des Allemands, about 40 miles from New Orleans.

And finally, our latest Gourmet Modern Menu celebrates the start of summer with three recipes that riff on carnival fare with a Gourmet twist: Turkey Meatball Heroes on Garlic Bread, crispy Fried Onion Dippers for dunking in tangy Balsamic Ketchup; and Frozen Chocolate-Dipped Bananas with Peanut Brittle. One cool and creamy bite of these make-ahead treats is bound to transport you to the Balboa boardwalk (or the set of Arrested Development). And they’re served on a stick, of course.

What’s your favorite summer fair food? Tell us via Twitter or Facebook, drop us a line (, or post a comment on our blog. For more tasty bites, sign up for our weekly newsletter to get convenient access to our most-read blog posts, editors’ favorite recipes, and exclusive reader offers.

Wishing you a tasty festival season,

The editors of Gourmet Live

Gourmet Live
Subscribe to Gourmet