It’s that time of year again. The time when the hustle and bustle of the holidays, cheers of good tidings, and Christmas carols consume our every waking moment. It’s that time of year we receive holiday greeting cards from someone we least expected, white elephant and secret Santa gifts, holiday office parties, dinner parties, cocktail parties, and for some, the dreaded family gatherings where everyone pretends dysfunction doesn’t exist until Uncle Joe gets drunk and knocks over the cupcake tower.
I’ll be spending the holidays with family this year – despite all of its dysfunction. There will be an abundance of extraordinary dishes, prepared by the many chefs and foodies in the family. There will be wine and eggnog, and there will be Christmas carols. Did I mention food? There will be plenty. There will also be great conversation, hugs and good times – time for reflection.
Wide-eyed children will listen intently and the adults will gasp as I spin tales of my many dining experiences in the West. Family and friends, young and old will gather around the fire, while I speak of my most memorable street food experiences in 2012.
It has, after all been a very abundant year in street food, and the extra pounds I’ve taken on are testament to that.
I’ll amaze them with the story of one of the most incredible dinners I’ve eaten, literally curbside in Portland, Oregon at the soon to be famous, Artigiano, where Chef Rachael Grossman serves “five star” dishes on actual dishes with real utensils.
Chef Rachel is a culinary mastermind with the training and experience to back it up. Having spent nearly her entire life in the kitchen, working alongside her grandmother, a seasoned French chef, Rachel was formally trained at Le Cordon Bleu culinary institute. Then, she worked as a chef in Italy before returning to the US.
Their mouths will water and they’ll gasp in disbelief when I tell them tales of Artigiano’s Urban Farm Marinated Veggies, Fettucine Alla Checca, Handmade Fetuccine with Pesto Genovese, Yukon gold Gnocchi, and a tender, juicy Braised Pork Shoulder with yukon gold potatoes and gypsy peppers.
They’ll clench their rumbling tummies when I reminisce about the best authentic Mississippi breakfast I ate at Miss Kate’s Southern Kitchen at the popular Mississippi Marketplace in Portland, Oregon, just a few miles from Artigiano. Visions of Messy Biscuits and Gravy will dance in the children’s heads as I paint a picture of three thick-cut slices of bacon, and an egg over easy on a large biscuit, all smothered in the most delightful bacon gravy I’ve ever tasted.
With my East Coast roots, I eat a lot of seafood. Some of the best – and some of the not-so-best, but this is a story of good tidings – has come from food trucks and food carts flanking the West Coast. Bubbling to the top of the list of incredible seafood catches in 2012 is the freshest fish taco I’ve ever eaten at Twister Truck in Alameda, CA during the Trucks on the Vine event that I hosted with Eat St. in November.
Which brings me to other happy thoughts of the mind-blowing food events I’ve experienced throughout the year. Of course, Trucks on the Vine tops the charts. Not only was it the first event we officially organized at Stitches ‘n Dishes since we launched, it was the first Eat St. event we hosted. There’s no doubt the family will ooh and ahh over the tantalizing tales of the stellar line up of five-star, Michelin-rated, Zagat reviewed, award-winning chefs we assembled for the event along with some of California’s best wines and beer. 4,000 people packed into the Alameda County Fairground for the event, despite the weather challenges of the day.
Eat, See, Hear in Long Beach, California was the show-stopper of the Summer in 2012. A giant, inflatable movie screen, live music, incredible sound system, beautiful venue and outstanding food trucks just outside the pier made for fun-filled dinner and movie night with friends.
In mid-July, we found ourselves at Cal Expo in Sacramento, California where the California State Fair hosted the record-breaking World’s Largest Cocktail made by Nick Nicora, owner of the Hussong’s food cart. This food cart operator thinks outside the box in a very big way, and has grown his small food cart into a multi-brand food and beverage business serving the entire country.
Not far from Long Beach, we stopped in at the Del Mar Street Food Festival, on July 28, where the San Diego County Fair hosted its second annual Food Truck Festival at the Del Mar Race Track, featuring 46 gourmet food trucks from San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles, as well as more than 60 craft beers.
I will touch their hearts with the story of a Grass Valley, California retiree who wanted to give back to her community. She organized the Penn Valley Food Truck Food Festival to benefit local high school agriculture students. The event featured live bands, huge raffle prizes, a mechanical bull and a rock climbing wall, and was surrounded by 20 gourmet food trucks from all around Northern California. We were honored to award the 2012 Top Street Chef award to Joseph Looza, Chef / Owner of El Matador Mobile Mex from Sacramento, California at that very event.
And to finish off my pre-dinner appetizer, I’ll tell them about this year’s biggest street food – and bricks and mortar – trends. Without hesitation, without a doubt or speculation, hands down, this year’s top trend is all about the bacon. From bacon favorites to the obscure, we’ve seen it all. That’s parlayed into a new appreciation for pork. It’s not just the other white meat anymore. In 2012, pork became the new beef.
In my closing thoughts, I’ll have them praising the lard, when I tell them about Lardo, founded by Rick Gencarelli in Portland, Oregon, inciting a flurry of carnivorous customers to “praise the lard,” too. We revisited Lardo, now a bricks and mortar restaurant to catch up with Rick, and fell in love with pork all over again.