Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Epicurean Adventures: Jazz Fest Food Booths!

Here's a soundbyte from Where Y'at, the monthly tabloid-sized free entertainment mag I'm the food editor at, to give you a little highlight of why I love chowing down at Jazz Fest ... also included, an homage to one of my favorite seasonal dishes ever. The first weekend is over, but there's still next weekend!

Forget the Booze; Break Out the Booths!
“Summertime … and the livin’s easy …”

There’s no place where that’s truer than in New Orleans, where spring and summer combine into one glorious season. The fair-weather festivals are rolling in after a long and brisk “winter” and the events we’ve been looking forward to are finally upon us. I’m talking long days of music under a white-hot sun and (more importantly, for me) hours and hours of nonstop options for nonstop eats for just a handful of dollars.
The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival—fondly known the whole world over as Jazz Fest—comes in shortly on April 24-26 and April 30-May 3 with their usual little village of goodies for the fortieth year, with plenty of fan favorites for all. Of course, great alcoholic beverages will be available for side-by-side consumption with the extravagant amounts of food, but as a glutton and Where Y’at’s Food Editor, I plan on saving that room in my stomach for a second plate of something fried and delicious. Now who’s with me?

It’s a big-deal birthday for the beloved and grandest music event of the year, Jazz Fest, who turns the big 4-0 this spring. They’ve got fair food down to a science, with plenty of perennial favorites populating the whimsical village-style painted food areas. Vaucresson’s Sausage Company celebrates being a part of Jazz Fest from past to present, a staple at the Fest since its inception. Hot sausage po-boys and crawfish sausage po-boys are their in-demand specialties, served the same way for 40 years and counting. Vance Vaucresson has picked up where his father left off, “carrying on the tradition,” as Mandy Decker, Marketing and Press Coordinator for Jazz Fest, puts it.

Linda Wheat did the same with Mrs. Wheat’s Foods, offering their popular Spicy Natchitoches Meat Pie, crawfish pie, and broccoli and cheese pie every year, just like her mother did since 1980.

Lil’s BBQ is another that’s been with us since the 70s, Charles and Lillian Brown taking part since 1978. They do a lovely barbequed chicken, on the plate or as a sandwich, corn on a cob to accompany, iced tea to wash it all down with, and some lemon pound cake to clean your palate out and replace it with the sweet, moist goodness of dessert.

The Burks/Douglas’ have also been troopers since the early days, their specialty being red beans and rice, that good old New Orleans boy. They have a vegetarian option available, too, and are also giving up juicy blackberry cobblers this year as well.

This is just a preview of the great things to come this April, and but don’t forget that you also have the first weekend of May to dive into classic Jazz Fest food, too, and honor traditions decades old.

Jazz Fest Jambalaya

VoodooFest may be The Ritual, but I’ve got rituals of my own. One of the most important of these rituals is my annual hunt for what I call “brown jambalaya.” Rather than the red tomato-based jambalaya made famous by award-winning jambalaya master Wally Taillon—who, incidentally, is also the Chairman of the Gonzales Jambalaya Festival—my favorite is actually the one that more closely resembles dirty rice. Since Catering Unlimited supplies my Jazz Fest crack-in-a-bowl, the Fest is the one time of the year that brown jambalaya is available in all its rich Andouille and chicken and simmering heat. Maybe a big part of the appeal is the rarity of that jambalaya, but ever since my first Jazz Fest, I’ve been hooked, buying Fest tickets primarily for access to the jambalaya and using all of my spending money for that dish and that dish only. One word: yum!

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