Tuesday, July 05, 2005
Smithsonian Folklife Festival
The Smithsonian "castle"
There are some advantages to living near DC, including one that had completely escaped my notice up until last week. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival has been going strong for 39 years (almost as long as I've lived here), but it wasn't until this year that I paid it a visit. Actually, two visits.
Alice Waters' edible school garden
This year one of the themes was "Food Culture USA". I think food has always figured into the festival programs, but it has been a footnote rather than the focus. For instance, this year Oman and the Forest Service were two of the other programs and each included a series of presentations related to food. In the "Kitchen Oasis" tent you could sit in on "Coffee, Dates and Hospitality" or "All About Halwa". In the "Camp Foodways" tent, presentations included "Cooking in the Field" and "Catfish". But I only gave these parts of the festival a passing glance, for "Food Culture USA" had more than enough to monopolize my attention.
OK, I'm going to drop some names now... Paul Prudhomme, Lidia Bastianich, Sheila Lukins, Joan Nathan, Lisa Yockelson, Emeril Lagasse, Todd English, Alice Waters, Suvir Saran, and more, so much more! I wish I could have seen them all, but I felt fortunate to see as much as I did. I saw Paul Prudhomme, Susan Belsinger, Suvir Saran, and Lisa Yockelson.
Each gave a 45 minute cooking demonstration/talk and answered questions. The format they used sometimes worked well and other times seemed forced - a Smithsonian staff member or volunteer sort of acted as an emcee, introducing the cook, bantering with them, and calling on people with questions - but the presentations were informative and the speakers/cooks were interesting, funny, and down-to-earth. I also attended two presentations by "home cooks" (neither was a professional chef or food writer) which weren't as entertaining or informative, but which were still enjoyable. Joan Nathan was the co-curator for the program and judging from what I saw, she did a great job. I just wish they could do this every year!
camels on the Mall