Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Tale of Two Festivals

There's an article in SF Weekly that provided some insight on the brief history of gourmet food trucks. I'd gone to my first two truck-centric events recently. Looking back, they were as different as Chiptole is to Red O. Both may serve Mexican cuisine, but the similarities ended there.

I was fortunate enough to be a +1 to the first OC Foodie Fest. 50 food trucks congregating at Anaheim's Honda Center, 80% of them based out of Los Angeles. Sold out at approximately 8,500 attendees, I knew to expect long lines. When you're surrounded by fellow foodies, you get to talking. My queue-mates began to compare and contrast the details of the event with others they attended. The general consensus was that it could've been more accommodating.

For starters, general parking was $15. This might not be a big deal, except that admission was $12. Taking into consideration sporting events typically charge under $10 here (and at the ballpark down the street), it felt like we were being cheated out of spending money. To pay that kind of money before you even enter the venue would be acceptable if you provided the promised....

....goodie bags to ticketholders. There were none. Not even a bottled water, which could have made up for some frustration. Dry throats were forced to pony up $3 for sodas/water. (Unless you were perceptive and spotted those vendors who snuck in more affordable options.) Those who paid more than double for alcohol couldn't even consume it while waiting in line. That, combined with an utter lack of....

....shade really tested one's patience. Combine the open air venue with temperatures creeping into the 80s plus lines in disarray and folks start to feel miserable. Also, let's not forget the number of trucks that began running out of food before 3:30 like Nom Nom, Ludo's and Cart for a Cause. The event was scheduled to end at 7pm, and supposedly extra inventory was allowed to be stored close by.

Maybe we blame poor planning on the trucks, for not calculating the right amount of food to prepare. Or do we point a finger at the organizers for not delivering a better overall experience? Perhaps it's the attendee for having too high an expectation for a new event. Either way, things could've been better. For me, I was relatively happy with how it all went down. I did, however, use a "divide & conquer" method when hitting the lines. This allowed us to maximize our time and eat a little more than most.

Then I go to the LA Times Food & Wine Festival at Paramount Studios in Beverly Hills, and I was pleasantly surprised.

The venue alone provided a couple of things normally overlooked: an option for free street parking *AND* built-in shade (thanks to the movie sets casting shadows). You really don't appreciate things until they are gone, and we were grateful for these two details.

While the $40ish (thanks Facebook fan page for the discount code!) to get in may be steep, I counted no less than 5 free beverages. Fiji bottled water, lemonade, Izze limon, a vodka drink, and lots and lots of wine. There were drink tickets handed to everybody, and everybody was getting their drink on! I was able to focus my spending on a few choice locations.

No doubt the publication was able to pull in a ton of sponsorship, or else how could we get so many free food samples as well? Champagne grapes from Melissa's. Lavender honey ice cream from The Cooking Channel truck. Cake balls from a local caterer (sooooo dense and moist). Bummed I didn't get to enjoy some Thai food, I was still happy with all I did.

Celebrity chefs and notable foodies were in attendance, providing some great down time to listen in on culinary discussions throughout the day. My favorite part had to be a concert provided by She & Him at the very end of the event. A close second would be the opportunity to try one of the trucks from Food Network's "The Great Food Truck Race", Nana Queens. While they were all present at OC Foodie Fest, the lines here were much more manageable. The environment overall was more controlled, yet relaxed.

The verdict:

If there is a next year, I am willing to give OC Foodie Fest another chance. If I don't have to chase down trucks in LA county (much less just drive into LA), that's always a plus. While the 2 hour trek to Paramount was torture, LA Times Food & Wine was worth the wait.

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