FringeArts fundraiser Feastival, one of Philly’s biggest food events of the year, is on for Thursday, September 28, and the city’s best-known chefs are getting ready — because when people are paying $300 and up for a food festival ticket, chefs had better bring their A game. The 2017 fest is being dubbed “The Year of the Beard” in a nod to the three James Beard Award-winning participants: Michael Solomonov, Stephen Starr, and Greg Vernick. Solomonov and Starr are also co-hosts, along with Feastival founder Audrey Claire Taichman and Top Chef winner Nick Elmi. Altogether, over 75 restaurants and bars are in the Feastival lineup.
“The chefs really go above and beyond for this event,” says Jezabel Careaga over email. The owner of Jezabel's Cafe in Fitler Square is back for her second Feastival and planning to serve tortilla de patatas with parsley aioli and roasted piquillo peppers from the restaurant’s periodic pop-up Bar de Pincho. It’s “one of my favorite dishes by far,” she says.
“I think of the experience I want to extend to Feastival guests, so I take a fair amount of time to think through what would be the best options. Whether the dish is vegetarian, the amount of prep time, will the dish be something relatively easy to serve,” Careaga says of picking what to cook for the event. This year, she has it down: “It’s all about timing and prep. We have done some big events in the past but we really have fun preparing for Feastival. The set-up time, prior to the doors opening, with other chefs is really fun, too.”
Elmi, returning for his eighth Feastival, says if he doesn’t have the process figured out by now, that’s on him. “You need to offer big flavors. There’s no time for nuance,” he says via email. He’ll be repping East Passyunk Avenue’s Laurel with whipped corn with preserved truffle, sunflower, and salmon roe. “It’s seasonal with a multitude of textures,” Elmi says of the dish. “I like to create things that really pop and make an impression.”
For Solomonov, Feastival “feels more like a reunion than work,” he says. He picked kofte al ha’esh for Zahav’s table because “meat cooked over live fire is as Israeli flavor as it gets.” The key is to pick a dish “with tons of spice, that's simple, but with big impact,” the chef says over email. When asked what other dishes he wants to try at Feastival, Solomonov mentions his fellow James Beard winner, Starr. “My boys will be bummed if there were to miss their favorite, Pizzeria Stella,” he says.
Gretchen Fantini of Washington Square West bakery Sweet Box is using the opportunity to introduce party-goers to her Doughlicious egg-free cookie dough. “I would like to see their faces as they realize that, in fact, you can eat raw cookie dough with a spoon and not have to sneak it,” she says. Her goal, she says via email, is to bring her A game to Feastival: “You can feel the positive vibes when you enter the event.”