Monday, August 9, 2010

Random Events: Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival, August 8, 2010

The toughest thing about being a wine and food blogger is that the busier I am with wine and food events, the less time I have to write about them. However, if I don't have anything going on, I don't have anything to write about. Luckily, since we got back from the Pacific Northwest, life has been full of fun food and wine events. Add to that some major business changes that require a lot of mental energy, and you can see how I've gotten behind.

How much do Georgians, especially Georgian foodies, love tomatoes? Several hundred (my estimate) came out on a hot, August afternoon to sample dishes and cocktails, all of which had tomatoes as a main ingredient. The tomatoes themselves came from several local farms. The event took place at the JCT Kitchen & Bar complex and courtyard in Midtown, which, thankfully, is oriented well for shade and breezes.

Killer Tomatoes need to be attacking something, so here are the victims of yesterday's festival guardians, who fiercely leered at us from every corner:

Victim 1: Bland, average food

Why am I blogging about the Georgia Organics Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival the night after it happened? Partially so I don't get further behind, but also because I believe in the mission of Georgia Organics, "to integrate healthy, sustainable, and locally grown food into the lives of all Georgians." Few things are more depressing than grocery store tomatoes with their anemic pink flesh and bland flavors. Sure, they get a little better in the summer, but there's nothing to compare to a basket full of gorgeous organic produce:

Vote with your fork, people!

Victim #2: The Boring Bloody Mary

I'll take a Mimosa over a Bloody Mary any day. Thankfully the mixologists came up with several yummy tomato-based cocktails that piqued my interest. The following were my favorites. Yes, each of these was made with hard liquor, and trust me, we spread them out over the afternoon.

I hadn't heard of Sound Table before today, but their drink, the La Mancha, was great, kind of like a tomato mojito with basil instead of lime. I'm definitely intrigued. He also beat out all the other mixologists for the King of Cocktails award.

The crowd favorite – literally, she won the People's Choice cocktail – was Cara Laudino of Miller Union, which Hubby and I have been meaning to try. Her Electric Boogaloo combined sungold tomatoes with some sort of citrus for a yummy and thoroughly sneaky combination.

The most refreshing drink, and my favorite, came from Restaurant Eugene's Nick Hearn. He combined a splash of tomato juice, vodka, and cane sugar syrup Coke for a Tom Cola. I liked how the sweetness of the Coke balanced out the tomato and vodka. It also ended up being sneaky.

Hubby's favorite was also the judge's favorite for Best Presentation. Miles Macquerrie of Leon's Full Service was reigning King of Cocktails from last year's tomato fest. This year, he mixed up The Golden Ticket, which was also based on sungolds, but which didn't taste overly tomato-ish. The presentation? Golden liquid with a sungold skewered over it. Hubby hopes it'll make it on to Leon's cocktail list.

Finally, the "Most Original" drink was the Mason Dixon Sangrita. Hubby tried it and liked it. I think I had given up by that point and switched to non-tomato water.

Victim #3: Uncreative recipes

Atlanta chefs have been coming up with interesting variations of the B.L.T. for years. As Caroline the French Tart blogger commented, "Everything I liked had pork in it!" No, this was not really a festival for the vegetarians. I deemed the following three dishes to be the Pork Trifecta:

The first dish that really wowed me came from Craft Restaurant's Kevin Maxey. His pulled pork lettuce wrap with smoked tomato molasses and heirloom tomato relish satisfied the meat eaters and fulfilled the tomato requirement.

Another great showing of tomatoes with pork came from the other direction. Matt Palmerlee of Farm 255 in Athens brought his Confit BLT. The confit made for a great salty, tender crunch on top of the sandwich.

The final piece of the pork trifecta was courtesy of Chef John Currence from City Grocery Restaurant Group. His roasted mortgage-lifter tomato biscuits, crispy big bad bacon rillettes, basil aioli, and Bluebird Farms arugula could best be described as a porkburger slider with regard to texture, and the biscuits had good density. By the way, Chef Currence gets my admiration and gratitude for coming all the way from Oxford, Mississippi. Thank you!

I'm from Birmingham, so I was excited to see that Chris Hastings from Hot and Hot Fish Club came over to share his Hot and Hot Tomato Salad with fresh corn, field peas, fried okra, applewood smoked bacon, and chive aioli. The tomatoes shone as the main item, and the other players complimented them: the corn with its sweetness, the peas with their texture, the okra with its crunch, and the bacon with its baconness. Do I really have to tell you why the bacon was good?

Finally, the King of Taste award went to Gerry Klaskala of Aria for his grilled cheese keaster with roof top dried tomatoes, applewood smoked bacon, and chipotle dipping sauce. Essentially a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich, this one had everything from smoky to tangy to gooey cheese with a little kick. Yummy version of a classic summer favorite!

One other fun B.L.T. variation included the Steamed Coconut Bun B.L.T. from Pura Vida's Hector Santiago:

Miller Union's Steven Satterfield poses with his Heirloom Tomato Aspic:

Victim #4: Conceptualization of Tomato as just a vegetable

In case you thought the Tomato Festival was all about mains, soups, and sides, consider that the People's Choice award went to Keira Moritz of Pacci Ristorante for her heirloom tomato and fruit sorbets and ice creams. I got to try her tomato and peach (I think) gelato, and it was great – perfectly balanced sweetness with a hint of tanginess that was then cut by the creaminess. It was hard to go back to eating the savory stuff after that.

It's great when an event host does well, and Chefs Ford Fry and Brian Horn of JCT Kitchen deserved the Creativity Award for their Killer Tomato Jelly Donuts. Yes, these puffs had bacon fat mayonnaise – I'd mentioned that this food wasn't necessarily healthy, right? – in the middle and were topped with a tomato jelly. All I can say is: wow, can I have breakfast for dinner?

The Best Booth award went to the crew from Holeman & Finch for their "Science Fair Meets High School Musical" theme. However, the Twitter buzz was all about their Heirloom Tomato Corn Dogs with Brandywine Ketchup. The thick sausage in the middle of the corn dog had an incredibly light texture, the coating a great crunch, and the ketchup gave it all a tangy sweetness. When asked what the success of the booth's theme came from, Chef Linton Hopkins' son said, "Corn dogs!" I couldn't agree more.

Victim #5: Atlanta dining out habits

I just remarked to Hubby that we have a lot of restaurants to try and revisit. We tend to be like many others in Atlanta in that we have certain parts of town where we go to eat. This festival reminded me that venturing out can be rewarding.

Final thoughts:

My only suggestion to Georgia Organics now that we've been to both Killer Tomato Festivals is that water needs to be made more available toward the end of the day. Last year, volunteers handed out bottled water, and it lasted through the festival. This year, there were pitchers, and pretty much all had run dry by the mixologist challenge. Other than that, everything was great!

Thanks again to everyone for making it a great event, and special thanks to Chefs Currence, Hastings, Palmerlee, and Acheson (of Athens' Five and Ten) for coming all the way to Atlanta on a hot day to share our love of tomatoes and organic food!

Winning Tomatofest Mixologists and Chefs

For much better pictures mixed with video and catchy music check out Eat It, Atlanta.


french tart said...

The Electric Boogaloo secret ingredient was cardamom - at first i thought it was lavender or bergamot; obviously my palate needs some fine tuning! It was great seeing you two again.

Mari said...

Yay for organic food! Although I don't see the need for so much bacon, yuk. (veggie here, sorry)

You got me very intrigued by the tomato/peach gelatto. Hmmm.

Great tomato post Cecilia. I think we've got some sort of tomato tour after all, lol.

Cecilia Dominic said...

The food was fun, and seeing friends like the French Tart was great.

Yeah, Mari, it really wasn't a good festival for vegetarians, unfortunately. I think we do have an informal blog hop going! Glad I was able to contribute since the family sauce recipe is top secret. :)