January Food Festivals

By: Jose Ralat Maldonado

Welcome to January 2012. It’s cold in some parts of the country, so most of the celebrations on our foodways are indoors and focused on staving off hypothermia — mostly with drink. Cheers to a new year and new ways to relish that which sustains our bodies and our minds.

Big Beers Festival, Vail, Colo., Jan. 5-7: Another month, another wonderful suds soiree to stave off the cold (or cool our keisters, in the case of the warmer seasons). This beer festival on the bunny slopes of the Rocky Mountains is one of several spirited occasions in January. For this 12th annual event, hefty beer, including Belgians, barleywines and sours, will be showcased during exclusive dinners, seminars (The Marriage of Good Beer and Good Music with Sam Calagione) and commercial tastings. A homebrew competition and a certified cicerone (i.e., beer sommelier) exam will also be held.

Napa Truffle Festival, Napa, Calif., Jan. 13-16: The exorbitantly priced fungus is the star of the second-annual Napa Truffle Festival. For four days, foodies and Michelin-starred chefs will lead demonstrations and delight senses during Saturday’s Michelin Star Truffle Dinner. On the docket are chefs Suzette Gresham-Tognetti (Acquerello), Ken Frank (La Toque), along with Marco Gubbiotti of La Bastiglia, in Spello, Italy. Attendees will have the opportunity to attend seminars on science-based truffle cultivation and dog training, among others. The fete will close out with a brunch and a market, with a bevy of goods beyond subterranean mushrooms.

Oyster Cook-Off, Apalachicola, Fla., Jan. 13-14: The Gulf Coast is the place to be in the wintertime. While not hot, the region is nowhere near as frigid as the rest of the nation, making cities on the water ideal for winter festivals. On Friday, Jan. 13, attendees will get a sampling of Apalachicola Bay’s succulent bivalves in their trinity of preparations (raw, steamed and fried) and get a preview of the items on the block for the silent auction. The main event begins the next morning when competitors will break out the big shucks. The judges won’t be the only ones with access to oysters, though. Visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy the bay’s bounty.

Yaga’s Chili Quest and Beer Fest, Galveston, Texas, Jan. 20-22: The food pyramid of Texas is composed of three specialties: Tex-Mex, barbecue and chili (preferably sans beans, please). The latter will bring together more than 80 cooking teams, all hoping to make the best chili on Galveston Island. The spicy meat dish will be complemented with craft beer, in both the homebrewed and professional forms. The former will go head-to-head in a separate contest of hops and malt. Texas breweries St. Arnold, Rahr & Sons will be among the latter. Chili-sampling cups can be purchased in advance or at the information booth at the festival. Take part in the 5K run/walk before the cook-off.

Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival, New York, N.Y., Jan. 28: During the last decade, the Big Apple has been warming up to 'cue and doing it proud. Restaurants like Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Hill Country New York and Fette Sau have given New Yorkers a glimpse into the enchanted land of barbecue. Hill Country even hosted pitmaster and young lord of Texas Hill Country barbecue Aaron Franklin in November to much fanfare — and waiting lines. Lines might await those with tickets to the afternoon sessions at this traveling celebration of the three Bs (plus bluegrass). Each session comes with a souvenir sampling glass and access to pulled (directly from the hog) pork, brisket, ribs, sausages, including charcuterie, and all the fixins. Lectures and a marketplace will round out the celebration.

Jambalaya Cook-Off, Lincoln City, Ore., Jan. 28: Boxed isn’t the only form in which the famed Creole dish of rice and sausage is found outside the borders of the Bayou State. In Oregon, jambalaya is a point of pride for professional chefs in the run up to Mardi Gras. For this cook-off, chefs will compete for the title of best jambalaya as deigned by their peers as well as for the audience’s approval with the People’s Choice award. Taft High School culinary students will test their mettle in a live knife-skills contest. Everyone will have a go at luck with a bite from a Louisiana king cake. It won’t be easy, but it will be delicious.

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