Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What to Do (and Eat) at this Weekend's Eat Real Festival

Plus a meat retreat comes to Oakland.

By Luke Tsai
Wed, Sep 19, 2012 at 4:00 AM

The fourth annual Eat Real Festival kicks off this Friday at Jack London Square. By now, the three-day extravaganza of street food, local brews, and assorted food-related DIY demos almost needs no introduction. Admission is free, and every food item will be priced at $5 or less.

But with more than sixty different vendors and lines that can stretch to ungodly lengths, we figured we'd help you make the most of your time. Here are five recommendations:

1. Meatopia: For the first time, Eat Real will launch with a ticketed event, and it's a doozy: the first-ever West Coast rendition of Meatopia, the chef-driven, meat-centric event founded by New York City food writer Josh Ozersky. The opening night party (5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday) will feature grilled meats cooked by about ten of the country's most acclaimed barbecue pitmasters — that $50 admission will buy you all the meat (and sides) you can eat, plus two cocktails.

Meatopia will continue on Saturday with a Pro/Am barbecue competition, and on Sunday with a $5-a-plate brunch of milk-fed baby animals — veal, lamb, and suckling pig — cooked by Daniel Patterson (of Coi, Plum, and Haven fame).

2. Forge: Part of Eat Real's mystique has to do with all the restaurants that made their first big splash there. This year, Forge, the new wood-fired pizza place coming to Jack London Square, will make its debut. Jeff Krupman (aka the Pizza Hacker), the restaurant's pizza consultant, will be on hand all three days to dish out his now-legendary pies.

3. Youki: One of the Bay Area's most acclaimed sushi chefs, Sachio Kojima, will make his first appearance as a ramen chef at the festival. His stall, Youki, will be serving regular wheat-flour, whole-wheat, and gluten-free ramen — all made with organic ingredients — on Saturday and Sunday. Kojima is best known as the original sushi chef at San Francisco's Kabuto A&S, where his sushi garnered rave reviews. But when Kojima's wife was diagnosed with cancer in 2005, he sold the restaurant and committed himself to cooking only healthy, all-organic food. He is dedicating the new ramen business to his wife, who recently passed away.

4. Satellite Republic: On Sunday, another promising newcomer, Satellite Republic — the venture of Boris Portnoy, a former pastry chef at Michelin three-starred Meadowood — will be serving Georgian (as in the country, not the state) and Chechen street food out of a converted moped that's hitched to a big tandoor oven.

5. Kraut-a-thon: Finally, Eat Real's "Kraut-a-thon" (Saturday at 12:30 p.m., on the main stage) isn't a new event, but this year's version will be on a grand scale: More than one hundred people will have a chance — first come, first served — to get up on the festival's main stage for a sauerkraut-making lesson. Every participant goes home with two big jars.

Butcher's Guild Retreat

Thirty top butchers from around the country will descend on Oakland's Jack London Square this Wednesday for the first-ever Butcher's Guild Retreat — what's billed as an unprecedented gathering of sustainability-minded meat professionals.

In 2010, Tia Harrison (co-founder of Avedano's Holly Park Market, a San Francisco butcher shop) and author and food activist Marissa Guggiana founded The Butcher's Guild as a fraternity of butchers who are committed to breaking down whole animals — not prepackaged parts — and adhering to a particular moral code. The guild has focused most of its efforts on helping members establish a sustainable business model.

"We saw that everyone right now is screaming about bacon and watching butchery demos," Harrison said. "But what happens in five years when all these people open businesses, but aren't making a living wage and are working twelve to fourteen hours a day? That is a formula for failure."

In that sense, Butcher's Guild Retreat will be about bookkeeping and finances as much as anything else — financial sustainability being, after all, a prerequisite for any other kind of sustainability. There will be a class on managing profit margins (taught by a CPA) and another on PR. Even sessions dealing with the physical acts of whole-animal butchery will have an economic focus: how to break the animal down into retail cuts so as to maximize profits and minimize waste.

For Monica and Aaron Rocchino, who opened The Local Butcher Shop in Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto neighborhood last year, the challenge of selling "clean meat" is that they're paying twice as much for their product as the supermarket across the street, and, because they're working with whole animals, they also have to factor in all of the highly skilled labor that's needed. How do they convince the customer that their higher prices are worth it?

The Rocchinos said they're both attending this week's retreat — Aaron will attend the sessions that have to do with cutting meat; Monica will learn everything she can about marketing and finances and all the rest.

"I'm just really excited to meet people that are in similar circumstances," she said.

Meanwhile, it's no accident that the retreat is taking place the same week as the Eat Real Festival. From the beginning, Harrison wanted to tie the retreat to some kind of butchery competition, which Eat Real has featured since its inception. This year the full slate of contests will be run by The Butcher's Guild. In addition to the usual speed-oriented spectacles (e.g., breaking down a whole pig in 45 minutes), the guild is introducing a new contest called the Master Case Competition: Teams will have three hours to break down a pork forequarter, a beef short loin, and a leg of lamb and fill a display case, as attractively as possible, with ready-for-purchase cuts of meat.

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