09 Oct Food Festival 2016: Pictures, Best Food and Favorite Moments
Since 2012, Food Festival has been an institution in Aarhus, drawing an ever-increasing number of food growers, producers and distributors as well as food personalities, writers and mere mortal foodies alike. This year, some 27,000 people visited the festival and I, my Gawd, was one.
Camp Gourmensch at Food Festival 2016. Photo credit: Malou, Klidmoster.dk
What follows is an account of three hectic days at Denmark’s largest annual outdoor festival dedicated solely to food and gastronomy.
What to expect at Food Festival in Aarhus
While rumors and tall tales about the greatness of Food Festival have circulated for years , this sixth installment of Food Festival was my first and I did not fully know what to expect. Thankfully, though, I managed to round up a motley crew of seasoned and colorful personalities from blog-land, social media and beyond to help me find my bearings. I was lucky enough to attend for the full three days straight in such veteran company as Malou from Klidmoster.dk, Ms. Piskeriset from Piskeriset.dk, Anne from Frk. Annes Køkken and Lasse “Hotdog Judge” Görlitz to name but a few. They kindly showed me the ropes, walked with me, introduced me to new friends and fellow geeks and kept me from doing anything overly stupid. For that I am grateful, because Food Festival is a sight to behold and a, at times, buzzing and confusing place to be.
A girl and her pork… They’re going to need a moment… Have I mentioned I know some pretty looney people? Photo credit: Malou, Klidmoster.dk
As such, showing up a couple of people together is advisable. It helps you keep your bearings, keep track of time and helps in navigating the at times confusing official program of events. If you’re the sort of people who enjoy sharing food, it will even help you taste more of the food offerings that the festival has to offer.
Can’t round up a crew? No worries! The foodie community is generally very friendly and accommodating to strangers. Food Festival can be experienced on your own accord and at your own leisure. You just won’t have anyone to argue with about directions, where to go when, what to eat now, etc 😉
Hundreds of exhibitors from near and far
To the casual visitor’s first glance, Food Festival is mainly about exhibitors showcasing their products, concepts or ideas. Food Festival 2016 stretched across some 45,000 m2 and featured more than 250 exhibitors ranging from massive giants: large-scale food service suppliers, majors supermarket chains and industrial scale producers to the smallest niche farmers and growers. Some were extremely local, showing off products harvested just across town, while others brought products from such diverse locations as Greenland, Italy and North America.
Beautiful, flavorful bacon from Vilstrup Bacon to top our morning egg sarnie… Life on earth is good!
During our visit, we particularly enjoyed talking to our good friends from Vilstrup Bacon, who graciously and smiling offered samples of what I consider to be hand’s down the world’s best bacon. We also enjoyed the company of Jane from Øer Is who produces quality organic goat ice cream, dairy and meat products from happy careless animals at Lille Raneladegaard near the quaint town of Ebeltoft. And then, of course, the dairy darlings at Arla Unika who produce all manners of artisan cheeses and dairy products, but more on that later.
We even noticed all manners of cooking and kitchen supply stores, including a select few dedicated to the next generation. The kids are our future after all, even in the kitchen!
Someone let these idiots out without adult supervision… Photo credit: @kitchen4kids on instagram.com
One could easily spend an entire day at Food Festival wandering the different stalls, taking in the sights, sounds and smells, and talking to the good people showcasing their wares and concepts. In fact one did. Oh, and if one were to get a little peckish in the process, no worries! Food Festival has you covered.
Eat your heart out: Plenty of samples
With a cover fee ranging from DKK 60 (for an advance day ticket) to DKK 199 (full weekend ticket at the entrance), you’d expect a little in return and at Food Festival, you got more than a little in return. The amount of samples at the various stalls were staggering to put it mildly. Almost every supplier offered samples of their wares, be they food or drink, ranging from the safe and sound over the slightly less familiar (hemp beer or smoked blue cheese, anyone?) to the downright challenging.
Samples, samples and more samples…
Some of the more uncommon samples at hand included dried musk ox with fermented blueberries, sea urchin – also known as uni – a supposed delicacy that was definitely not a hit with this food blogger, sour cream and onion flavored edible insects and kefir, a bubbly fermented milk product… We even came across various vegetarian proteins and stupendously hot chilies… Never a dull moment in the life of a food blogger.
Generally speaking, the number of samples were staggering in both quality and quantity and most were offered completely free of charge while some more substantial and/or more expensive samples, primarily quality spirits and wines, were offered in a controlled manner at a reasonable fee.
Strictly speaking, if one were to play his or her cards sneakily (and not burn ones mouth to pieces with Trinidad Scorpion Moruga Blend candy drops), one could probably spend a Friday walking from stall to stall, getting well fed and happily inebriated in the process. But in the process of being such a free-loader, one would cheat oneself from one of the truly great experiences at Food Festival: the dedicated food stalls!
Great eats (and drinks) at Food Festival 2016
If free samples not be enough, Food Festival’s myriad of food stalls had you covered to the moon and back as well! Usually catering at larger fairs or events is nothing much to blog about, but the nature of Food Festival being what it is, food options were, obviously, a bit out of the ordinary.
From oysters over delicious looking burgers, pork sandwiches and perfect chips to fellow food blogger Jakob “Gourmensch” Nusbaums’s creamy Thai fish soup cooked over an open fire and everything in between, Food Festival offered a sensory overload of exciting meal options that was near painful in its extend. So many options, so little time.
Perfect organic pizza from Oles Gård… Please, Sir, I’d like some more!
Personal absolute favorites included a perfectly baked and 100% organic pizza from Oles Gård ranking amongst the best I’ve had in years and a gorgeous beef tartare shared with me by quintessentially Asian and absolutely gorgeous Twitter-personality Stine Pitney who tracked us down on Saturday and was quickly recruited into our efforts of tasting the entire festival.
The lovely Stine’s lovely steak tartare…
Noteworthy mentions included a trifecta of rather unique tacos gorgeously presented by Timm Vladimir’s Taco Truck and a devilishly interesting abominable concoction of pork rinds and jam bestowed upon us by local food authority Brian Glenn Pedersen.
If I were to take back but one all-time favorite food memory from Food Festival, it would have to be the mobile build your own hotdog onslaught from Copenhagen’s legendary John’s Hotdog Deli. John, along with artisan dairy darlings Arla Unika, presented a choice of two kinds of sausages (habanero cheddar or aged Havarti) topped with your choice of about 30 (count them! I know you won’t!) or so varieties of toppings and relishes ranging from the vaguely familiar (pickled cucumber relish) to the downright insane (freeze dried cheese and Yuzu-spiked cream cheese)!
Build your own hotdog… Genius! Photo credit: Malou, Klidmoster.dk
Crafting your own personal hotdog experience was a challenge, a bucket of laughs and a great personal achievement. Arla Unika’s press team captured this picture of me enjoying my own diabolic creation… Can anyone say Happy Food Blogger?
The Johan approves! Photo credit: Kirsten Jepsen for Arla Unika
On the drink front, Food Festival has you covered to inebriation and beyond. From industry beer stalls pushing out liters and liters of draught beer and wine, over craft beer shops to a dedicated tasting area for local, quality wines and spirits entitled “Nordic drops”, the options were plenty and diverse. We passed on most of the vast selection of craft brews and dove straight into the cocktail repertoire. Here, we found most value and flavor in the selection from Njord Gin who offered a selection of six or so different Gin & Tonics and a variety of other drinks from their besieged festival bar.
New Nordic spin on the French 75 by the Njord Gin Cocktail Bar
The drinks, though, were well worth the wait and a solid personal favorite included this Danish spin on a French 75 featuring Njord Sun & Citrus, Skotlander rum and local sparkling fruit wine from Cold Hand Winery.
Workshops and premium tasting events
If tasting and exploring on your own isn’t engaging enough for you, you’ll be happy to know that Food Festival offers a variety of live cooking events, workshops and exclusive tasting and pairing events. On our part, a packed schedule full of meetups, networking, exploration and general shenanigans did not allow time for many immersive events. We did, however, find time for Arla Unika, who, as part of their “Meet the cheese maker”, event took us behind the scenes and offered a rather detailed peek at niche cheese production at the hands of one of their expert cheese producers.
Want to know how to make cheese? The workshops at Food Festival are diverse and interesting.
What little time we did devote to a more hands on and one-on-one experience with the producers of the products we love, made me long for more hours in the day. But as the old cliché goes: so much to do, so little time, and try as we might, we can’t have it all. I reckon next year, I’ll devote a little more time to these expert workshops and premiere tastings.
Chili tasting with Chili Klaus
You may be wondering what kept us too busy to partake in workshops. Well, one reason was the ever important aspect of exploring and keeping up with new and old friends alike. The other, well, it had a little to do with setting the Johan on fire.
Now, to some, I may be a somewhat dedicated and respected chili head. But I am nothing next to the God amongst Men of Danish chili heads that is Chili Klaus. Chili Klaus has made a name for himself by, in his own unique and charismatic way, consuming some of the world’s hottest peppers in interesting and engaging format. He also happens to be a personal friend of Malou, so when we learned he was on site, carrying a bag of tricks, we knew we had to set up a meeting… You know, just to see what would happen!
What’s the WORST thing that could possibly happen?
We found Klaus at the Danish Supermarket stall and, well, obviously one thing let to another and before long, a couple of bearded idiots had amassed quite a crowd of onlookers by racing through new, interesting and colorful breeds from the wonderful world of hot peppers in rapid succession.
We started out mild, traversed the wonderful world of habanero clones, discovered quickly that “this one has the most interesting of names” is not necessarily the best selection criteria and eventually ended in tears and hiccups thanks to a feisty little number called the Infinity Chili.
Fast forward about a million Scoville Heat Units… Photo credit: Malou, Klidmoster.dk
With jittering nerve ends, I wiped the sweat off my brow and crossed another item off the bucket list: Eating fire with a legend… Done! Time to go look for more cheese and dairy samples! And on that account, I apologize to the nice, civilized people at the Castello stand, standing there all neatly in line waiting for samples only to have an incoherent rambling idiot stagger in front of them and grab a handful of cream cheese samples. I was coming down from an
Insanity Infinity pepper buzz, wasn’t thinking clearly and managed to completely miss the large queue lined up. I want you to know that I’m sorry and that Malou took appropriate measures, pointed out the errors of my ways and scolded me profusely.
Late Night Cook-off with Timm Vladimir
The 2016 edition of Food Festival offered a variety of live cooking events featuring prominent chefs or foodies. On the first night of Food Festival, I attended a community dinner party hosted by Danish comedian cum food guru, Timm Vladimir, known as Timm Vladimirs Folkekøkken (Community Kitchen). The social event featured three dishes served to hundreds of diners benched along the festival’s main stage. But more importantly, though, it warped seamlessly into a free event called Late Night Cook-off in which two chefs squared off live on stage in an Iron Chef like setup. Produce and plate at least two (consistent, quality) dishes in an hour using three secret ingredients as well as a shared minimalist pantry.
This special edition of Late Night Cook-off saw local hero Rune Lund Sørensen, head chef at Restaurant Hærværk, square off against Steffen Villadsen from nearby Molskroen in a heated battle involving locally caught crabs, lobster and seaweed as secret ingredients. The rules were simple. Cook no less than two dishes containing the secret ingredients of the evening. You were free to cook more than two dishes but all dishes had to contain the secret ingredients and points were rewarded primarily for consistency and quality, not necessarily ingenuity and numbers of dishes served.
Chaos and confusion mid-battle at Timm Vladimir’s late night cook-off
Narrated by Timm himself and judged by such talents as Masterchef finalist Rasmus Palsgaard from feinschmeckeren.dk, the event unfolded at a thunderous pace and proved quite engaging with both corners pushing out a stunning array of surprisingly complicated dishes which were first passed to the judges then the audience for further scrutiny.
After a heated, fast-paced and at times downright amusing one hour bout which included such memorable moments as Steffen Villadsen trying to bribe the judges with a bottle of 2004 Dom Perignon, a visually disappointed Villadsen had to admit defeat when he saw his marvelous onslaught of five individual dishes beaten by a slightly more cool, composed and collected Sørensen. Sørensen’s three dishes, including a last minute dessert topped with a sauce containing Villadsen’s bribe to the judges, were deemed just a little more confident and cool than his opponents massive effort… Ouch, the irony of it all!
National Hotdog Championships
Perhaps the biggest draw of the Food Festival weekend is the Danish National Hotdog Championships. The event started out as a bit of a gimmick in 2008 as an effort to put focus on the original (and dying) Danish fast food concept: the hotdog stand. The National Hotdog Championships have been part of Food Festival since 2012 and In the 6 years that have passed, the event has warped into a culinary circus of epic proportions as dedicated amateurs and Michelin starred chefs alike have taken stage to engage in what has become a large public charitable event during which thousands of gourmet hotdogs are consumed with all proceeds going to Børnefonden, a humanitarian charity with focus on children.
The event has been split into two heats: a low-key traditional heat in which regular hotdog professionals (i.e. people who actually make a living running a hotdog stand or traditional small eatery) square off to crown the traditional hotdog champion of the year. Followed by a separate all-gloves-are-off gourmet hotdog battle in which professional chefs, many of them Michelin-starred, compete for the ultimate honor of gourmet hotdog king of the year.
I received the tremendous honor of getting an up close and personal look at the traditional heat as I was graciously allowed to walk with the judges as they tasted their way through three very different traditional Danish dogs from three very different producers.
It was an intense hour in which a team of judges ranging from professionals to food bloggers and restaurant reviewers, chewed their way through the efforts of three hotdog professionals who had volunteered and sponsored their time and ingredients to produce and sell hotdogs for children in need.
Three takes on a modern hotdog at the national hotdog championships. Top left: Havnegrillen, top right: Banjo’s, bottom left: John’s Hotdog Deli, bottom right: the zen master of hotdogs, John, plating his creation.
At the bottom of the ladder, Søren Banjo from the island of Fuhnen, who had put on the biggest show of the day, hiring a house band and a motivational speaker to back up his 30 minutes of fame, came up with an absolutely traditional, well-composed and generally tasty dog full of show and lies. Loud claims made by the house band and faded comedian motivational speaker of every aspect of the dog, including sausage and buns, being homemade was universally dismissed by the judging panel who offered him a fair score despite outrageous claims.
More down to earth were the effort of old school hotdog pusher Kaj from Havnegrillen in the Southern Danish port city of Aabenraa. Kaj, in an incredibly laid back fashion, produced the day’s largest hotdog featuring a large bun, a shockingly tasty low fat sausage (gasp!) as well as mustard, ketchup, remoulade sauce, homemade pickles and a pretty sprinkling of beet sprouts. The sprouts, unfortunately, were a little old and over, offering a bitter note to an otherwise very tasty and generously proportioned traditional dog.
Soaring one cut above the rest, however, was the winner of the day, world-renowned Danish hotdog guru John from John’s Hotdog Deli in Copenhagen. His winning concoction featured a bacon and wild garlic sausage in a custom-made bun topped with chanterelle remoulade-sauce, bitter beer mustard, pickled cucumber relish and crispy fried onions. A monster of a dog, and a tasty one at that, well worth the unanimous title of Best Traditional Hot Dog of the Year 2016 bestowed upon it by the judges.
In conclusion: Food Festival 2016 – A weekend well spent
As John took stage and was praised as a well-deserved king of traditional hotdogs, I swallowed a bit of parting melancholy and slowly, reluctantly made my way towards the exit, dragging my sore feet and heavy head as I went. My time at Food Festival had drawn to an end but what a time it had been.
Food Festival 2016 was a three day all-out assault on the senses and a spectacle to behold. Experiences were had, friends were made and new and exciting producers and products were discovered. Far too much food and drink was had, too, my body tried to tell me on the train ride home, but if I could do it all over again, I would… Only I’d make sure to stick around for the gourmet hotdog show down!
Who’s a happy piglet? 😀 Photo credit: Malou, Klidmoster.dk
Food Festival tickets are available either on a per day or as a full weekend pass. While three full days at the festival is probably enough to leave people in a state of sensory overload, a single day is definitely not enough to bask in the wonderful culinary tradition that is Food Festival. If for whatever reason, you’ve but a single day at your disposal, I’d suggest you make it a Friday where attendance is lower and the festival grounds and food stalls less crowded.
If I were you, I’d invest in the full weekend ticket, though, and spend at least two days at Food Festival: One day just touring around, checking out the sights and sounds, talking to friends, producers and random strangers, tasting, experiencing and hanging out – you’ll find plenty of things to do. And then, another day entirely, casually touring around the food and drinks market, eating, drinking and being merry, maybe catching a live cooking demonstration or attending a workshop or two.
As for me? You’ll find me back next year, doing another three day stint – and being sure to allow time and energy for the culinary circus that is the gourmet heat of the hotdog championships. Food Festival, thanks for having us, we’ll meet again!