6 Tips to Better Farm-to-Table Events

carrots-farm-to-tableChefs are talking about it. Foodies are asking for it. These days, farm to table is on the tips of everyone’s tongues.

High-quality ingredients make a chef’s job easier since they are so naturally delectable.  Any respectable food lover will search for the freshest and most lovingly grown produce.  More and more, restaurant owners are partnering with local farmers to find it. In some cases, they’re cutting out the middle man and farming their own ingredients.

Any way you slice it, farm to table fundamentally changed the way we dine out.

Today’s food lover and farm-to-table dinners

Today’s food lover wants to know where it comes from, how it was grown, and if it will be around next time. Farm-to-table dinners allow food fans to get up close and personal to what they’re eating and hopefully, walk away with a greater appreciation for it. The term “farm to table” has to do with the process of growing, harvesting, preparing and consuming food.  However, many types of food and beverage events fit under this umbrella.  On the farm or in the restaurant, the slow food and farm-to-table movement puts the spotlight on the highest-quality, locally grown ingredients.

No need to overdress for these dining experiences, the focus is on the food. If you are considering hosting your own farm-to-table event, kudos to you. This movement will slowly re-school us on how vital and precious food is to long-term survival. Since farm-to-table events involve a lot of harvesting and preparing ingredients right from the farm, it’s smart to have a checklist for your event planning.

We know your farm-to-table event is going to be great, but the below tips will help make it even better.

6 tips to a better farm-to-table experience

1. If you are hosting an outdoor event, be aware of the experience you are building.  Once you have a realistic inventory of possible issues, you can address them one by one.  Ifcity-growers-urban-farming-benefit you don’t have access to a farm, reach out to some in your area. It’s a great way to build community.

2. Going to be outdoors? Don’t forget about pests. Bees, mosquitoes, ants, or greedy birds could throw a wrench in the works, so have a test dinner prior to the event.  Find methods for detouring/repelling critters without also repelling your guests.  Marigolds and other plants make good natural repellents that don’t overpower the senses.

3. Wind, rain and yes, too much sun can turn a picturesque dinner into a logistic nightmare. No one wants soggy biscuits, so have a second location planned in case it pours.  Follow weather forecasts and adjust accordingly.

4. Keep your dishes and décor simple and elegant. Minimalist décor offers a more authentic experience and frees up time and resources that could be put into the execution of the event. Choose simple recipes that highlight flavor; the best ingredients will taste amazing with little help. Make sure that as many ingredients as possible are locally grown by organic sustainable farms.  If you have a dish in mind and can’t source the ingredients, try a different recipe or variation.  This limitation will bring out your creativity and inspire your visitors to buy locally.

5. Make your guests feel at home on the farm. Ensure a great, homey ambiance by inviting people you know. Friends, family, or farm staff could make wonderful assistant hosts.  Allow plenty of time before, after and in-between courses for guests to take in the surroundings and chat.  If everything goes well, time stands still and memories are made.

6. Above all, relish the event and your company.  Confidence and genuine enjoyment are absolute musts to making your dinner a sweet success.  The impression from a great night will last a lifetime and keep diners coming back.

Calling all food lovers: Comment below with your fresh tips on food. Hungry? Find a farm-to-table feast near you.

(First photo from City Growers Benefit last month in New York)

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Making Your Talent Feel Appreciated

CO30Guest post by Brandon Collins and Mike Brown of Comedy Outliers. They offer advice to comedians and performers on how to survive and thrive in today’s competitive artistic climate.

A few years ago, when we were producing one of our first independent comedy club shows we were asked by a comic performing on my show, “So since you’re charging a cover how much am I making for my set?” At that time we were so ignorant to the business of stand-up comedy, we had no idea what they were talking about. But after speaking with some veteran comics whose opinions we greatly respected, we came to learn that the common rule of thumb with comedy shows is: if you charge a cover, you SHOULD pay your talent. Of course there are some show producers that don’t follow that rule and some comics don’t expect to get paid for every bit of stage-time. This is because stage-time and money are both valuable to a working stand-up comic. When we ran our “Comedy Outliers” show without a cover, there was never any expectation to pay our comics with anything besides a free beer and a sincere “thank you” for their time and talent. The only comic we would pay during that time was the headliner as they were usually a highly regarded comic who had several credits and added a certain amount of hype to help build the “Comedy Outliers” brand. We would pay for these comics out of pocket, which became expensive after nearly two years of being an entirely free show.

One of the main reasons we began charging a cover (we try to keep it as affordable as possible btw, use discount code “Summer” for $5 tickets) was because we wanted to be able to pay ALL of our performing comics. Another reason was to build the brand through better podcast equipment and merchandise, but we can only continue to produce great shows and content if we have exceptional talent. By creating a budget as producers and knowing our limits in what we can pay for talent has forced us to produce a much tighter show that provides a high quality experience for our audience. It is important to remember as producers that your talent needs to feel like their time and talent is being appreciated. When we were just a free bar show, the performing comics were just happy to be in front of a great crowd that was both diverse and energetic. Now we can offer that pay them for their time that they could’ve spent at another show. This has helped us build a stronger relationship with the comedy community in NYC that we love so dearly. They are always appreciative of the gesture and that’s a great feeling to have as a show producer. Keep that in mind when you produce your new show…spread the wealth!

Comedy Outliers’ next show is at Brick NYC (22 Warren Street) on Saturday, July 26th at 7pm. The show has a $10 cover with no drink minimum. Pay only $5 for advanced tickets if you use the discount code “Summer” for $5 tickets! You can also support their efforts by hitting the “Donate” button on their website or by listening to their weekly podcast.

 

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Foodie Friday: Leftovers and Writing Your Household Menu

6929927631_1368749976_bEating well can often be rather expensive. With our economy down and costs on the rise, more and more of us are finding less butter on the edge of our bread. Cooking a well sourced and balanced meal is always going to take a little investment no matter how you look at it. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t eat well through the entire week. By applying a little budgeting, careful planning, and stretching techniques, you can have your cake and eat it too. Then make cake lollipops with the leftovers.

Planning a weekly menu is something that requires a little more foresight than stopping by the store on the way home from work. It’s worth the effort! Carefully planning your weekly grocery shopping to coordinate multiple dishes will save you both time and money. Chefs do this all the time when planning for their restaurants with great success. Try starting your week by sitting down with a stack of cookbooks or using the internet to decide what types of recipes you might feel like cooking. After all, while sticking to a budget is important, it’s more important to like the food that you are eating.

When you approach your menu, consider ingredients and how they might carry over across all of the recipes you plan to make. If you are particularly fond of spicy recipes maybe garlic, onion, and chilis are purchased in greater bulk. When you buy things in larger quantity you can often find deals or coupons such as “buy one get one free.” These deals will help you save a dollar here or fifty cents there until, perhaps, you have enough for a bottle of wine to go with your meal. Purchasing in this manner gives you stability as well as frees up options for later in the week.
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Top 5 SXSW Survival Tips

SXSW2014-BillI’m heading to Austin, TX for a week plus of music, film, crowds, Tex-Mex cuisine and very little sleep. Want to get the most out of your SXSW experience? Here are a few tips.

1. Pace Yourself to Avoid Burn-Out
I first witnessed SXSW in 2002 as an Austin resident. Since then it has evolved and expanded greatly. With the addition of the interactive part of the festival, and the potential growth from the eco and fashion areas, there is no sign of slowing down. Smiling yet? Or does this raise anxiety or depression? Regardless, if you are going to SXSW for the first time, you are in for a hell of an experience. Pace yourself. Sleep when you return home. Or build in down time if you know you need it.

2. Don’t Plan Your Experience
There are thousands of bands playing all over the Austin, day and night, at parties and showcases hosted by record labels, tech companies and anyone else you can imagine. The best experiences I have had at SXSW were completely by chance. Whether it was discovering the Catalan punk band Unfinished Symphony, bumping into Gwar in the convention center, mistakenly walking into Stubbs right at the beginning of The Specials’ set or seeing Talib Kweli and Jimmy Cliff across the street from Whole Foods. All of these things were random happenings. Don’t get me wrong, there are always a few events that I set out to see. Schedule only a few things every day. But realize that if you know about the greatest show of the day, so does everyone else. How long of a line you are willing to stand in for any given show? Consider that. Go with the flow and don’t be surprised if the best thing you see happens in front of 20 people in a place you’ve never heard of.

sxsw-bill3. Prepare for Transportation
Logistics. Don’t let them ruin your SXSW experience. Getting around Austin during SXSW can be frustrating. Cabs are usually a bad idea. Good luck hailing or calling one—only to have someone else steal it a half a block away. If you take a taxi from the airport, or at any other time, I recommend you get a card with the driver’s cell phone, tip big and ask him if you can call him and during what hours. It might take him (or someone else he calls for you) a half hour to get you, but at least someone will come and you do have a number handy. The later it gets in the evening and the festival—the bigger a problem this becomes. I have spent an hour outside a hotel trying to hail a cab at 1:30AM with 2 of the doormen out on the street trying to hail cabs. Car2Go is very active in Austin, but it may be too late to register as a new member in time for SXSW. Pedicabs can be a great option for getting from East 6th Street over to West 6th Street in a hurry. Or try local drivers when possible. They know the area and you could be supporting the local independent economy. Walking is healthy, free and allows you to see a lot more. Downtown Austin has a feet-friendly Walk Score of 86.

Leave your car parked. The combination of traffic, scarce parking, over-priced parking and alcohol makes getting around SXSW by car a really bad idea.

4. Eat and Drink Like a Local
This is Austin. There is scrumptious food everywhere. Whether you dig Mexican food, barbeque, street food or even vegetarian—there are plenty of good places to find good eats. There are a lot of day parties that feature free food and even free beer (mostly light beer, not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially if you are pacing yourself).

Food and drink recommendations:

The Texas Cuban: South Lamar (Cuban sandwiches, fried plantains, Ting, free Lonestar tall boys on Saturday mornings)

Mother’s: Hyde Park (vegan and vegetarian cuisine)

Curra’s Grill: South Austin on Oltorf (great Mexican food, incredible avocado margarita)

Casino El Camino: 6th Street (best burgers and Bloody Mary’s in town)

Ruby’s BBQ: University area (lessor known piece of Austin music history, good BBQ too)

5. Go Off the Beaten Path at SXSW

There are special parties and happenings all over Austin—both official and unofficial SXSW events. If you get tired of 6th Street, there are plenty of alternatives to explore. The newly redeveloped east side is a short walk from 6th Street, and so is the fairly new Rainey Street District. Both areas are packed with bars, restaurants and food trucks, with music showcases all day and night. West 6th Street (@ Lamar Blvd.) is another hot spot. There is usually a bigger showcase (that’s where I saw Talib Kweli and Jimmy Cliff) there at Waterloo Records and many smaller showcases at the clubs and a couple small stages at Whole Foods. Austin is riddled with a slew of SXSW events. Venture out. Have a plan to get back safely.

Music recommendations:

Chicago Made Showcase (official): Tues. March 11, 8pm @ Red 7

Bipolar Sunshine @ SXSW (official): Tues. March 11 @ Latitude 30

SXSW Reggae Showcase (official): Wed. March 13, 8pm @ Flamingo Cantina

DigSin Dig Party (unofficial): Thurs. March 13, 1pm @ Majestic Austin

SXKeyBar (unofficial): Fri. & Sat. March 14/15 @ KeyBar

SXSW Outdoor Stage at Butler Park (open to the public w/ pass): Thurs. Fri. Sat., March 13/14/15

Enjoy yourself. Soak it all in. Be open to new experiences. Feel free to holler at me on Twitter and let me know of any cool events.

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Foodie Friday: Waffle Club

Waffles

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But we don’t always have time in the morning do we? Sometimes it’s fun to have breakfast for dinner or as a group activity like snack time. Waffles have been enjoyed at any time of day since medieval times. Originally waffles were a variation on communion wafers, and over time have evolved into what we have now. We have certainly come a long way since then and the results are staggeringly delicious.

Waffles come in many shapes, sizes, textures, and flavors. They can be topped with almost endless variations of different ingredients or served all on alone. There are waffle cones, stuffed waffles, and chicken & waffles just to name a few of the creative variations you might find. When concocting your batter make sure that you allow enough for a test waffle or two. This will allow you to taste and adjust your batter before you serve the final product. When following recipes don’t be afraid to make adjustments according to your own preference.

Around the Brown Paper Tickets headquarters office we have started a weekly waffle-based ritual. Each person that works on Sunday and participates, has taken a turn as the “Batter-UP.” When it’s your turn to bring waffles you are responsible for providing enough batter and whatever special toppings you choose for everyone. There have been some interestingly delicious creations rolling through so far and surely a great many more to come. Among some of the most interesting include but are certainly not limited to:

James – Classic Waffles, Cinnamon Waffles
Sam – Pumpkin Spice Waffles, Super Crispy Almond-essence Waffles
Megan – Ginger Waffles
Ashton – Smores Waffles
Kathleen – Chocolate Chai, with Pink Sea Salt and Whipped Cream/Chocolate Syrup (Gluten-free), Buttermilk Waffles with Ezell’s Fried Chicken
Susanne – Rosemary Ham and Gruyere/Chedder Cheese Waffles
Antoine – Oreo Waffles with hand-whisked Whipped Cream
Diana – Classic Waffle topped with Blackberry Preserve, Brie, and Basil
Patrick – Sourdough Waffles, Banana Chocolate Chip, Orange Waffles

Hopefully our waffle club inspires you to whip up a batch of crispy delicious waffles with your own twist added. It’s a lot of fun to make a group activity out of it, and I think we enjoy it immensely. Waffle day is a great way to bring a group closer together and get to know them on a level only reached through food. Sharing ideas and time together around the most simple of concepts is truly a joy. Waffle up!
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Foodie Friday: Chocofest 2014

chocofest-14-flyer1Trying something new can be exciting, frightening, and even disastrous. This may be true, but you never know until you give it a shot. Ray Bradbury said “The best scientist is open to experience and begins with romance – the idea that anything is possible.”

Valentines Day, for many, is a time dedicated to romance between two individuals and their shared connection. Romance can also exist between two ideas or creations. Such is the case for chocolate and beer according to Pike Brewing Company’s annual affair Chocofest. This annual event has been running for six years and continues to make attendees get all mushy.
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Hot Tickets: Seattle

valentinesdaydinneranddanceHere are this week’s Hot Tickets in the Seattle area. Check back every Thursday at noon, PST for stellar events that fit the interests of locals and tourists alike.

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Friday, February 14 I Valentine’s Day Dinner & Dance

“Accompanied by his four-piece band, Kline brings a little humor and a lot of swagger to the old standards with a fresh vitality and offers a great opportunity for couples to kick up their heels in support of a great local institution.”

“Get your kicks” on Route 66, but wine and dine your Valentine on Orcas!

Dust off your dancing shoes and get ready to swing to the sounds of Half Pack LIVE!, a Vegas-style show band that’s bouncy, fun and well-delivered entertainment reminiscent of the old Vegas Strip when Frank and Dino were kings. Veteran singer and entertainer Troy Kline will be performing in a Valentine’s Day benefit for Orcas Island Children’s House at the The Rosario Resort Beachhouse (Discovery House).

Accompanied by his four-piece band, Kline brings a little humor and a lot of swagger to the old standards with a fresh vitality and offers a great opportunity for couples to kick up their heels in support of a great local institution.

Local favorite Gene Nery will provide additional musical talent to the Seattle-based band! And look for additional local entertainment throughout the evening, including magician Matthew Laslo and young songstress Stormy Hildreth.

A silent auction will be held in conjunction with the event.


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Foodie Friday: Adventures In Cheese

IMG_4063IMG_4063Have you ever had a night that was so amazing you just wanted to live it over and over, again and again? That was my night at the West Coast Cheesemonger Invitational.

The Cheesemonger Invitational is a competition to see which cheesemonger is the best at their craft. The invitation went out to all mongers to compete and 35 mongers answered the call. Selling cheese requires more than just liking cheese and this is what this competition is all about.

For those competing, the event started at 9am and, for the top ten, went until late in the evening. Their day started with a written exam followed by a blind tasting, salesmanship contest, cutting competition and finished with the creation of their perfect bite of cheese. That is when the public came in. At 5pm the doors of Public Works in the Mission District opened and allowed cheese-lovers in.

I never thought I would say that it was almost difficult to eat 35 bites of cheese, each was better than the first and I always wanted to go back for more. Luckily my cheese needs were met by an amazing fondue bar and grilled cheese stand along with samplings that were available from some of the amazing cheesemakers and suppliers who attended the event.
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Foodie Friday: Wild Edibles

6242436853_b0784c9dbd_bThe age of convenience has removed our society from many things once essential to our survival. Possibly the most important of which being the ability to forage and gather our own food. Acorns, for example, are most likely not a part of the average person’s diet in the 21st century. We are definitely experiencing a food revolution right now and what ten years ago was considered lawn clippings, now goes for a pretty penny in your local organic food market. This means there are healthy, delicious local edibles available in most areas, even if you are in the city or too busy to forage.

Adventurous chefs around the planet have been singing the praises of these types of ingredients for quite sometime. You might see ramps, fiddle head ferns, dandelion greens, and definitely wild mushrooms on the menu in almost any fine dining restaurant you can find. This is great for folks that can afford to dine in these establishments, but what about cooking with them at home? Shouldn’t we all be able to work with these ingredients without being intimidated? The answer is yes, yes we should. This week’s Foodie Friday will focus on some wild edibles used today and how to approach them.

Before you can start turning your foraged treasures into culinary masterpieces, you should take some time to get familiar with your area. Foraging is a skill that is gained through lots of careful practice and study. It should be taken very seriously and practiced under professional guidance and supervision. There are classes in most regions that will allow you to get some practice and learn which edibles are safe and which might be poisonous. This is definitely not a step you should skip if you do decide to pick your own wild edibles. If you aren’t able to go out and learn, or simply aren’t interested in that part of the process try your local farmers market or organic producer store.
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Comedy Outliers: Would You Like Be On My Show?

CO24finalToday we feature another guest post from Comedy Outliers. They offer great advice to comedians, or performers in general, on how to survive and thrive in today’s competitive artistic climate.

The Comedy Outliers have their annual holiday show coming up this Saturday, January 18th at Lilly O’Brien‘s in New York City. Their shows are free but we highly recommend you pick up tickets so you don’t show up to a full house.

If you’re in New York or headed that way, be sure to check out their show. It’s rare to see comedy of this calibre without a cover charge or drink minimum. That said, if you want them to continue bringing these great shows to the Big Apple, we highly encourage you to support their efforts by hitting the “Donate” button on their website.

“Yes, I’m available! Let’s do it!”

Those are words that a producer loves to hear when they are trying to book acts for their shows. Reaching out to talent to perform on your show can be quite intimidating and it is often accompanied with rejection or delayed responses that may not come until a week AFTER your event happened. Nonetheless, when you get the act that you feel will be a great fit for your show it is extremely rewarding.

There have been times when we reached out to a comedian about performing on our show only to have them respond that they were unavailable. Did we leave it at that? Of course not! We politely follow-up every month or so with the next date and to inquire about their availability to perform on our show. Sometimes this back and forth goes on for months and in some cases it has taken almost a year to book specific comics (cough) Hannibal Burress (cough)!

Remember when you are trying to book talent that you need to be professional, polite and understanding of their schedules. Creative people, especially comics are impulsive and at times unpredictable which causes challenges when booking them. There have been times when despite our efforts a comic will bail last minute because of a random paying gig that came up…not going to knock that because everyone’s gotta eat! Other times they double-booked themselves (step your Google calendar game up!) However, we never take these cancellations personally but we do try to build line-ups where the comics compliment each other so it may be quite some time before we reach out to that particular comic again if we find that they aren’t the best fit for next month’s show.

Booking a show that will have numerous acts can be stressful and overwhelming at times but this is what we deal with to create the best show possible right? When you get the talent you’re looking for, don’t forget to make sure they enjoy themselves and have a memorable experience so that they can pass the word and hopefully make it easier for you to book other talent through positive word of mouth!

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