Digesting the Great American Food & Music Fest

Paula Deen brings Southern charm and semi-disturbing grandparenting anecdotes to Gillette

Saturday's Great American Food & Music Fest was conceived with loftily scaled expectations: 10 hours of celebrity chefs and musicians from across the country converging on a Gillette Stadium that, for this day, would be offering far morehifalutin cuisine options than your typical game-day choice of a soggy personal pizza or a dry pretzel. Attendees, gorge and be merry.

I arrived to the fest at the halfway point of its runtime thanks in part to the US stretching out their massive fail against Ghana into extra time (and also because five hours is more than enough time to stuff my fat face with food, thank you very much!) and immediately realized their expectations may have been a tad overreaching. The stadium -- which will hold seventy-thousand lunatics on any given Sunday in the not-too-distant future -- was scattered with a scant showing of seemingly lethargic persons. I spoke to a wholly informative/mustached beer vendor, who laid the blame for the dismal attendance on two primary culprits: the US/Ghana match and an air show in Providence. So if an air show in another state and a game being played on the other side of the earth in a sport that our country has never given a two shits about is enough to derail the Great American Food & Music Fest, imagine the damage they would do to any pedestrian food and music fest.

The poor turnout was initially disappointing for me as a reporter sent to cover the event, since much of my interest in the Great American Food & Music Fest was tied to its 2009 West Coast incarnation, held at the ShorelineAmpitheatre in Mountain View, CA. That event was considered a bust of epic proportions: 15,000 people showed, only to wait in endless lines in the hot sun for their grub -- and that's not counting those who arrived after they had run out of food. At Gillette, it was clear right from the get-go that I wasn't going to bear witness to an angry mob scene on this night. But at least there'd be plenty of artery-hardening eats for everyone.

The real reason why those in attendance shelled out $50 for a ticket was apparent from the abundance of homemade T-shirts bearing the likeness of the night's main-stage headliner: PaulaDeen was in the house! When the host of umpteen Food Network cooking shows took to the stage (wig and all), she had the entire audience eating out of the palm of her butter-slicked hand. The lady's got jokes and charm that make you long for those yesterdays spent in grandma's kitchen. With the aid of her husband (the similarly charming, gray-haired MichaelGroover) and a couple of enthusiastic mini-Paulas plucked from the crowd, she was able to whip up a batch of short ribs during her set. Though I've never been too keen on cooking shows, an hour's worth of warm, drawled-out "Honey this" and "Child that" had me running home to set myDVR for the next time she's on. It's tough to imagine her keeping up the Southern-hospitality shtick when the cameras aren't rolling; but for this outing, it really didn't matter, as she piled on the feel-good vibes that this otherwise detached event was lacking.

EepyBird unleash their faux-madness

Immediately following Paula was a demo by the guys from EepyBird, best known for their viral videos involving the volcanic chemical reaction produced by mixing Mentos and Diet Coke. I'm not going to bother looking up where the EepyBird name comes and just assume that it's a euphemism for "creepy." These two "scientists" look like they have taken one too many Coke baths in their days. While the young'uns were visibly giddy as they wallowed in the soda shower, my heart goes out to the parents who looked anything but pleased at the prospect of loading their brown-stained, hyper-caffeinated children into the car for what was surely a patience-testing trip home.  

And now for the food. Having been to Philadelphia on a number of occasions, I found the prospect of getting a real Philly cheesesteak in Massachusetts courtesy of Jim's Steaks titillating in the most obese way possible. It all came down to three magic words: One. Whiz. With. (That's one cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz and onions, for all you noobs .) If you've never tried one, believe the hype. Also among the best of the best that I tasted on Saturday was a grilled cheese with smoked bacon and apples -- a blissful concoction wrapped in French-toast-like bread -- from Portland chef Harding Lee Smith's Corner Room.

Local flavor was represented by Cambridge's All Star Sandwich Bar. Their Cubano sandwich was hands-down their choicest offering, a satisfying slab of ham and roast pork slathered in a tangy mustard-colored substance (a Google search revealed this to be "Mango Mojo Mayo Dressing"). The gentleman who served me their Muffuletta informed me that he'd just been telling people it was an Italian because he couldn't pronounce the name. And that's pretty much what it was -- an Italian sub on fancy bread. Probably would've been better if served warm, but I couldn't really hold it against them, as they'd been churning out meals for eight hours by that time.

At this point, you may be wondering about the "& Music" portion of the billing. But it would truly be wrong of me to comment, as my recollection of the only musical act I caught on the night (Boston's own The Stompers) was muted by my taste buds working double-time to melt my plate of Goldie's Churros as I reclined in a near-comatose state somewhere near section 104.

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