Prague Food Festival 2016 a success

Tenth year of festival puts a focus on reducing waste as well as on fine cuisine

The 10th edition of the Prague food Festival took place May 27–29 at the Royal Garden of Prague Castle, with 44 stands representing restaurants, wineries, breweries, farmers, ice cream and other food vendors spread out over four hectares. Aside from the main program, there was a display in the Ball Games Court related to reducing waste.

“We try to promote high cuisine and the best restaurants in Prague with a wide portfolio of restaurants from French to Italian to Creole to Argentinean,” Pavel Maurer, organizer of Prague Food Festival, said.

He also wants people to learn a bit of philosophy behind food and experience some new ingredients and combinations.

The Prague food scene can't be compared to London, New York or Paris, but is comparable to Berlin, Vienna and Budapest, Maurer said.

When he started the festival a decade ago it was unique on the Czech market, but now there are food and beverage festivals throughout the year, with many in the summer. “Our main difference is we are in maybe the most prestigious place in Prague and the restaurants are under very tight control from our side, gastronomically,” he said.

Two new restaurants he pointed from this year's lineup were Etnosvět, which does vegetarian food, and Gran Fierro, an Argentinean venue.

A special concept for this year's festival was “Taste Waste,” which looks at how to reduce food waste as a way of taking care of the environment. “It is about the planet, about not wasting food and water,” Maurer, said. People had a chance to learn about companies that are promoting zero waste, including clothing and accessory designers and glass makers.

One of the people who has a long experience with the festival is Steven Trumpfheller of Prague 2 restaurant U Emy Destinnové. He brought some new menu items, including venison with a new chocolate sauce. “It has been very popular. I think people have been happy,” he said. It was his sixth time at the festival.

Over the years he has been coming he has gotten really good exposure for his restaurant, and now he sees people who are already familiar with it. “They find out that we have a new menu and a new website,” he said. “It's reconnecting with people.”

What makes his restaurant different is the sauces. “There is not one other place that has my sauces. I have a chocolate demi-glace, a black currant Shiraz sauce, raspberry vinaigrette. I think the sauces are a little different to what people are used to,” Trumpfheller said.

He likes the atmosphere of the festival. “People know that they come and they feel good, so it is good,” he said.

The festival also had many newcomers.

Juan Cruz Pacin of Gran Fierro said that for him, the festival was about prestige. “If you are here it means you made it. It is not a festival you can just join. You have to be invited,” he added.

His restaurant set up a whole Argentinean corner with veal cooking over an open fire, live music and some tango dancing. The meat cooked for at least five hours over the fire on a metal cross called an estaca. They were also serving homemade sausages called choripan.

All of the meat served in the restaurant comes from Argentina, where it is raised outdoors on the Pampas and most of the wine comes from Argentina and Chile. The festival response had exceeded his expectations, he said.

Andrej Zaitsev of Etnosvět said that the mission of his restaurant was to present vegetarian and vegan food from all over the world. He said, though, the best sellers were copies of traditional meals: Vegetarian burgers were the most popular, followed by imitation Peking duck and imitation beef Wellington. He also has success with a spicy curry. “Indian cuisine is quite popular. Tourists and foreigners like it,” he said.

The restaurant in Prague 2 is currently ranked third-best in Prague on travel site TripAdvisor., and gets a lot of tourists as a result. Zaitsev would like to see more locals, though. “We want Czechs to break away from the cliché that vegetarian food is boring or weird. We want to bring them a concept that is more open,” he added. The festival for him is more about meeting people and explaining the concept than selling a high volume of food.

There has been a huge increase in interest in vegetarian and vegan food in the past three years, and also more suppliers and new ingredients.

The atmosphere has also changed. In the past there was some tension between vegetarians and carnivores. Now, many people are reducing their meat intake for environmental and other reasons, but not quitting it completely. He calls them “flexitarians,” who eat meat and fish once or twice a week and vegetarian or vegan meals the rest of the time.

“We are not trying to build a wall between people. We do not judge people,” he said. In addition to the vegetarian restaurant, Etnosvět also runs a vegan bistro.

While Italian food is very popular in Prague, and there is a lot of competition. Hostaria is a new place offering seafood, pasta dishes and risottos. “I am pleased with the quality of the festival,” Andrea Minazzi, the owner of Hostaria, said.

“The organization is perfect. I believe someone is taking care of it,” he said. He had praise in particular for Maurer. “He really knows about food. He knows about many different restaurants in [different regions] in Italy. He knows about ingredients, which is quite unusual in the Czech Republic,” Minazzi said.

Minazzi had fresh shrimp flown in from Sicily just for the festival. The plan was to serve them raw with a little lemon sauce, but people also wanted them cooked so he improvised and grilled some as well. Another raw dish was also popular, steak tartare.

“We make everything fresh, we make it by the order just like in the restaurant,” he said. “We want people to taste it and say, 'Wow, we really want to visit your restaurant,'” he added.

They also served a caprese, but theirs is a bit different since the mozzarella is foamed and it has diced tomatoes and homemade croutons.

He only came for two of the festival's three days, and on the first day already regretted the decision.

From the feedback, everything has been good and some people have been coming back and bringing friends.

Not all of the stands were restaurants. Many sold wines and and other beverages, and there were some degustation stations. One was from chocolate maker Lindt, which was promoting pairings of chocolate with wines picked by a sommelier. The wines included a red and a white as well as a straw wine.

“This year we are introducing two flavors: intense mint and caramel with sea salt,” product manager Veronika Janoušková said. Lindt chocolate uses select cocoa from a sustainable farming program.

Wine and chocolate pairings have been around for about 10 years but are still new to a lot of people.

Several of the restaurants are already looking forward to the next Prague Food Festival. “We can already see what will do differently next year,” Hostaria's Minazzi said.

Festival organizer Maurer had his plans for after the festival ends. “I will go home and have a slice of bread and butter before I go to bed,” he said.

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