Oakland’s popular Eat Real Festival is changing things up this year to bring more attention back to the organization it supports, the Food Craft Institute, with its mission of business education for aspiring food professionals.
“Many people who attend the Eat Real Festival don’t know what the Food Craft Institute is,” said Ally DeArman, marketing director for both the Institute and the festival.
Eat Real, now in its sixth year, brings together a curated selection of food vendors that all follow the same values of local sourcing and sustainable eating. The values are important, said DeArman, because the reason for the festival has always been to fund the non-profit Food Craft Institute, which educates people with a passion for food in food craft and business skills so they can start their own ventures.
That’s why this year, instead of a crowd of food vendors the festival is now divided into separate areas, covering fermentation, urban farming, grains and milling, sweets, meats and butchery, and preserves and sauces. This backs up the basic principles of the Food Craft Institute, which offers classes like the “business of butchery” or “coffee roasting and retail,” as well as the less enticing “business intensive,” to aspiring food businesses.
“We really wanted to make a point this year,” said DeArman.
There’s also one new area that the festival organizers are expecting to be a big hit – the craft drinks and DIY cocktail area they’re calling “Drink Real,” where people can learn about everything from homebrew to coffee cupping, taste craft spirits and, of course, learn how to mix their own drinks.
That’s a crucial expansion for Eat Real, which makes most of its money from beverages. Vendors also pay a small fee plus 10 percent of their revenue accrued at the festival, according to DeArman.*
“Kimchi, to me, has always been a more extreme version of sauerkraut,” said Happy Girl Kitchen’s Todd Champagne.
Also new this year is the “Bloody Brunch,” a series of events and tastings on Saturday morning. It’s something festival organizers conceived of to tie in with California ranch Llano Seco’s second time at the festival promoting something they call “Offal Wonderful,” a way to encourage nose-to-tail eating. With Llano Seco declaring 2014 “The Year of Blood,” Eat Real organizers decided to jump in with a series of programs from 11:30am on topics that range from Bloody Marys to blood orange biscuits to blood sausages.
Another new interactive event will take place in the popular “kid zone.”
Sprout Cooking Club is a non-profit that brings kids into commercial kitchens to learn under real chefs. It also has an apprenticeship program where disadvantaged youth can learn skills that can help them get food industry jobs. A regular guest at the festival, Sprouts is abandoning last year’s cook-off for a more interactive approach.
“We wanted to change things up,” said Sprouts founder and director Karen Rogers.
On Saturday from 12:30pm to 2:30pm, Sprouts kids will be bringing blenders to the festival and teaming up with children in the audience to create healthy smoothies on request. Rogers said that meant changing something that was about demonstrating to something more personal.
“We really want to emphasize the service part of it,” Rogers said.
Sprouts, like every vendor at the festival, is concerned with eating locally and instilling in eaters a more direct connection to their food. In fact, some amount of sustainable or organic ingredient use is required for the vendors selected for Eat Real. But all of that good food comes at a price.
One other change to this year’s festival might be less popular. Last year’s $5 cap on food plates has been raised to $8 -- a reflection, festival organizers say, of the cost of the local and high-quality ingredients that make the food vendors so popular.
“As prices rise, we have to support them,” DeArman said.
Founded in 2011, the Food Craft Institute is located by the Oakland waterfront and was founded by slow food star Anya Fernald of Belcampo Meat Co. It runs its multi-week courses about once a month and offers financial aid.
“It was just gratifying to me to pass along some of my experiences,” said Champagne, who taught a pickling class there.
The Eat Real Festival started in 2009 and quickly became one of the destination food events in the Bay Area.
Besides the seven food specialty areas where people can buy treats to eat right away or take home, Eat Real Fest has three stages with continual programming, including the high-profile Oakland chef night, a lesson on how to bake a bagel and a talk on sardines.
There’s also music, the kid zone and many pop-ups and appearances by people who’ve gone through the Food Craft Institute courses.
Unlike many food fairs, entry is free and festival organizers expect over 150,000 attendees, which does mean crowds. But for those that want a little quieter scene, DeArman has a tip -- come on the first day. This year an almost complete line-up of vendors will be on site from 1pm, so it’s a way to both beat the lines and make sure you get some of the hottest food items.