It was hard to predict what would happen at the Fork, Cork & Style festival that descended upon Churchill Downs Sunday. This was the inaugural year for the celebration, which was designed to showcase food and wine from area restaurants and vendors from across the country.
There was a lot to write home to Mom about at Fork, Cork & Style. The food was hot, the wine was flowing and the chefs entertained crowds of Louisville foodies. There were a few sour grapes, but they didn’t ruin what Churchill Downs had to offer the burgeoning local food community.
The chefs. Yes, superstar chef Emeril Lagasse headlined the event and put on a great show. But so did former Top Chef contestants Brian Malarkey, Betty Fraser and Eli Kirshstein, along with local chef Michael Paley of Proof on Main. It was great to actually smell what these chefs were cooking, a gift modern technology still hasn’t been able to supply (it’s 2010 – where’s Smell-o-Vision?).
The food. Local restaurants set up booths alongside restaurants from across the country to showcase highlights from their menus. The variety was excellent – where else can you get a genuine hot brown from The Brown Hotel and onion rings from The Fishery?
The weather. Churchill Downs didn’t have anything to do with this, but it’s worth noting how gorgeous the day was during the outdoor event. The skies were clear and there was a break from the humidity that has hung in the Ohio Valley air for the past few months.
The voucher limit. The basic ticket to the festival cost $25, which allowed access to the cooking demonstrations and one dish from one of the restaurant vendor. But only certain items qualified for the voucher, so you had to pay about $5 to get something else. I heard a few grumbles in the Central BBQ line from a woman who wanted barbecue sliders, but reluctantly chose the barbecue nachos because that’s all her voucher would allow.
The parking. The good news? Free parking was available. The bad news? Lots of people didn’t know about it. When attendees turned into the Churchill Downs parking lot off Central Avenue, the first lot visible cost $5 to park in. Judging by how quickly those lots were filling, most people didn’t know that a free lot was available at Gate 10, farther away from the action, but still free.
The crowd. Yes, tickets were as much as $200. And yes, there were some confused volunteers who didn’t know where to direct attendees trying to find some good wine. But that doesn’t excuse some huffiness that occurred early in the day when some VIP guests were upset that they had to wait in line to get their vouchers. Hold your horses, folks. This is Churchill Downs, after all.