Philanthropist Ted Cutler had a dream for Boston.
It was 2007. He had a dream of bringing a world class, city-wide arts festival to Boston. He had always loved the arts and envisioned a huge outdoor festival where all kinds of musicians would come together in one spot to perform over a course of several days. Best thing? The entire event would be free to the public.
Unfortunately, the recession of 2008 put these plans on hold for several years until 2011, when things began rolling again.
And then just last week, July 13-21, Boston put on its first annual Outside the Box Festival. Eight continuous days of various free performances in Boston culminated in a weekend that included a food "festival within the festival", called the Boston Forklift Food Festival. At this festival, celebrities chefs such as Ming Tsai, Todd English, and Jody Adams gave cooking demonstrations. Many other of Boston's well known restaurants and food trucks were also there, serving up small bites of all sorts of delicious food. Meanwhile, guests continue to enjoy various well known and up-and-coming bands performing at various outdoor venues around the city.
I was excited to be there - to be a part of history in some sense. It was an extraordinary event that meshed two of my passions together - my love of music and the culinary arts.
So even though the forecast of thunderstorms almost kept me from going, I am so glad that I decided to go. The music turned out to be an absolute blast, and the food was fun!
Of course, since this is a food blog, I'll focus on the food here. If you want to learn more about the organization, the musical acts, and the festival in general, definitely check out the Outside the Box website.
Onto the food!
Tickets cost $1 each and you purchased them at ticket stations around the area. The cost of dishes ranged from $1 to $5, and the size of portions varied a lot, so it was pretty easy to taste lots of different things (which was much more fun).
I thought the place would be packed, but it was actually very comfortable. Lines were never long - at most three to four people deep - and there was plenty of space to walk around. Perhaps the predicted thunderstorms (which never materialized) scared some people off (or maybe it was the Lemonheads Concert going on at the same time at Boston Common).
The weather was quite hot, and therefore gazpacho (or cold soups in general) was a very popular offering at multiple places. Everyone had their own spin on it. Legal Sea Foods took their normal gazpacho and added some pickled shrimp and jalapenos to it. Gourmet Caterers did a fun play on a margarita by adding a chili salt rim to the refreshing gazpacho.
There were plenty of savory, "meaty" choices for hungry people. Michael Schlow's Barrio Cantina (his new Mexican place in Fenway) served up mini chicken tacos (top left), while Ming Tsai wowed everyone with his $3 duck sliders (definitely one of the most talked about sandwiches at the event).
Shake Shack was grilling Shackburgers for only $3. And the line at this Shake Shack was definitely shorter than the line at any other Shake Shack I've ever seen. Boston Shuckin Truck were shucking raw oysters on demand and also selling scallop sliders. Savatore's was making arugula shrimp pizzas to order on a coal-fired grill for only $5 a pizza.
There were all sorts of sweet offerings, such as chocolate dipped fondue from the Melting Pot, fig tarts, cupcakes from Isabelle's Curly Cupcakes (named after Todd English's daughter), and chocolate bon bons from Artisan Bistro, one of the restaurants inside the Ritz Carlton. Batch Ice Cream's food truck was also parked there, doling out popular ice cream flavors like green tea and salted caramel. Mei Mei Street Kitchen had rhubarb shaved ice.
My most Memorable Bites
Andrew Yeo, the executive chef at the Ritz Carlton, gave a live cooking demonstration at the event showing people how to make johnny cakes. I visited his booth the day after and got to sample his lobster sausage over a johnny cake. It was definitely one of the more unique dishes I had at the event, and it was quite good.
He was also really friendly, telling me he had moved to Boston from the Ritz Carlton in Singapore where he had worked for ten years. I love Southeast Asian food, and I would be quite curious to see if his Asian background will influence any of his menu creations at the Artisan Bistro or other restaurants inside the Ritz Carlton group.
The best bang for buck - no question - was the Legal Seafoods tent, which was serving everything for just $1 each. Yep, that's right, get a huge cup of their famous clam chowder for only $1. The gazpacho (pictured above) was also the same price. At that price, you don't have to choose. Just get one of each!
Over and over, the entire evening, I kept hearing about how good the duck sliders at Ming Tsai's booth tasted. Ming Tsai's signature "red roast duck" is slow roasted, pulled, and served with crunchy slaw in slider buns. I believe this is a menu item at one of his restaurants, either Blue Ginger or his new downtown Boston restaurant Blue Dragon. He also served bison sliders and tofu sliders, which were not bad.
I have a soft spot for falafels, and the ones served by the booth titled "Taste of Israel and Boston Kabob" hit the spot. They fried the falafels on demand, so each bite was hot and crispy on the outside yet soft and moist on the inside.
Blind Boys of Alabama
While munching on all these delectable bites, I was able to catch the entire concert by the Blind Boys of Alabama, an incredibly talented group of gospel singers who energized the entire crowd with their uplifting and upbeat songs such as Amazing Grace, Way Down in the Hole, and Take the High Road. I marveled at their incredible music skills and loved how they energized the crowd.
I was really mad that my camera ran out batteries right at this point, but I was at least able to catch a short video of them singing. They sound incredible.
All in all it was a super fun event and a truly unique opportunity to enjoy so much quality music at such a large free festival. I'm thrilled that Ted Cutler's dream is becoming a reality.
Can't wait for next year!
Disclaimer: The event was free to attend, but I received complimentary tasting tickets. The opinions are my own.
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