The Chipotle Cultivate Food Fest

When I was in Minneapolis a couple weeks back, I wanted to visit a park near my hotel in the morning before my flight back home. Imagine my elation when I got to the park and saw that it was hosting a free food festival sponsored by Chipotle.

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Chipotle Cultivate was going on in Loring Park, featuring chef demos, live music, and of course, amazing food. Cultivate celebrates a better food system, with sustainably-raised fresh food, talented chefs who embrace the philosophy, and some great local artisans and vendors. All set to a fantastic live soundtrack.

In the last few years, Chipotle has been ahead of the fast food game, proving that you can have fresh and healthy affordable fast food relying mostly on small local producers. You might recall that they made waves with their short cartoon about our industrialized food system. Their policies on factory-farmed meat and organic produce have won them a place in my heart. Plus, the food is pretty freakin’ good. Cultivate is an extension of that concept.

The festival was free and open to the public. As you walked through the gates, a tent was set up for local artisans. I sampled some locally-made feta cheese that was to-die-for, and some locally produced flavored honey. I’ve never even heard of anything like the chili honey I tried, but it was sweet and hot, rich honey spiked with red pepper. It would be amazing as a glaze for ribs or grilled chicken (or any meat, really).

Because I had a very small window of time to spend in the festival, I hit all the Chipotle Experience exhibits first. There were five interactive educational exhibits set up throughout the festival, and if you participated in four, you got a coupon for a free burrito, tacos, or burrito bowl. The exhibits were: processed food vs fresh food, factory farming, a fresh guacamole demo, GMOs, and a short film. I follow many of these issues closely anyway, so the information was not new to me, but I was curious how it was received by the other attendees. Those around me seemed to be very engaged and genuinely interested (maybe more interested in a free burrito, but nonetheless interested). The fresh guacamole exhibit was awesome, as Chipotle employees took the participants step-by-step through their recipe. I don’t know if people realize how amazingly simple fresh guacamole is to make, and how much better it tastes that pre-made from the grocery store. The proof was in the pudding–er, guac, since we got a free sample at the end.

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A blurry action shot of the fresh guacamole demo

After I collected my coupon for a free burrito, I headed over to the chef tent, because the first demo was starting. Incidentally, the first chef up was, Jack Riebel, the chef from The Butcher and the Boar, which I had eaten at the night before. For a chef who’s menu is so meat-centric, I was delighted that he chose a summer squash rollatini stuffed with herbed fromage blanc. That sounds really fancy, but it was simply a thinly sliced yellow squash or zucchini rolled up and stuffed with a little raw milk cheese spiked with shallots and fresh herbs. It sounded so easy as he went through the demo, but his finished plate was the difference why he is a James Beard finalist and I am not. He tore apart some fresh basil, sprinkled it over the dish and drizzled it with some gorgeous pale green olive oil. It looked so elegant and fancy.

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Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay long. Later in the day, Amanda Frietag was doing a chef demo, followed by Minneapolis’s resident celebrity chef, Andrew Zimmern. I would have loved to have seen those.

At any rate, it was such a happy accident that I stumbled on this, but it was an hour well-spent. I love Chipotle’s philosophy on food, and it was so nice to see them engaged in the community by featuring local chefs and artisans, and then inviting the public to celebrate with them.

*The fine print: I didn’t receive any consideration from Chipotle for my glowing endorsement of their food or Cultivate. I just really like their food and what they stand for.

 

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