Disclosure: We received complimentary tickets to attend the First Annual Eleven: XI Culinary Carnival. All opinions are based on the personal experience of Candace Williams.
When I hear the word “carnival”, it conjures childhood memories of peanuts and cotton candy, cake walks and games where the prizes were cheap, but it didn’t matter because I won. I might be going home with a paperclip, but I WON that paperclip! When I first heard of the Culinary Carnival that Eleven:XI was hosting to benefit PULSE at St. Luke’s, I knew it was not going to be like the carnivals of my childhood and after scanning the list of chefs participating, I was excited.
As soon as my husband and I got our wristbands and entered, we were immediately handed our first bite, hosting Chef Kevin Bryant’s contribution of gumbo on a stick. It was a perfect start! Familiar flavors of gumbo with just a hint of spice lingered on our taste buds as we reached the next booth which happened to be serving sno-cones flavored with Grey Goose Le Melon Vodka (for those over 21) and a trio of syrup options including pureed cantaloupe. It was either genius planning, or culinary serendipity to follow the gumbo with a sno-cone on such a hot day.
One of the requirements was that each offering must be on a stick, and the participating chefs certainly rose to the occasion with creative bites such as: Elk Meatballs stuffed with Foie Gras and a garnish of dried cranberries. So far, I have never encountered a foie gras that I did not like, and Michael Pellegrino most definitely knows his way around meatloaf (they have a “meatloaf of the day” at his restaurant Max’s Wine Dive), but the unassuming cranberries were what really elevated that bite to perfection.
Gastro Punk Food Truck is always a sure bet for something yummy in the tummy. They were serving up chocolate covered bacon on a stick sprinkled with nuts and containing a cayenne kick that would make any spice-lover happy happy happy. Chef Roberto Castre brought his own grill and braved the heat to grill beef hearts and serve them with a potato and choclo (hominy). They provided an assortment of dipping sauces, and I must admit that this dish was the highlight of my day, even above the bacon.
While it was a scorcher of a day, you would not have known it by the energy level of the guests. People were eating with gusto and going back for seconds, and sometimes thirds. The attendees were also eagerly sampling (and re-sampling!) drink offerings from mixologists competing for the People’s Choice drink award, however, I have to think it had more to do with the delicious drinks than the heat. My personal favorite was the Finlandia vodka caramel-apple cocktail, and the People’s Choice award went to Anna Large, mixologist at Eleven:XI for her vodka buttered popcorn ice cream drink. This was not like my grandma’s popcorn, but delicious none the less!
They had a DJ on hand for some beats, cotton-candy from the Skinny Girl sweetener booth, and a few carnival style games. There was plenty to keep us entertained between bites, and at this carnival the prize was most definitely the full belly and happy taste buds we took home… way better than any thimble I’ve won at a throw-the-dart-at-the-balloons-game.
One of the things that I loved most about the Culinary Carnival was when the chef themselves handed us our food on a stick and described their creation to us. Susie Jimenez was one such chef. She is a bubbly little firecracker anyway, which you may already know if you remember her from Food Network Star a few years ago. Her eyes lit up as she described the seafood ceviche with vegetables topped with an avocado mousse, and her passion translated to the food. It did not disappoint. She took home the People’s Choice award and I understand why. The judge’s award went to Gabriel Medina of Soma Sushi for his version of a corndog, kurobata pork sausage braised in beer and miso and then battered and deep fried. Yum!
With over 400 attendees, it seems that Kevin Bryant and Joe Welborn’s idea of a Culinary Carnival was a success. Knowing that the event was benefiting a worthy cause was reason enough to go, but it’s the food and the drinks and the playful atmosphere that will have me going back if they make this an annual event. (Hint Hint Chef Bryant!)