Fair to Serve Up Allentown’s Culinary Cultural Diversity
Chefs, experts demonstrate recipes to celebrate city’s 250thanniversary
In a 236-year-old nation known as the world’s “melting pot,” the City of Allentown is celebrating its 250th year of existence by showing its ethnic and cultural flavor with a special series of cooking demonstrations that will be part of the Allentown Fair’s “Farm to Table” events on the culinary demonstration stage inside Agri~Plex.
Throughout the fair running Aug. 28-Sept. 3, the Farm to Table series features various chefs and culinary experts from the Lehigh Valley demonstrating the preparation of their signature dishes.
The “Allentown 250” programming committee collaborated with the fair’s Culinary Demonstration Stage Coordinator Pat Rice to develop the idea behind spotlight events featuring the diversity of foods enjoyed in Allentown, the history of their origin and, when possible, how they were first introduced to the region.
Expanding upon the fair’s already established cooking series, Rice assembled a schedule of events that feature the evolution of recipes representing many of the ethnic groups that over the years have settled and migrated to the city.
The schedule includes dishes from many of Allentown’s finest and favorite eateries. From Risotto to Grape Leaves to other tantalizing fare, Allentown chefs Joe Grisafi of Roma Ristorante will serve up Italian, Abe Lopez of Sangria—Mediterranean, Loan Vinh of Loan’s Authentic Vietnamese Bistro in the Fairgrounds Farmers Market—Asian, Violette Younes of The Aladdin Restaurant—Middle Eastern and the team of Joao Roquetti and Anna DeMattos of the Made in Brazil Brazilian Steakhouse—you guessed it, Brazilian!
As always, the Farm to Table series highlights local produce and ingredients. Although his catering business is in Easton, Chef/Owner Nick Sandt of The Culinary Experience did research to prepare a recipe featuring produce with a long history in the Allentown area.
Sandt told Rice his exploration revealed that Pennsylvania German farmers in the region discovered early on that green bell peppers grew to a hearty size and that the city basked in the renown of producing and serving “big green peppers.” Sandt said the “Stuffed Pepper Canoes” dish he is demonstrating involves slicing a pepper into quarters and adding a unique stuffing to allow enough samples for the audience to get a taste of this year’s harvest.
Representing the Allentown School District, Dieruff High School student chefs Stephanie Gonzalez and Aleisha Rivers are also relying on local produce demonstrating the preparation of “Summer Garden Zucchini and Pasta.”
Casual fare in Allentown has ethnic roots as well. America’s evolution of Italy’s pizza finds restaurants becoming known for “their kind,” something Scott, Byron and Carol Hoppy of Hop’s at Fogelsville Inn experienced when they turned a local tradition, The Paddock Restaurant, into Hop’s at the Paddock in South Whitehall two years ago.
The Hops had to master the famous thin crust pizza that has been retained on the menu, a phenomenon they will talk about during their demonstration.
John Benko and Shannon Koch of Bada Bingg, a favorite of sandwich connoisseurs with Allentown locations in the Fairgrounds Farmers Market and downtown, will give the international lowdown on the specialties they create.
The mammoth catering company Sodexo that has joined UGI this year as one of the fair’s Culinary Demonstration Stage sponsors is devoting an entire afternoon of programming on Sunday, September 2 to honor the city and the late Bob Wood, the company executive and active Allentown advocate who died last year.
Sodexo chefs and specialists Jon Middleton, Bill Finnegan, Tomas Garrido, John Tompey, Brian Robinson, Jason Waldman, Jason Christein and Gregory Cracappa will be featured throughout the day.
On Saturday, Sept. 1, the culinary stage becomes the annual battleground for the fair’s Iron Chef competition that features four-time winner Susan Roth, culinary instructor at Northampton Community College going up against Lopez of Sangria, who scored big as a former winner of the Food Network’s “Chopped.” This highly anticipated event will be sponsored by The Morning Call.
The full Farm to Table Cooking series is available online at www.allentownfair.com and includes many past demonstrators that have developed a “fair following.”