Every good unprecedentedly large Boston arts festival needs a good food festival to go along with it. Philanthropist Ted Cutler, the single-minded force behind Outside the Box, has tasked Chris Spinazzola and Marjorie Clapprood with organizing the first Boston Food Fest. The married pair are best known to the culinary world for having run the now-shuttered Anthony Spinazzola Foundation for 22 years, donating to hunger relief and the culinary education of the underprivileged. The foundation, named in memory of the Globe's first critic and Spinazzola's father, ran an annual black tie gala for some 4,000 people, which, as you'll read, was also responsible for chef marriages and babies. The foundation closed in 2007 when Clapprood was diagnosed with leukemia. The Boston Food Fest marks their first large-scale culinary event in Boston since then. Eater spoke with them about the fest, which will feature both a former two-time Super Bowl-winning Patriot slinging shrimp and everyone's favorite eponymous oyster farm-owning chef holding court on stage.
How did the idea for the Boston Food Fest come about?
Chris: Ted Cutler came to us in the late fall and said, as he was putting together performing artists for Outside the Box, that people told him he should have a culinary aspect to that festival since chefs are performing artists in their own right. Boston is a hot food city. It was a natural marriage.
Marjorie: It's wicked nice to be able to work with people like Ming [Tsai], Gordon [Hamersley], Jody [Adams], and all the folks who are known in Boston by their first names. Teddy was kind enough to ask us to put it together.
Tell us what will be happening at the festival's culinary stage.
Chris: Mostly cooking demonstrations, using the same kitchen that used to be at the gala. The first day, Jody is the first chef on stage, and Gordon is her sous chef. And when he comes up later, she's going to be his sous chef. Most of the chefs are going to be doing demonstrations of something they're known for. We're bringing an emcee by the name of Billy Harris, who is known as the culinary MC. He does a great job doing this with chefs all over the country. They'll be doing some samples from stage. Those chefs who have cookbooks will be stepping into a signing area off stage after they're done.
Marjorie: If you already have books, bring them. You can take pictures, too. All our VIP chefs like Todd [English] and Jody have signed releases.
In addition to the headline chef demonstrations, you also have multiple tasting booths set up.
Chris: On either side of the culinary stage, as well as between the culinary and music stage, there will be tasting booths. We have more than 30 confirmed restaurants and many more in process. We'll also have beer and wine for sale.
Marjorie: Bookending the tasting booths will be food trucks: Lobsta Love, Grilled Cheese Nation. Legal Sea Foods will have a chowder truck. The Batch ice cream truck is coming. Every available tasting will cost between one and five dollars. We're getting down to the wire, but any interested vendors can get to us by Friday and we'll make it happen.
Chris: I don't know if you remember [former Patriot] Jarvis Green. He's got a company right outside of New Orleans, a biotechnology group that provides domestic wild caught shrimp using sustainable practices across the board. He's also been on MasterChef. We reconnected earlier this year. He's asked to take a booth and do his shrimp and cooking. A two-time Super Bowl winner will be on City Hall Plaza cooking! He'll be there Friday and Saturday.
If the fest is a success, do you expect to run it again next year? Would you do so independent of Outside the Box if that does not return?
Marjorie: We see this as the inaugural Boston Food Fest - that it will become an annual national event, one that attracts potential millions to the city of Boston. Maybe outdoors, maybe indoors? Gotta go big or go home, right? We adore Teddy Cutler, he's the guy who convinced us to come to this prom as his date so we're hoping it's a partnership that will continue as a Boston tradition, as a festival within a festival. If he decides not to, we'd still like to see the Fest continue.
It's nice to see you involved in the culinary community again. The Anthony Spinazzola Foundation and accompanying Gala ended in 2007 with your diagnosis of leukemia, Marjorie. How are you feeling now?
Marjorie: June marks my 6th anniversary cancer-free. I could not be better. I'm so thankful. Chris made an instant decision to close Spinazzola. It's rare for such a successful organization to go out like that. I was in isolation that whole time and he made me better. Now we're back out working on great projects with great people.
Many years ago I worked at one of the galas; it was a great time. I met a lot of people I still know today.
Chris: You know what's funny, I was just telling my family the other day, as we've reached out to so many restaurant people, you run into so many chefs who are in the new generation of Boston chefs who have such great stories about how they connected with somebody at Spinazzola. When my father passed, he thought no one would remember who he was a year later. And I thought that when the gala was over, we wouldn't be remembered by many people. But now I'm finding out great stories like Tiffani Faison and her wife met at a Spinazzola Gala. Brian Poe said he had the best evening talking in the corner with chefs who gave him advice. He's referred to that advice throughout his career.
Marjorie: A lot of people still send us cards when they're celebrating anniversaries. A lot either met at Spinazzola or got pregnant after Spinazzola. We once had someone go into labor on the dance floor.
Does this mark the return to large-scale events from the two of you? Perhaps a resurrection of the Gala?
Marjorie: We get asked that question all the time, and honestly, now that we have our collective health back and have refocused our attention on Clappazzola [the couple's event promotion business] with the primary goal of working together, with people and projects we adore, that makes a "Spin on Spin" very enticing. The work is a huge investment of time and money, but then again, it always was, with a laser-like focus on the food cycle: celebrating high end food for the purpose of feeding those for whom it's an everyday issue of existence. If we could do it with a twist on helping sustainable foods become more mainstream, and feeding hungry kids and their families, it would be a big temptation for sure. Stay tuned!
· Boston Food Fest [Outside the Box]