At the inaugural Great GoogaMooga, food, bands, long lines, and trash-talking from Anthony Bourdain
At this weekend’s Great GoogaMooga music and food festival in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, comedian Patton Oswalt made an analogy between food and music culture.
“In a weird way," he said, "the one parallel between food and rock and roll is that, it seems that food—and the foodie industry and the exploding restaurant industry—it’s the way rock and roll was in the early '70s, when it was big, giant: Kansas, Boston, Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer. Huge, bloated stage shows. And then suddenly the Ramones and the New York Dolls and the Sex Pistols come along and strip it all down. And it seems like that’s sort of happening with all the food trucks.”
He was sitting with two bona fide rock stars of the cooking world, Tom Colicchio and Baohaus' Eddie Huang. Oswalt asked their thoughts and got an agreement from Huang.
“There’s a lot of powder in both industries,” he said and laughed.
“I get what you’re saying,” Colicchio said to Oswalt. “I think what’s happened [is] more and more people are into food now and they don’t want the pretense, they want to strip down. They don’t need the big show. So you can get great food without the white tablecloth and the tuxedos.”
There were certainly more picnic blankets than tablecloths at the weekend-long event, but there was still plenty of room for spectacle with as many as 40,000 people flooding the park’s Nethermead to sample the food and craft beer and check out the musical acts. Headlined by the Roots (Saturday) and Hall & Oates (Sunday), the concurrent music program shared a schedule (and some personnel) with cooking demonstrations and talks, alternating between the main stage and the "Hamageddon" stage. Among the many talks, demonstrations, and concerts, LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy and Aziz Ansari talked about food, there was a A C.S.A.-cooking competition, and Lez Zeppelin—the all-female Zeppelin tribute band—played near a giant pig-shaped tent.
People lined up to buy all manner of food, from haute-cuisine to barbecue, from the 75 participating vendors. Some of the longest lines were at outposts of popular restaurants like the Spotted Pig, Luke’s Lobster, and Colicchio & Sons. The turnout was so large that on Saturday there was much grousing about the long, slow lines, food shortages, and problems getting drinks (well-covered at Gotham Gal). By Sunday, many of the problems seemed to have been solved, and things were generally a little calmer, even if some of the lines were still pretty long.
“It’s a first year event and, you know, we’re gonna learn and make things better, and it’s all a learning experience and we just wanna throw the best possible festival we can,” said Kerry Black, who co-founded Superfly Presents, the company behind GoogaMooga, which also helps put on Bonnaroo each year. GoogaMooga, he said, was a chance to bring New York a music festival with as much focus on the food and drink. But where did the wacky name originate?
“We really wanted to have fun with it and show kind of our spirit and this fun vibe, and so we wanted the name to reflect that, and we wanted take the pretention out of it as soon as you heard the name.”
The name, a love-it-or-hate-it proposition as far as a casual sampling of crowd opinion could determine, was taken from a song by New Orleans musican Lee Dorsey, and means something like "this is great.”
“It just kind of had that right spirit,” Black said.
Tickets to the event were free, but for $250 visitors got access to a V.I.P. area with special talks and demos—the Q&A with Patton Oswalt, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto showing how to slice fish, Anthony Bourdain talking shop—as well as a little more room to roam, and a wealth of free food samples. People walked away munching mortadella hot dogs and lobster-crawfish macaroni and cheese. A woman with Crif Dogs, handing out bacon-wrapped hot dogs, asked people to also take a magnet, a condom, or both.
In a nearby tent, old food-related ads and movie clips were projected, alternating with New York food trivia questions. (Some answers: A Yonah Shimmel knish weighs 11.2 ounces; There are around 4,000 registered street vendors in New York.)
It was there that Oswalt moderated the talk between Colicchio and Huang. Colicchio said it was hard to say whether cooking competitions like those on "Top Chef" were starting to affect the restaurant industry, but said if contestants do well on a reality show, it could make or break their hopes of funding their own restaurant.
“Somebody sent me a contract that someone was about to sign [in which] they got a bonus. If they were on "Top Chef," they got $25,000 bonus, if they won they got a $100,000 bonus.”
All three weighed in on their favorite foods and trends; Colicchio said the best food-truck scene was in Austin, Texas, and Huang said Portland, Oregon. Both agreed that there was a bizarre focus on a corporate customer-base for New York’s food trucks.
“[You] park your truck in front of some corporate headquarters at lunch and they’ll line up," Huang said. "What’s that? Only in New York. Everybody else’s food scene’s for like the street kids, you know? Ours are for corporate America.”
Money was a big topic of the day. One prospective restaurateur asked about opening an African eatery in Midtown.
“You want to lose all your money?" Colicchio asked. "Go up to Midtown and open up a restaurant.”
“It’ll work if you call it Korean barbecue,” joked Huang.
Later, Anthony Bourdain, host of “No Reservations,” took the same stage and answered questions from the audience on his favorite New York restaurants, the nastiest foods he’s eaten, and his favorite hangover cure. He didn’t disappoint for those who came to see him do his food-world provocateur bit. He railed against vegetarians, arguing that just as people shouldn’t turn down a grandma’s cooking if it’s in her house, they shouldn’t turn down what's on offer in other countries.
“I don’t like to hurt animals. I’m against fur. Unless you’re above the Arctic Circle, I don’t see any reason for it. I’m against animal testing of cosmetics, do we need to test make-up on them? I’m against that. I hate circuses. Siegfried and Roy? Fuck them.... Even that crocodile hunter dude, fuck him.”
A few gasps were heard.
“Come on, wait a minute. Do you think any crocodile was any happier having met this little fucking prick in shorts? Oh look, here comes that little prick again with a stick again and poke me and poke me. So, what I’m saying is, I’m like St. Francis of fucking Assisi over here. But what I am saying is even if you are a vegetarian and you’re travelling and you find yourself in another land? Try to be a good guest, that’s all I’m saying.”
Asked about his well-known disregard for Food Network stars like Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri, he spoke on the latter.
“What can you say? What’s he gonna do? You know, the guy’s like 48 years old and he’s still walking around with the Ed Hardy douche wear.... How does he segue gracefully out of that into the next phase of his career? I don’t know.”
Back at the main festival, dance parties began in the late afternoon, including one hosted by Big Gay Ice Cream and a “silent disco,” in which people danced with headphones. Thousands of others ended the fest munching food or relaxing to the smooth sounds of Hall & Oates. A parked stroller had three abandoned burger sliders and a half-eaten slice of pizza.
At the fest's main food depot, the General Store, Alex Stultz, owner of Red Star Merchandise, sold shirts, books and other items. A Charlottesville, Va., native, he said he was used to working music fests like Bonnaroo.
“They seem kind of like the same people,” he said. “They’re better dressed and everybody’s local .... With a music festival, you’ve got people coming from all over.”
Two local concertgoers, Steve Rewinski and Krithi Rao, said they enjoyed the festival. They came from nearby Prospect Heights, got free admission and didn’t much mind the waits, though Rewinski, 28, said the prices were about two dollars more that they should have been.
Still, he said, “It was just a pleasant, nice awesome day.”