This weekend, 40,000 people (including our own haphazard crew) descended upon Prospect Park for the highly anticipated Great GoogaMooga Festival. The event was a showcase for New York’s hippest restaurants, each of which offered up one dish that represented their style in half or full portions, so you could try some of everything. A foodie’s delight.
The concept for the festival was great: hand out free tickets to a slew of people and point them to the food stands. And with stands manned by teams from Jean Georges, Baohaus, Luke’s Lobster, The Spotted Pig, Big Gay Ice Cream, Momofuku, and more, expectations were high. From what I can tell, the restaurants lived up to their reputations. Unfortunately, the festival wasn’t run with quite the same elegance as your average restaurant kitchen.
The event garnered tremendous publicity… most of it bad. Among complaints about long lines and lack of cell phone reception (true of any festival), were legitimate laments. Food started running out around 3:30 on Sunday (apparently sooner on Saturday), which is a bummer if you planned on hanging out until closing time at 8:00, and a big deal if you sprung for the all-inclusive $250 “Extra Mooga” tickets. “Extra Mooga” also got you access to special events, which most of the general population did not seem to know were going to be special events. Our hopes of seeing Masaharu Morimoto break down a fish, Anthony Bourdain mock everyone under the sun, and the hubs’ desire to eat hordes of ocean boogers (aka: oysters), were all dashed to oblivion once we walked through the gate. This was seemingly misled in their advertising. (Or, to be fair, possibly misread.)
Another misleading aspect was that the festival would be local-leaning. GoogaMooga teamed up and advertised through Just Food, indicating that there would be a big push toward farm-to-table attitudes. Unfortunately, there was merely a designated corner of the festival for Just Food sponsored spectacles (including a very charming CSA Cook-Off and Blue Hill Sausage-Grinding… lovable, but graphic). This was a downer given this obvious opportunity to promote local farms, humane meat production, and conscious eating. We saw virtually no information at the restaurant stands about where its food came from and actually witnessed someone on stage defend Tyson. Poor form, Googa.
And the greatest bummer came in the form of the disclaimer written on the festival’s website:
“We promise to make vegetarians and vegans happy, too, as well as those with any other dietary restrictions. You’ll go home inspired, enlightened, entertained and full.”
Sigh… I am afraid, dearest Googa, you did not deliver on this particular commitment. While I’m sure all of the carnivorous offerings were delicious and of the finest quality, the vegetarian options could be counted on one hand. And of those options, I, for one, saw not a single dish that was vegan.
All this impressive negativity having been stated, I should say that the things we did eat were delicious. The Little Muenster’s grilled cheese made me dance a little dance, Momofuku’s coffee ice milk was a joyful reprieve from the heat, and Seersucker’s asparagus and ricotta tart tasted just like springtime. We missed the greatly-coveted deep fried cheesecake and the Big Gay Ice Cream. Both gone by the time we were ready for sweets. But as far as taste buds go, mine have no complaints.
The kinks will work themselves out, I’m sure of this. I hope in the process the organizers will also address the expectations they built regarding local and vegetarian food. Best of luck next year, GoogaMoogs!