Fest balances comfort food with trendy options

Michael Muckian, Contributing writer

Summertime and the eating is sleazy, at least when it comes to festival food. But chef Shelly Herrmann is out to balance the festival’s offerings, retaining traditional treats while adding healthier and ethnically inspired choices.

Now in her second year as PrideFest’s food and beverage director, Herrmann would like to see more diversity in the festival’s food choices. Specifically, she’d like to add healthier choices to the menu.

“We’re trying to get away from deep-fried anything on a stick,” says Herrmann, whose partner Kate Sherry is PrideFest’s co-producer. “There are people who just don’t want to see the foot-long corndog go away, but we’re trying to find more unique and local vendors whenever possible.”

A graduate of Milwaukee Area Technical College culinary school and sous chef at Milwaukee’s Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Herrmann brings a higher level of understanding and appreciation of food to the festival scene. She has to balance promoting healthier food with the knowledge that good intentions are rivaled by market demands that favor cotton candy over cauliflower. With that in mind, she’s taking a cautious approach, attempting to adjust PrideFest’s offerings gradually, with an eye toward expanding selections rather than replacing festival favorites.

“I sought out someone for last year’s PrideFest who served healthy, organic foods because people were asking for them,”
Herrmann says. “But when all was said and done, there wasn’t enough of a market and the vendor lost money.”

But Herrmann has convinced a number of new and returning vendors to add healthy options to their existing menus — to meet the needs of PrideFest-goers who want healthy choices while letting vendors make money from the more typical fest fare. For instance, Red Rock Saloon is “going to offer some veggie options that are healthy, but they also are serving deep-fried Oreos.”

 “Of course, we had to taste those to see if they would fit the festival profile,” Hermann adds.

Red Rock also is offering Southern-style pulled-pork in a bowl, served over mashed potatoes and topped with coleslaw. Offering regional cuisine is another way that Herrmann is trying to broaden the festival’s culinary scene.

Diversity in culinary styles is popular with PrideFest-goers, Herrmann says. Immy’s South African Cuisine has been one of the most popular vendors for several years running. Not affiliated with a restaurant, Immy’s serves up samosas and other such  ethnic favorites to a growing and appreciative PrideFest crowd. The vendor is back this year with a menu of African favorites.

Screaming Tuna Sushi and Asian Bistro is also returning for a second year. That’s good news for Herrmann, who sought out the restaurant due to her own love for raw, expertly trimmed seafood. Screaming Tuna also proved a hit with 2013 festival-goers.

“We brought them in and people got very excited about them, so we’re happy to have them back,” Herrmann says. ‘They’re planning on producing a custom-made Pride Roll, but we won’t know what’s in it until we’re actually at the festival.”

New vendor La Coppa Artisan Gelato, which has one Milwaukee and two Madison locations, also plans to create a special Pride flavor this year. La Coppa, too, is keeping its concept under wraps until the festival, Herrmann says.

The fest’s best-kept secret may be Albert Yee, owner of The Burg in Cedarburg. He has the equipment to produce the state’s — and perhaps the nation’s — only four-foot-long egg roll. Yee also has a Pride-themed entry in mind. And, yes — he too isn’t revealing the ingredients. The restaurateur is keeping the idea under wraps, however, until he’s sure he can secure the proper equipment from his Chinese manufacturer.

This year’s more than 20 vendors also will include the Madison-based Little Shop of Cheesecakes and Milwaukee’s Toppers Pizza, along with many of the more familiar area food purveyors.

Two corn vendors, each anchoring an end, of the festival grounds, are offering different approaches to perennial festival favorite. Returning vendor Anderson’s Corn Roasts, based in Waterford, will serve the traditional corn-on-the-cob, dripping with butter and saturated with salt. Across the grounds, Reid’s Roasted, based in Racine, will serve corn-in-a-cup. The corn, freshly shaved off the cob, will be available in 15 to 20 different flavors, Herrmann says.

“We have a bit of a Latin-American following, so I’ve positioned them near the margarita bar,” says the chef. “You can get the corn mixed with Mayo, Parmesan cheese and chili powder, which is a traditional Latin preparation.”

In addition to the margarita bar, there will be a Bloody Mary bar and a tiki bar. Skyy Vodka, a new corporate sponsor, will be featured at the festival.

Herrmann says the beverage side of her food-and-beverage planning could use some help.

“I sure could use a beverage director,” she says. “Interested parties may want to contact me and check out this year’s fest if they are interested in the position for next year.”

Any volunteers?