Charcoal’s grilled pork belly with fish sauce caramel, pickled carrot and daikon slaw steals the show at Crave! Northwest food festival at the Lynnwood Event Center on Friday, June 21, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Charcoal’s grilled pork belly with fish sauce caramel, pickled carrot and daikon slaw steals the show at Crave! Northwest food festival at the Lynnwood Event Center on Friday, June 21, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Food festival hopes to make Lynnwood an annual destination

Food entrepreneurs shared ideas, tried new foods and found inspiration at the Crave! food festival — which aims to become an annual event.

LYNNWOOD — Three years ago, The Cottage staff set out on a full-day quest for the ideal meatball binder.

Sous-chef Thomas Mullen and other staff compared breadcrumbs, eggs and cheese.

The creamy and soft texture of ricotta was eventually the answer. The restaurant’s meatballs started flying off the counter and even won an award.

At the Crave! food festival June 21 in Lynnwood, Mullen ran around powered by the humble meatball.

“It was really cool to talk with the other chefs. I don’t know if you saw me running around,” he said. “But I was delivering meatballs to all the booths. That was my introduction.”

The annual food festival is a three-day sold-out event in the Spokane Valley. Last week, it arrived for the first time at Lynnwood’s Convention Center for one Friday evening.

But the organizers’ goal is to fuel the local and national food scene beyond one night.

By bringing 40 chefs and other food and drink makers together, program manager Rachel Ludwick hopes to spark collaboration.

“There’s an economic benefit to (collaboration),” she said. “More money is spent locally, and people stay in the community because it creates jobs for people.”

People go from booth to booth at Crave! Northwest food festival at the Lynnwood Event Center on Friday, June 21, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

People go from booth to booth at Crave! Northwest food festival at the Lynnwood Event Center on Friday, June 21, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

About 350 people attended this year in Lynnwood. The music was loud and at times jarring, making it difficult to have conversations. Ludwick explained another event decided on the entertainment.

Next year, organizers are planning on bringing a band, perhaps jazz.

After the event, chefs said cross-pollination is already happening.

Wine selector Jeff Boyer, of Jeff UNCORKED, said he’s sold on coming back to the event next year.

“I thought it was really good exposure for Jeff UNCORKED, and that’s one of the reasons that I like to do events like that,” he said.

Boyer started his business in 2008, but he was mostly focused on a parallel wholesale wine business.

Last year, when he retired, he switched his full attention to Jeff UNCORKED.

Jeff Boyer of Jeff UNCORKED, right, talks about his wine selection at Crave! Northwest food festival at the Lynnwood Event Center on Friday, June 21, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Jeff Boyer of Jeff UNCORKED, right, talks about his wine selection at Crave! Northwest food festival at the Lynnwood Event Center on Friday, June 21, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Standing under a banner promising “the best wines you’ve never heard of,” Boyer poured a South African, an Italian and a Slovenian wine.

Boyer’s passion is in small-production Washington wine, but he decided to stick to the “Foods from Around the World” theme.

Because he was on his own, others brought him food.

He enjoyed Charcoal’s pork belly with fish sauce, caramel, pickled carrot and daikon slaw. He paired it with the South African wine, a red blend.

Boyer also went behind his booth to get some dark chocolate from Texier Chocolate.

He offered the chocolate to 10 visitors, pairing it with a glass of 100% Slovenian Merlot.

“The general manager from Fogo de Chao restaurant came by, we chatted quite a bit,” he said. “They have a winery dinner tomorrow that she invited me to and we may collaborate on me bringing some of my small Washington wineries to their events.”

The Brazilian restaurant brought in a bacon-wrapped chicken, with a three-bean salad on the side. While people usually think of meat as the main character, the salad easily robbed the spotlight.

Another standout was Jose Garzón’s Picadillo beef rice bowl with ají and chimichurri.

“This dish is my presentation letter, it shows our flavors and our salsas,” he said. “I compare Picadillo to chili, it’s slow-cooked beef, it’s a very understandable dish and it’s delicious.”

Jose Garzon, of Bad Chancla, chats it up at Crave! Northwest food festival at the Lynnwood Event Center on Friday, June 21, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Jose Garzon, of Bad Chancla, chats it up at Crave! Northwest food festival at the Lynnwood Event Center on Friday, June 21, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Garzón, who has been to many food festivals, sees them as a great avenue for discovery.

“Usually, the result is that a few weeks later people come and tell us, ‘Oh I saw you at that event,’” he said.

Garzón, who commutes from Lynnwood, is excited the event came to his city, rather than Seattle.

“Lynnwood has a lot of food that nobody knows, there’s Korean, Mexican,” he said. “In Seattle, it’s more based in Bistro and French cooking. Lynnwood is more worldly than Seattle.”

Among his favorite dishes: LJ’s Bistro & Bar’s elevated cheese and crackers with a pairing of alcohol-free rum.

To this writer, cheese and crackers tend to feel like an after-thought.

But the Lake Stevens bistro changed my mind.

The handmade cracker, made with only four ingredients, was topped with whipped feta and garlic, then smoked beets with herbs and pomegranate molasses.

I dare any beet-hater to try the bite and come back unmoved.

Mullen, the sous-chef at The Cottage in Bothell, said it also inspired him.

“We do a red beet hummus at our restaurant,” he said. “It made me think of some ways to change it add a little bit more flavor to it. That smoky flavor was really yummy with that cracker.”

Aina de Lapparent Alvarez: 425-339-3449; aina.alvarez@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @Ainadla.

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