Dobrá chuť!

Czech Position

Prague Food Festival is back for a weekend of good eating and reduced prices at dozens of choice restaurants

Noshing your way around the gardens below Prague Castle; trying tidbits of food from the country’s best restaurants – add it to your to-do list for this weekend. The Prague Food Festival, now in its sixth year, runs May 25-27, offering 50 gourmet stalls, three tasting tents and space for 500 seats, all in the beautiful Royal Gardens of Prague Castle. Participating restaurants are featured in Maurer’s Grand Restaurant guide; a locally produced guide to the country’s best restaurants.

Favorites returning this year include from the Radisson Blu hotel, Alcron and La Rotonde; V Zátiší; Piano Nobile from Chateau Mcely, and the much-loved Terasa U Zlaté studně. Newcomers to check out this year include Aureole, Na Kopci, Chateau St. Havel, U koně and La Cucina Boscolo.

“Last year, we had almost 20,000 visitors over the whole weekend, and we expect the turn-out this year should be about the same,” David McDonnell, the PR manager for the festival, told Czech Position. “This number has more than doubled since 2007 when we had about 8,000 visitors, and this reflects the growing interest locally in quality food.”

Piano Nobile has been participating in the festival since 2009. The restaurant is located in Chateau Mcely, a luxury hotel located near Nymburk. The restaurant was listed in Maurer’s Grand Restaurant as one of the country’s ten best restaurants in both 2011 and 2012.

“The festival is a good chance to introduce our cuisine, chef Honza Štěrba and the Piano Nobile restaurant to the general public and people don’t even have to leave Prague,” Karla Zimová, marketing manager at Chateau Mcely told Czech Position. “We will be offering a three course menu made from local seasonal specialties. As a main course, Honza chose a lamb originating from a nearby bio farm and it will be served with carrot puree and herbs from our castle garden. As a sweet ending, Honza will prepare strawberries filled with chocolate.”

The chance to sample the cuisine from the country’s leading restaurants proves irresistible to many food lovers. Adventurous sorts will want to make note of the restaurants offering some unique tastes, like the Yasmin hotel’s restaurant, Noodles, with sweet and savory beetles and Café Angelato with its pear brandy ice cream and parmesan ice cream with figs. For some American food lovers, U Emy Destinnové will have Maryland crab cakes on hand. The restaurant participated for the first time last year and had a lot of fun.

“It was a lot of work but very exciting,” chef and owner of U Emy Destinnové, Steven Joseph Trumpfheller told Czech Position. “It was nice to be outside cooking and interacting with the people.” The restaurant will also be offering ahi tuna ceviche with coconut citrus vinaigrette as well as wild boar carpaccio with black berries, fennel and mustard salad. “We want to introduce our style of cuisine to people,” Trumpfheller said. “We won’t have precooked stuff. We’ll be cooking fresh to order on site.”

Here, there and everywhere

New this year will be a special emphasis on Czech cuisine. The festival has partnered with CzechTourism to promote their program, “Taste the Czech Republic,” which aims to promote traditional Czech cuisine. Visitors to the Czech Specials section will not only taste the food, but enjoy it in the form of performance art called “Art of Czech Cuisine.”

There will also be discussions on what is currently more attractive, classic or modern Czech cuisine, as well tips on how to prepare Czech food in an easier and more time-conscious way. The restaurants and other gastronomy specialists participating run the gamut from Chinese to Italian to French and more. Asian restaurant Rickshaw, located in the Corinthia Hotel, is participating for the fifth time and will be offering a delicious sampling of their cuisine.

“The starter will be tempura fried tuna maki roll served with wakame, pickled ginger and wasabi mojo and grilled tiger prawn on mango-radish slaw along homemade aloe vera sorbet with gingered mint jelly,” Rickshaw executive chef Roman Dolejš told Czech Position. “The festival is great opportunity to present the hotel and restaurant, have contact with customers and have fun serving food.”

The festival’s motto this year is “Think Global, Eat Local” and organizers are giving special attention to organic food producers.

“Along with participating restaurants, we want to promote and raise awareness about the local farms which supply these restaurants,” McDonnell said. “This means that visitors will be able to see the names of the farms at the restaurant stands and taste their goods directly on site.”

Horský statek Abertamy, the winner of this year’s Czech Organic Food competition will be offering its selection of cheeses made with milk from cows, goats and sheep in the Míčovna (Ball Game Hall).

If all the eating inspires you to go home and do some cooking, organizers have included this year gourmet shops which will have products on hand to sell. Participants include Fair Trade, Country Life, La Bottega di Aromi/Finestra, Mammá with specialties from southern Italy and Extenda featuring specialties from Andalusia, Spain. Workshops will also be held throughout the weekend.

With all this eating, you are bound to get thirsty. Thankfully a number of beverage producers have been invited to wet your whistle. Pilsner Urquell, Bohemia Sekt, De’Longhi coffee, cocktails from La Casa de la Havana Vieja…the opportunity to sip has greatly increased. There will also be daily wine tastings of Czech and international vintages led by a sommelier as well as a number of beer and food pairing workshops. Those who aspire to be bartenders will want to participate in the beer tapping school led by Pilsner Urquell.

“Visitors who have been to the festival in previous years will have the chance to experience new cooking shows, to purchase products directly from stands, to take part in a flamenco dancing school, or enjoy drinks at happy hour among other possibilities,” McDonnell added.

As crowds and lines do form at the popular event; tickets are pre-sold for a specific day and time; as well as which entrance you should enter. Ticket prices include admission fee plus a package of 10 “Grands” the official festival currency for the purchase of food and beverages. More Grands can be bought throughout the festival site. And McDonnell has another tip. “Many visitors forget that the festival is open until 9:00 p.m., so I tell my friends to come in the evenings after six o’clock,” he said. “It’s a more relaxed festival where you can enjoy happy hour drinks and, if the weather is cooperating, beautiful sunsets over Prague Castle.”

State of the plate in Prague

So with all this interest from eaters and cookers, is Prague’s much maligned food scene showing any progress? “The Prague food scene is definitely improving, which makes me feel good,” Dolejš from Rickshaw said. “Many people are starting to think about what they eat. There are also many restaurants, but not many offer meals cooked and presented with fresh ingredients.”

The increase interest in the freshness factor is what Zimová from Piano Noble has noticed as well. “The Czech food scene is better every year,” she said. “Fortunately emphasis is placed on local resources and small farmers.”

Trumpfheller from U Emy Destinnové say the best is yet to come. “I think the Prague food scene is improving rather quickly. There are a lot of great restaurants out there with very good chefs, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”